How To Let Go of a Weak Sales Associate

Not sure what to say? Learn how to handle these unpleasant situations.

April 1, 2010

It’s never easy to release a salesperson who’s been struggling for a long time. But in this market, where per-agent profitability is carefully monitored, those decisions have to be made thoughtfully. 

Here’s how some brokers say they handle these often-unpleasant situations.

Set expectations. "It starts with clearly communicating expectations, continual coaching, and accountability," says Patty Scarafile, broker of Carolina One Real Estate in Charleston, S.C. She has new salespeople sign an agreement that clearly specifies that they must have a new listing or written sale within 60 days. "If that doesn’t happen, we meet with the sales associate to go over the original agreement."

Determine your style. Tom Ferry of says there are three different types of managers—motivators, teachers, and confronters. By knowing which style is yours, you can adapt your dialogue to fit it. "If you’re a motivator, you’ll say, ‘Obviously this didn’t work out but, because of your passion and skill set, I’m going to encourage you to find the right career for you.’ This person will be passionate and uplifting," says Ferry. The teacher says something like, "Let’s talk about why this didn’t work. I want you to walk away from this experience better." 

The confronter is more like a sports coach: "Do your job or you’re cut from the team." However, the latter may not be the best approach for most instances, Ferry warns. "You have a company brand to uphold, so rather than be overly abrupt, consider helping this person make a life transition," he says.

Counsel them. Identify why the person is not performing well, remind that person of your expectations, and set new goals if necessary. If it becomes clear that the person just can’t perform, it’s time to let him or her go. "I always help them determine why real estate isn’t the right career choice, if that’s the case," says Ken Clark, ABRM(sm), CRB, senior vice president and regional manager for Coldwell Banker Mid-America Group, REALTORS®, in West Des Moines, Iowa. "Then I help them determine what career might work for them," he says.

Let them see the numbers. "I show them the hard numbers," says Lois Schneider, president and CEO of Lois Schneider, REALTOR®, in Summit, N.J. "It’s hard to argue when the numbers show how productivity is lagging."