Why Executives Get Fired
What Is It?
A summary of key reasons Sales Leaders are fired in today’s ultra-competitive landscape.
1. average Tenure
Now less than 2 years for Sales Leaders, and continues to decrease
2. less Patience
Shareholders & Stakeholders are showing much less patience for sub-par results
3. revenue Attainment
Or lack of it, is and always will be the No.1 reason why Sales Leaders get fired
4. CEO Relationship
Is the most important relationship a Sales Leader can have
5. sales Talent
At the Executive level is easier to find now than ever before due in part to extensive M&A
6. executive Coaching
Can save a Sales Leader only if they’re committed to a program of rapid change
Ease of Implementation
8/10 (requires effort)!
Today more Sales Leaders are getting fired than ever. The rules are changing, but RESULTS continue to be king!
10/10 (can change just about everything).
In most scenarios changes can be made to ensure you don’t get fired. But change you must!
2,293 words (12-min read)
The time has come. You’ve been expecting it. Revenues are down, and you know someone has to take the blame for the reduced share price. For the first time in your career you get fired.
After the great work you’ve done for the company over the last few years the physiological blow feels more like a hammer blow. For the first time in your life you find yourself out of a job. The worry, shame and fear roll through you like a hot knife through butter.
What will I tell everyone?
What will people think?
What do I do now?
Getting fired while residing at the most senior level in sales is not new. But it’s a lot more common today as the pressure to hit, and in many cases exceed, sales targets are becoming more critical.
Or to put in another way – simply unforgivable if you miss!
There can be many reasons why a company might choose to terminate your employment. And in most cases these reasons can be headed off with a bit of common sense, street smarts and a lot of hard work. And of course, a sprinkling of good luck never goes amiss, although this should never be relied upon to save the day.
So, let’s discover the 10 most common reasons for Sales Leaders being fired today:
(*) this list is not in any particular order other than to say the No.1 reason is always perennial and isnot achieving revenue targets.
1. Missing revenue targets
Budgets are budgets. Targets created for the sole purpose of hitting or exceeding them. Expectations now being so high that a sneeze becomes life-threatening.
Today, with many company targets being highly-publicized internally and externally, it means company targets are now more so personal targets…
“Hit your budget or I’ll get someone who can!”
In reality its part of the excitement and adrenaline rush of being in Executive Sales, and anyone taking on this mantle should be aware of these modern day heightened expectations.
As one very wise, old Jedi Master once commented (and I’m sure he was referring to revenue attainment)…
“Do or do not, there is no try!”
2. Missing sales pipeline targets
The future revenue profile will come from a combination of existing business augmented by new opportunities coming to revenue stage. It’s these opportunities that are so crucial to the mid- and long-term success of the company.
Inexperienced Executives, or ones who don’t know how to drive this crucial area of the business, concentrate on short-term revenues only.
And it’s not just seen in Sales Executives. CEO’s are also prone to this, pushing off sales pipeline activities in favor of ‘more time and effort’ applied to quarterly revenues.
This is like walking towards the edge of a cliff smiling as you do so!
Actually, its complete madness, but some of the smartest people I know have done this (to their own detriment).
Not being able to uncover the magical Sales balance of splitting activities between today/tomorrow business really is a rookie mistake. But yet it continues to happen based on the intense pressure to perform.
As one CEO commented to me years ago:
“If you don’t plant grass seed then don’t expect grass to grow!”
The same CEO also said to me after a tough start to a quarter:
“Don’t worry about next quarter’s revenues, since if you don’t hit this quarter’s number, there won’t be a next quarter for you!”
3. Lack of a compelling & winning strategy
Sales strategy must dovetail into overall Corporate strategy and be a realistic blueprint for how Sales KPI’s will be achieved.
It should include revenue and sales pipeline targets, and cover key elements like strategic account penetration, organizational structure and evolution, indirect sales and partnership models, as well as clear insight how to neutralize the competition.
