How to Run Off Your Best Sales People

I have worked with and admired some CFOs in my career as an executive and consultant. But sadly, too many are “bean counters” lacking perspective when it comes to their company’s most valuable asset: their people, especially sales people. Particularly sales people that are highly effective building long-term, trust-based client (not customer) relationships that serve the company well by retaining its clients by providing an excellent client experience (CX) and enhancing gross profit.

Some of these small-minded numbers people (“The numbers don’t lie”) actually believe they will save money by driving off their best sales people, telling the CEO, “They make too much money!” Spoiler Alert: They make that money primarily as at-risk commission and bonuses because they exceeded their sales goals set by the company.

So, despite the fact that incentivizing sales performers to work somewhere else has a terrible ROI it’s still common for companies to penalize their top performers with unrealistic quotas in order to limit their compensation while giving the under performers easy to attain quotas. How the hell does that make sense? Reward under-performers and penalize over-performers? Really?

Some of these bozo senior managers actually believe they can simply replace their “over paid” sales people with green horns and pay them way less and not miss a beat. Of course, they are betting that someone they and the clients don’t know will maintain and ultimately grow the business their predecessor built over many years; that the current trust-based client relationships will seamlessly transition to the inexperienced newbie. How dumb is that?

But if after reading this you are still determined to go this route, here are some tried and true ways to get your top sales people to leave:

  • Mess with commission and bonus plans every year.
  • Don’t solicit or trust sales forecasts from your region sales leaders and reps. Just hand down unrealistic sales quotas that will support the excessive overhead your company is burdened with and doesn’t want to work on reducing — that’s too hard.
  • Punish top performers with unattainable sales quotas. One RM told me “Well, it’s like winning the lottery in one year and paying the income taxes in the next year”. So, you readily admit you’re screwing your best people? WTF?
  • Revise sales territories every year, especially effective is taking away some of the top performing rep’s best clients and giving them to a new rep in the new territory you created and will know be paying more to cover in base salary, benefits and travel and living expenses. Does one need an MBA from Harvard to know this is completely insane?
  • Re-align regions every year or so that who you reps report to changes and team cohesion is disrupted.

Obviously, I have used sarcasm and hyperbole to make my point: The ROI is excellent when you nurture, recognize, support, and reward your best sales people — they are a super valuable asset and deserve to be very well compensated. Always keep in mind, very few things “sell themselves” and nobody in your company gets paid unless someone sells something.

Frank Manfre



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Frank Manfre

Frank Manfre


Business consultant & coach w/ 35 years experience in leadership roles in for profit and nonprofit organizations focused on developing leaders & org health