In the fall of 2008 I was walking through our sales room and overheard a salesperson explain to his manager why he didn’t close his previous evening’s appointment. The prospect didn’t buy, the rep said, because they were nervous about the stock market. The sales manager seemed to regard this as a reasonable explanation. I, the general manager, did not. I asked the salesperson how much his prospects had invested in the market.

The answer: Nothing.

The upshot: Our company just sent this salesperson a prequalified lead — average cost $250 — of a homeowner who needed windows and had the money to pay for them. The customer declined to buy because he was nervous about the stock market — in which he had no money invested. So the salesman blamed his failure to close on a situation that had nothing to do with this house, this prospect, or this appointment.

Where Attitudes Diverge
As the owner of a home improvement business, you create a successful organization based on your beliefs, your standards, and your attitude. But the people who work for you don’t always share those. And if salespeople don’t believe, that’s especially problematic. How would you know? It’s evident in comments such as:

“Our prices are too high.”
“The competitor is …”
“I’m not making enough on commission.”
“The leads are weak.”
“The banks aren’t buying any deals.”
“Why do I have to drive that far for an appointment?”
“After all I’ve done for this company …”

If you think about it, you could probably add more to that list. Unfortunately, rather than responding forcefully, some owners come to believe in these excuses and start making changes to satisfy the complainers among their salespeople. But those owners will soon find out that chronic malcontents are never satisfied.

Whose Vision Prevails
If someone who sells for your company regularly indulges in those complaints masquerading as excuses, it may be time to let that person go. That can be difficult if the person has worked for you a long time and was once highly productive. It’s always easier to ignore the situation; it’s also highly destructive to your salesforce and your company.

But if firing someone seems arbitrary and intimidating, do this: Look at the numbers. Not just sales metrics such as net sales per leads issued, or close ratio, or demo rate, but other factors as well. For instance, don’t forget what those leads he’s burning through cost your company. When you put it on paper, you may have a change of heart.

Last Chance
That doesn’t mean you fire your Bad Attitude Rep right away. Move through a two-step process that gives him the opportunity to turn the situation around.

Step 1: Have the meeting. Go into the meeting with a comprehensive list of items — behaviors and performance benchmarks — that the salesperson must agree need to change. If he responds with excuses, rationalizations, or a generally defensive posture, terminate immediately. He needs to be willing. Set clear, measurable goals, with time frames, and have him agree that he can and will meet those goals.

Step 2: Monitor his performance twice a week. All goals must be met without exception. If not, administer termination. It is important that you are familiar with your particular state rules for termination and make sure that you are in compliance.

Firing a sales rep who deserves to be let go isn’t bad or unfair. It’s a good business decision. For although there is a slight chance that that salesperson could become productive again, the safe bet is that he won’t. Deep down, you know it and he knows it. Flowers don’t grow on yesterday’s sunshine. And here’s the alternative: You can continue to give your money away. —Marketing and sales consultant Vaughn McCourt has been the general manager of some of the largest home improvement companies. mccourtv@msn.com