Are You Better with a Nobody or NO body?

Carrie Ward

Most sales leaders know that just because you’re in sales, it doesn’t mean you’re a good salesperson. Last week we were interviewing clients as part of a sales restructuring project. From more than one manager we heard something to the effect of:

“<Insert any name> may not be the best rep, but he's at least a body to cover that territory.”

Over the years, we’ve heard similar statements from other sales leaders. These comments leave us scratching our head. What is the true cost vs. benefit of a bad sales resource? Is bad breath better than no breath?

We know that rep turnover is typically greater than most any other role in a company. High voluntary churn and a tough labor market make managers reluctant to dismiss poor-performing reps. The time it takes to onboard new reps presents yet another mental barrier.

The truth is, pulling the plug on a bad sales resource is always the right thing to do. Yes, replacing reps is a major investment in terms of hard and soft costs. But it’s even more expensive to ignore a bad “fit” or a poor performer. There are three common excuses managers have for keeping a bad rep:

1. He/she has been here a long time – I don’t have the heart to fire them

2. He/she brought in a big deal a while back (maybe as long as a decade ago!) – they’re ‘grandfathered’ in

3. There’s no time to find an external replacement and no internal transfer options – in other words, it’s better that a ‘nobody’ covers that territory/accounts/region than having NO body in place

To those sales leaders making these comments we say: sometimes being the good guy is not good. Everyone wants a manager that has the team’s back. But keeping one bad player can be detrimental to the larger sales organization. Why is a nobody worse than NO body?

  • Manager Effectiveness – Even if a poor-performing rep is covering a territory, other team members are impacted. Finite manager attention is wasted on the bad vs. the good. Time that should be spent taking middle performers to the next level goes to addressing remedial issues. Resentment among the stronger reps develops. Overall sales productivity suffers.
  • Demotivation – We knew of a software firm that converted their best engineers into sales roles. Not unlike Michael Jordan’s move from basketball to baseball, these engineers struggled. They lacked the right skills, temperament, and motivation to reach the same success in sales. After three quarters of missed goals, the damage was done. These former superstar engineers turned reps were dejected. No longer passionate about the company, a large number left for competitors.
  • Walking Liability – This might be the scariest one of them all. Unless equipped with bodycams, managers don’t know what that ‘nobody’ rep is saying to prospects. The damage could be considerable: broken promises, under delivering, or flat-out lying. These issues are even bigger risks with long sales cycles or complex renewal contracts. Unwinding or repairing something bad done by your ‘nobody’ can be a major distraction.

I once personally faced a ‘nobody’ vs. a ‘no body’ situation as a manager. My mentor and I/O psychologist, Dr. Bruce Heller shared four simple words that provided clarity – hire slow, fire fast. At first, I thought this concept seemed cold. My mind raced to the personal impact of letting this individual go (they had a family, college tuition was due, etc.). But Dr. Heller helped me realize the fundamental truth of people management. The exit of a bad-fit resource is always better for the individual, the team, AND the organization. 

Firing the nobody fast doesn’t take away your ‘good guy’ persona. It’s not an indictment of your level of compassion. If done properly, it shows you have the conviction to put your team’s success first. It also demonstrates that you strive to support your top players. The truth is, no top performer wants a ‘nobody’ on their team.

Finding good sales talent is tough. Onboarding new hires takes an enormous about of time. But don’t be afraid to continuously cull your worst performers. The longer-term negative impact of bad reps to your team – and ultimately your success – can’t be understated. 

Stay tuned for my next blog where I’ll look at the first two words of that power phrase… “Hire slow”.  We'll share some good and not-so-good strategies for evaluating the quality of new sales hires. In the meantime, contact us to learn more about elevating the performance of your sales team. We’re eager to share our best practices and research benchmarks that can increase your results. 

Carrie Ward

Carrie Ward

Carrie is an experienced consultant specializing in sales analytics, organizational design, and sales process optimization. She is the co-author of The Sales Compensation Handbook as well as numerous sales research studies.