A friend of mine who lives in Texas has a favorite saying: “That dog don’t hunt!”

The expression is usually applied to an idea or suggestion that is not workable. I think it is also a great descriptor of sales reps who are bad at their job and likely to stay that way. They may be fine people, but they are not suited to the sales profession.

I know most sales teams have a “non-hunting dog” because I hear about them in my sales management workshops. I always ask participants if there is anyone on their team they would not hire if they knew back then what they know now. Every single time, almost every single participant says “yes.”

Then I ask, “How long have you known this?” The answers vary from many months to even years. Ouch! That’s a lot of time invested into dogs that won’t hunt.

Which raises the questions: Why do so many sales managers hang on to these under-performers far too long?

One contributor is that sales managers who came up through the ranks learned that tenacity was a valuable trait: it helped them persist and win more deals. But as managers, it makes them hang on to low producers too long. They keep thinking they can “fix” the rep even when it’s not true. This is a lesson I learned the hard way.

The Wrong Kind of Job Security

Early in my career, I inherited a team from a sales manager who had been dismissed. There were six people on the team, and one rep was clearly the worst of the lot. I tried working with this poor performer for a number of months but he didn’t show any improvement.

Then suddenly the light bulb went on in my head. I realized how the rest of that team viewed this poor performer: as “job security.” As long as I allowed the poor performer to remain on the team—even though he had the lowest ratings (and also the worst sales numbers)—the next lowest performer was pretty sure her job was not in any danger. She was not thinking about success and achievement; she was thinking, “I’ve just got to be a little bit better than that guy.”

It was definitely one of those DOH! moments. I thought I was doing the right thing by devoting time to a rep that I was responsible for. But really I’d been letting down they rest of the team. Robbing them of my time and attention and setting a very low bar for what was acceptable performance.

Raising that Low Bar

Every sales manager has a de facto “minimum acceptable standard”—their poorest performing rep—occupying a sales territory right now. If that person is dog that doesn’t now and will never hunt, why keep wasting your organization’s resources?

I’m not saying you should cut the low person on the totem pole at the first opportunity. Every rep deserves some level of attention and effort from their sale manager.

But don’t wait too long before leading this poor producer to what I think of as the “crossroads of consequences.” If they start to “hunt” —changing in ways you both agree on and in an agreed-on timeframe—they can stay on the team. If they don’t, then you’ll be making a visit to HR to start the process of letting them go.

Easier said than done, I know, but you owe it to your team and your organization to not let poor performers linger.


Kevin F. Davis shares practical solutions to the most challenging issues that frontline sales managers struggle with every day. Kevin blogs on methods for everything from leading, coaching, and managing priorities, to hiring, forecasting, and driving rep accountability. Kevin is the president of TopLine Leadership, Inc., and the author of the new book, “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness.”Find his blogs and articles at TopLineLeadership.com/blog and kevinfdavis.com/blog