Sales strategies are hard to create well, and almost never independently audited. But a well-crafted strategy with input from all affected stakeholders, properly communicated and executed, can have brilliant ramifications on the entire company.
And remember its ok to course correct when a strategy is simply not working. But not too often and not too soon!
Consider this easy to remember quote:
“Chess is fun and requires good strategy to win. Sales is serious and requires brilliant strategy to win.”
4. A character clash with the CEO
A Sales Leader must be able to connect with people from all backgrounds and disciplines.
And the most important connection is with their CEO or President. As top dog and your boss, they have the power to hire, fire and do just about everything else. And of course, if the Sales Leader has a pressured job, just think how much pressure they have!
The good news is you’re unlikely to have a character clash with a great CEO (they somehow manage to ensure that doesn’t happen).
But, that doesn’t take away responsibility of this key relationship from you. Although it’s a clear two-way, inter-dependent relationship, a Sales Leader must drive it and find a way to make it work. Always choose to be on your A-game with the CEO and always exude a sense of confidence even when the chips are down.
It’s conveying lack of conviction and confidence that often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
As one CEO commented to me:
“Think of our company where customers are always No.1, butunderstandI am your No.1 customer!”
5. Clashes with a Board Member
Even CEO’s have bosses, and if you have challenges with any of them you can be sure they’ll communicate their thoughts clearly. Any CEO only has so many aces to play with a Board, and a Sales Leader may be one of those ace cards.
But not forever!
I strongly advise obtaining as much background information on Board members as possible and working closely with the CEO to gain their insights.
In public companies a Board has a direct responsibility to shareholders. They tend to be less emotional and more clinical. Don’t expect favors from them, and don’t cross them if you can.
They’re not Gods, but they have significant business experience and been through many situations before, most of which you will not know about.
So, listen to them carefully, act on their guidance, and simply hit your numbers and your commitments.
A previous Board member once commented to me, “Think of a Board as being the bosses of your boss. So, don’t mess up with your boss, or your boss’s bosses!”
6. Inability to have a cohesive & motivated Sales Team
There’s an old saying a person is only as good as their team, and in sales this is definitely true.
The Sales Team each hold a portion of the revenue delivery and they are the key contacts to the customer, no matter how good you think your relationships might be.
A motivated Sales professional can move mountains while a demotivated one can be like a ball-and-chain around your ankle!
The ability to attract, retain and motivate a diverse group of people, all with very different characters and needs, is without doubt one of the biggest challenges of any Sales Leader. But done well you can create your own ‘Dream Team’ who are able to achieve great things and be relied on no matter what business conditions prevail.
As a seasoned Sales Professional once commented to me over a drink…
“You need me as much as I need you!”
He was almost right
7. Lack of alignment with the Executive Team
I have seen this many times in my career. An individual on the Executive Team sees the world through a different lens. They might be right, or they might be wrong, but it’s clear misalignment with the rest of the Executive Team is not going to be a long-lasting situation.
My advice is to find a way to resolve such differences through various means open to you as Sales Leader. They include coaching, mentoring, negotiating, educating, presenting and of course being able to listen and update your own perspectives when necessary.
Just like the Sales ‘Dream Team’, a highly-aligned, functional Executive Team can create magic. When this happens, company communication is normally consistent, transparent and Staff are genuinely excited to be involved.
A former colleague once explained to our Executive Team…
“It’s about racing down the 100m track. Not for one of us to win, but for all of us to pass the finish line at exactly the same time.”
8. Cultural or values misalignment
Values are a highly personal thing. When crossed it’s up to you how you handle things. But when crossed you must do something.
If it’s a one-off occurrence the situation might be save-able. However, if the values or cultural challenge continues over a period of time you will reach a fundamental break-point.
You can choose to leave or more likely you will be asked to leave. Such misalignment in my experience doesn’t last long and normally ends up with the latter situation.
