My students are always stunned when I tell them about the time I fired my top salesperson. “Why would you do that?” they always ask. Today, I’m going to share that story with you.
In today’s competitive world, top performers are usually cut a little slack. There’s nothing really wrong with that, unless it breaks a culture of honesty, fairness and trust.
If you’re in any kind of sales, you know that one of the ways management motivates and stimulates sales people are through the use of contests. Sales people are competitive folks and the best like to win. I know I do. In fact, I have a picture that has hung the wall of every office I’ve ever occupied. It says “If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.”
Well this latest sales contest was coming down to the wire and the sales people were running neck and neck. It was having every employee in the whole radio station wondering which one of the sales people would capture the top prize and finish first.
On the final day of the contest, just before the 5 o’clock bell rang signifying the end of the contest, my top sales person came running into my office with a contract that put him in first place. We all congratulated him on his win and went home to enjoy the weekend.
On Monday morning, my traffic and business department people came to me with that signed contract along with other signed contracts from that same client and it was quite apparent something was fishy. The signature turned in just before the bell on Friday was quite different than all the others.
I called my top sales person into my office along with my sales manager and we asked this person if the client had actually signed this contract. After some hemming and hawing, he said “NO.” He explained that the client was on a cruise and wouldn’t be back in the office until today and he was planning to go over there and get his approval for the advertising. He said that he knew the client would definitely agree to the advertising. I knew he would too. And that’s why it was so sad when I told him he was fired.
Enforcing a culture of honesty, fairness and trust is hard.
The only way you can maintain that culture is by understanding that you have to fire people no matter what their performance has been. You can’t build a great organization unless you commit to doing just that.
Unlike many other radio stations in my market, I had a waiting line of top sales people wanting to join my team. A great culture helps you attract the most talented people.
A half-dozen years later I was recruited back into this same market from the Midwest and had the task of launching a brand new radio format. I needed to hire people for every position.
The good news is that because of my reputation for honesty, fairness and trust, I attracted many in-market pros when I hung out the “Help Wanted” sign.
One of the people who came to see me and apply for a position on my new sales team was the top salesperson I had fired years ago. He was employed in sales at another radio station in the metro and was doing quite well. Most of the accounts he had on-the-air at his current station had already been assigned to sales people I had already hired. He didn’t care. He wanted to come back and work with me. We reviewed the past that led up to his termination and he swore he had learned his lesson and that it would never happen again. I believed him. It never did.
In his first 30-days, he sold over $100,000.00 in advertising. Most of it paid cash-in-advance. He once again was my top salesperson. I believe in second chances. I also believe in committing to the type of culture that wins with honesty, fairness and trust.