When a Top Performer Tries to Quit

When an employee tries to quit, you realistically have two options. You can let them quit or you can try and save them.

When a good, strong, high achieving salesperson tries to quit, most leaders typically sit down and ask the individual why they are trying to quit. They’ll then give a whole host of reasons why, most of which are, usually, untrue. Now they could be vying some sort of a raise or perks, or they’re leveraging to get something and they’re bluffing. But when they are genuinely trying to leave, I’ve seen CEOs so confident and arrogant that they know they can keep them, that they try to either manipulate or create a situation or sell the individual on an alternative solution to keep them. When someone wants to quit, they usually want to quit for a specific reason and you can change and reframe things to whatever capacity you want, but at the end of the day you will have a decision to make.


Understand when someone tries to quit, there is a level of resentment there.

And so what most CEO’s or leaders typically do is say, “hey, why do you want to quit? Because you hate your job? Because you hate the role that you’re in?”  But they want to make sure that it’s the current position that they aren’t happy with and not the company. So they try to reframe or recreate their role or they try to give them more responsibilities and money or a whole host of different solutions, all of which on the onset sound like great ideas. Now the CEO can say “Hey, I saved a person. I’m not going to suffer the opportunity cost of having a vacant seat. I’m not going to suffer the turnover cost”. This all sounds great, however there is a downside that is rarely seen.

The truth is that by the time they tell you, mentally they’ve already walked out the door. Whatever problems they had usually still remain and persist and those you typically cannot change by simply realigning or readjusting their duties. And so here’s what ends up happening: if you save this person, it’s only a matter of time until they come back to have the same conversation again. Over the next three to six months that person either comes back and wants to quit or their demeanor, their attitude, their behavior, and their level of personal responsibility to the organization has significantly decreased. They are no longer nearly as effective as they once were prior to them wanting to quit and they believe that the grass is greener on the other side. The grass is never greener on the other side, the grass is greener where you water it. So what do you do? What do you do when someone tries to come in and quit? My recommendation would be to let them go. Let them go because if they believe that the grass is greener on the other side and you keep them, they will always be looking over the fence. They will always be wanting to go and explore that other opportunity, even if you create a new situation that is wonderful. But because they have this unmet desire and they have this conflict inside of them, they’ll feel unfulfilled, always thinking “what if”. Then they will again denigrate themselves to a point where they’re no longer as effective as they once were. So let them leave because by trying to keep them on, you’re just kicking the can down the road and causing more trouble in the long run.


Ask them respectfully to tell the honest truth and that you need to know in order to address the issues.

When somebody says that they want to quit, of course, ask them, “Why do you want to quit? What’s going on? You’re a top performer, we really value you here. I don’t want you to leave, but I want to respect your wishes.”  But also ask them respectfully to tell the honest truth and that you need to know in order to address the issues. You can’t fix something that you don’t know. You’ll want to speak it in a way which inspires confidence in them, and gives them some level of safety and security so they actually provide you with the correct feedback. Now that you know what is holding them back, Here’s what you do:  Ask them if they have another job lined up.  They’re going to more than likely have something else, since this person is a high performing high achiever, they are most likely responsible.  People don’t typically just quit a job on a whim. Which means that they have been looking for some time or maybe they were headhunted and recruited into a different situation. What was the first thing I said? The grass is not always greener on the other side, the grass is greener where you water it.

So you tell them this:  “Go and take the other position, but if it is not everything that they promised you, if you are not absolutely happy like a pig in shit inside of ninety days, you can come back.” When you do that, you have now reframed the conversation. You have told them that they are a valued member, and you respect and admire their input. You’ve also told them to go on, go ahead and scratch that itch. But if it’s not what they want or what they think it is, they can always come back. I see countless people leave a situation for another one that they think will be better, and it turns out that it isn’t. But then they can’t come back. This creates the expectation that this person will come back but you don’t just leave it there, remember? What’s the first rule of sales? Always make sure you have next steps. So what you do is you say, “OK, today is the first, you’re going to serve out your two weeks so on the fourteenth you will be done here. Ninety days from the fourteenth, let’s put a meeting on the calendar.” You put a meeting on the calendar and you meet that person face to face, outside of the office.

This prevents you from overpaying to keep someone that is going to be a diminishing asset. When you overpay, you tell them that they have something over you, that you need them that much more and again, this person cannot help themselves. It’s human nature for them to continue to look over the fence. So the most important thing and the best thing you can do is sit down with a top performer, get them to take their guard down, let them open up and tell you exactly why they’re leaving. But also, create an opportunity for them to return. When you do this you shift the power dynamic in your favor. You are not beholden to them and if and when they come back, you maintain the good will and loyalty of a top performer.


You’re doing this for a high level, high performing employee. It’s going to be very difficult to replace someone that’s already very difficult to find. You can never have too much good talent. In many sports, you can have too many stars on the court at once, because ultimately there’s only one ball that’s being handled. Business is more like baseball. Everyone’s up solo,  it’s you up against everybody else. You can never have too many home run hitters because you can never run out of dingers to hit. So if it’s a top performer, you can always find a spot for them. And if you can’t, then you can’t. But realistically, you’re not holding a seat open for them. Give them enough space to figure out what it is they want and need, and what it is that they value. If and when they come back, they will be 10 times more valuable than before, because they’ve seen what it’s like on the other side, and they know where their loyalties lie.

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