Know it’s ok for values to be challenged and clarification to be sought. These open, constructive discussions often reveal a remedial action that will satisfy all parties with no long-term harm being done.
Where values are concerned both individuals and companies often take a hard line and allow for little to no negotiation. As the old saying goes…
“Pre-warned is pre-armed!”
9. Abdicating responsibility for results to others
Being Chief Sales Officer and the Executive with full responsibility for delivering Sales KPI’s, it’s necessary to accept the entire responsibilities of the role.
That means ownership of all Sales metrics including ones where you are not doing as well. When a challenge occurs don’t shy away from the problem but see it as an opportunity to resolve something short-term and to build structure ensuring it doesn’t happen (or is at least minimized) longer-term.
Ensure your team have clear responsibilities and ownership for their portion of the KPI’s. Handle misses in a professional and forthright way, the way you would want the CEO to handle misses you might have!
Simply put, accept responsibility!
10. Doing something really dumb
This is the catch-all bucket, yet an important one nonetheless. It covers all other reasons a Sales Leader might do something completely dumb and get fired. It ranges from having inappropriate relationships with Staff, communicating confidential information to the wrong party, getting drunk in public, any form of ethics violation, to…. the list is endless.
With all of these areas, and especially ones that might fall into the ‘grey zone’, simply take the high-road and don’t risk anything.
Remember this little nugget of wisdom…
“Allactionsyou do in life have consequences. Really dumb actions have really dire consequences!”
The reasons for being terminated as a Sales Leader are consistent the world over. These reasons can be positively tackled with effort and willingness to change and grow.
The role of modern Sales Leader is one of the most rewarding, positively challenging and satisfying of the Executive roles. Stick with it, commit to constant learning and change, and the future will be positive.
Is that really possible? Absolutely.
Q1. If someone thinks they might be in danger of being fired what should they do?
First and foremost, don’t panic! Instead treat the situation as you would a customer emergency. Endeavour to find out what’s wrong (asking open and transparent questions to your Manager and peer group), commit to fixing things in a highly timely manner, and then put a plan in place with closed-loop metrics to show progress and ultimate completion.
Q2. How can I pro-actively ensure I’m not in the ‘getting fired’ bucket over time?
It’s about RESULTS always. You must find ways of guaranteeing results in the budget, and if not clearly state why misses are happening, and have a killer plan to resolve the situation in the shortest period of time. Also, you must choose to continually learn, grow and change. Staying stagnant and doing things the way they were always done is a recipe for disaster.
Q3. How important is language in the ‘getting fired’ scenario?
It’s vitally important. Senior Sales Leaders are employed to find solutions to any and all challenges that come up – even the most vexing ones. Choose to be the most positive person on the team by thinking, talking and acting positively, and you will be much more likely to bring out creativity in yourself and others, and help stave off an early release.
Q4. Can a good Executive Sales Coach get me out of trouble if I’m in trouble?
Maybe! Good or even great coaches are not God (or your CEO). But they can help identify where the immediate challenges are with you, and then help create an emergency plan to right-size things in the shortest period of time possible. Its challenging and requires great commitment from the Coachee, but it’s possible!
Q5. Should there be any tension between a Sales Leader and their CEO/President?
I believe the answer is yes. BUT, it must be positive in nature. The goal of the CEO here is to drive you to peak performance ensuring the company is hitting its stated internal and public goals. Positive tension implemented well is a great catalyst for superior performance.
Q6. Should Sales Leaders recommend to their CEO that Executive Sales Coaching would benefit them?
Absolutely! There is no shame in asking for external skilled resource to help you. A training course after all is about learning and changing. Executive Coaching is the same but with much more accountability and a program 100% tuned to your current needs and situation.
So, don’t hesitate! Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary, completely-confidential and fully-engaging consultation. It might just make all the difference.
Master Executive Coach
(for Leaders with Sales Responsibility)