Monday, April 21, 2008

Hire Slow, Fire Fast

This is an adage we all know. Typically we hire faster than we would like because each employee represents work that is piling up. We fire slowly, partly because it is unpleasant and partly because we just somehow expect it to fix itself. In some cases I would even suggest we fire slowly because we don’t realize there is a problem until we’ve had to deal with it for some time. My background is sales and marketing, but throughout my career I have managed many operational types as well. To me, operational employees are easier to evaluate because they typically are in the middle of the business cycle. They are given work to do and there is an expectation of the quality and quantity of effort. Problem employees produce sloppy, incomplete or no work.

Sales people are a different kettle of fish. When they come on board there is a natural expectation that it will take time for them to come up to speed. In many cases they have to build a pipeline. If the sales cycle is six months, it should take on average six months to close their first deal. Most sales people don’t start completely from scratch, but there is a very good possibility that their territory have been vacant for some period of time and is therefore more or less dormant. So how long do you give a new sales person before you start the “are you the right person” discussion?

My suggestion is day one. Each business should have a documented and repeatable sales methodology. That methodology has certain milestones. There are leads and suspects and prospect and qualified prospects and proposals and contracts. There should be prospecting scripts and data gathering outlines and proposal templates. There are a myriad of tools available to start evaluating the progress of a new sales person the very first day. Each new sales person should have a 90 – 120 day plan that outlines expectation. The expectations should be targeted toward results, not activity.

Here’s the hard part, you’ve got to pay attention. You can’t have your best sales person training the newbie. That creates two problems. If you follow a program for the first 90 – 120 days you will quickly find out if the new sales person can perform certain critical aspects of the sales methodology. You can compare their performance against a standard at each phase of development. This developmental approach is better for the company and the employee. If your sales methodology works for the sales team in general it will work for the newbie. They perform better within the sales culture of the company, thus making more money and so do you.

If they cannot master a critical component of the sales methodology and you’ve tried every mentoring approach you have, then it’s time to have the “are you the right person” discussion. I personally believe that if you are having the “are you the right person” discussion you, as the hiring manage, screwed up somewhere. Sometimes we don’t like to admit that, so we keep pushing a square peg into a round hole. We all make mistakes. Good managers recognize them before they affect results and correct them. Other managers make excuses or cover them up.

Here is the really good news for you…. If you have a program and you’re following it, then the new sales person knows where they stand at all times. The “are you the right person” discussion might be brought up by them. They see the goals, they see they’re not making them, they understand they have a problem. The discussion is not a shock. My guess is that if you have a decent hiring process and a decent development process, then this discussion will very seldom ever take place.

That’s the goal anyway….

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