Bonus Content

The Drag of Nonproductive Salespeople

By John Chapin

Nonproductive salespeople can kill a business, not only in salaries and related items, but also by dragging down everyone around them. You are also hurting, not helping them, by keeping them around. So if you are one of those who keep people around much longer than you should, or you’re wondering why motivation and morale are lacking in your office, read on.

1) The bottom 20% is causing 80% of your headaches and problems.
They are also the biggest drain on your time, money, and resources while bringing in only about 2% of your business. In insurance agencies I see the bottom 20% continually go back and argue and fight with office staff over taking a second look at less-than-desirable business and bad risks because they have no other business prospects. I see this same 20% call underwriters at insurance companies and waste hours of their time trying to push through miniscule, risky business opportunities, so they can get a measly little sale. These people sap energy, dampen enthusiasm, and kill morale within the office, not to mention your bottom line. These people are your business dragnet and they are hurting all involved including customers, prospects, other employees, vendors, you, and even themselves and their families.

2) By keeping the 20% you are actually hurting, not helping them.
It baffles me when someone keeps a person in a job that they obviously are not cut out for, that they perform horribly at, and one which they do not like, but I see it all the time for a myriad of reasons. I once had a business owner tell me, “I can’t get rid of this person, he is married and has three kids.” The employee he was referring to had recently missed two mandatory sales meetings because he was traveling with his family two states away to check out, and subsequently purchase, a $600 puppy. The next time the owner uses that excuse, he’ll have to add the “new puppy” in after the three kids. Here is a struggling salesperson, who has no qualms about taking on another mouth to feed, and yet the owner feels more responsible for the salesperson’s family than he does.

While the owner is under the delusion that he is somehow “saving” this person, in reality he is squashing his future possibilities for success along with his confidence and self-esteem. It’s impossible to be in a job that you don’t do well, and that you aren’t cut out for, and feel good about yourself. The owner is also robbing him of the opportunity to take full responsibility for himself and his family while finding something he is good at and does enjoy.

Let’s go back to the example in which a company kept an underperformer around for seven years. This man, who came in confident and assured, was a shell of a man after seven years. He had no self-esteem, no self-worth, and was also experiencing significant marital and other family issues. People in a bad job situation similar to this look for distractions and these distractions are rarely good. Also, how you feel about yourself affects every part of your life, not just work. Keeping this person in this job was far more damaging than a brief blow to the ego by letting him know early on that this wasn’t the right job for him. They finally let him go but even years later, the significant negative effects are still evident. 

When you keep people around that you shouldn’t, you do everyone a disservice. You hurt the employee by not allowing them to see and deal with reality, you kill morale and attitude within the organization, and you set a bad example. Also, what you put up with you condone, promote, and create more of. This approach also builds resentment and disdain. You look weak as a leader. People start talking behind your, and one another’s, back and rumors start flying. It creates the worst possible scenario.

3) Getting rid of 20% of your salespeople will give you a bump in motivation and production.
A real estate manager had been putting up with very bad behavior out of her top producer for five-and-a-half years. When I first suggested letting her go, the office manager told me no—because she comprised 41% of total office sales. When she finally had no other choice but to let her go, she said the next day it was like a weight had been lifted. That day, two of the bottom producers quit, and the other people started working because they realized she meant business. The result was a 53% increase in sales the following year and in the cases where they competed head-to-head with the former agent, they won the business 11 out of 13 times.

The point of this story is: First, your 20% aren’t always your lowest performers and, second, in addition to low performers, you also have to deal with your attitude issues.  Underperformers and negative people infect everyone. It is literally like letting someone with a contagious, deadly disease openly walk the floor of your business.

No one likes to fire people and yet, that isn’t a sufficient reason for not doing it. The goal of laying off your non-producers and attitude problems is to eventually end up with a sales team that is hitting on all eight cylinders and in which you don’t have to fire anyone. You want a professional, accountable sales force that shows up every day, does what needs to be done, and brings in lots of good, clean business. Once you have these people in place, you no longer need to lay people off. You will, however, continue to improve the work environment and invest in personal and professional development. How do you attract better employees? Become a better company, one in which people are held accountable and negative attitudes are jettisoned.

(Note: Your number may be something other than 20%. It may be 40%, or only 10%. This is really a question of “Who is hurting your organization and who is helping?”)

Getting rid of your chronic underperformers and attitude issues will make you a more credible leader. It will motivate all others to either leave or get to work. Resentment will disappear. You’ll stop wasting the time of all your support people. Morale will increase. And you will see a positive impact, and most likely a substantial one, to the bottom line.

John Chapin has 24 years of sales, customer service, and management experience and
is an award-winning sales speaker, trainer, and coach. He is also a sales rep in three industries and the primary author of the gold-medal-winning “Sales Encyclo­pe­dia.” To reach Chapin, find a free white paper on what it takes to be successful in sales, and subscribe to his monthly news­letter, visit


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