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“Extremely traumatising” – Cloudflare sales executives get sacked, take it badly; CEO weighs in

"When we’re doing performance management right, we can often tell within three months or less of a sales hire, even during the holidays, whether they’re going to be successful or not..."

cloudflare sales layoffs

Ding-ding: In the Red Corner, Cloudflare: The cybersecurity and content distribution network company rolled up its sleeves and stepped into the ring this week to knock some sales executives out the door. Ding-dong: In the Blue Corner, those Cloudflare sales executives, unwilling to hit the canvas, hit a few beers, then dust themselves off – choosing instead to kick the company in the nuts for its approach, live on TikTok and LinkedIn.

Q: Strong lede, if a little confusing and over-written: What did I miss exactly? A: Cloudflare this week drew widespread social media chatter from CISOs and sales leaders alike, after an account executive filmed herself being let go, describing it on that call as “extremely traumatising” – whilst another hit out publicly at how she was let go by the company; which denies having made “layoffs” and says they failed to hit targets.

One sales staffer shared her experience on LinkedIn: “‘We’re very careful with hiring in order to avoid layoffs”, was literally what I was told in my final interview with Cloudflare when I was offered my role, about eight months ago. Unfortunately, I discovered this was in fact not accurate, as I was part of the latest round of surprise layoffs earlier this week,” she said.

“No warning, no PIP, still on a ramp quota, positive performance reviews, booking deals, on track with pipeline, and looking forward to closing some big wins this fiscal year,” she wrote on the social platform. “Yet, I was still let go via a cold, impersonal, surprise 15 minute meeting…”

Another recorded her dismissal and posted it on TikTok and Instagram: “You are not being singled out on this. Your peers are also being collectively assessed on performance. This is a collective calibration for Cloudflare” a voice on the end of the call told her, trying to be reassuring.

“Can you explain to me why Brittany Pietsch is being let go?” The sales executive asked – referring to herself in the third-person in a bid for specificity from her erstwhile employer, who responded rather uninformatively: “Errr, I won’t be able to go into specifics for numbers…”

One of the biggest issues for those posting about their dismissals seems to have been that they came out of the blue: That nobody had flagged performance issues for example in their time at Cloudflare. Those making the dismissals also seemed reluctant to in any way share details including the blunt truth, perhaps, that they had failed to hit performance targets. 

The post rapidly drew attention on X including from one CISO, who commented: “Lying and saying it was based on performance, not having direct managers in the meetings, stonewalling valid questions, this is the most unethical method of laying off an employee I've ever seen.”

The suggestion of many was that Cloudflare was conducting mass layoffs and blaming it opaquely, on individual performance, but without sharing detail. The sales executive sharing the call on TikTok admitted on that same call however that “I’ve been working extremely hard. Just because I haven’t closed anything, that has nothing to do with my performance…”

Cloudflare would, no doubt, disagree: Closing has everything to do with performance. Pressed on how many people it let go, why, and whether it felt it took the right approach, Cloudflare responded via its PR agency that it “did not conduct layoffs and is not engaged in a reduction of force. 

“When we do make the decision to part ways with an employee, we base the decision on a review of an employee's ability to meet measurable performance targets. We regularly review team members' performance and let go of those who aren't right for our team. There is nothing unique about that review process or the number of people we let go after performance review this quarter” it said, saying ~60 people had gone.

To Pietsch meanwhile, on her call, Cloudflare’s approach was callous and unfair. She was on a three-month ramp, she said, with two major holidays in the middle; a really tough time to close deals, and her feedback had been positive – Cloudflare, she said on her termination video “had hired too many people and realised that they can’t afford this many people.”

Not true, said the company's CEO, admitting Cloudflare could do better.

Cloudlare’s CEO Matthew Prince responded on X: “We fired ~40 sales people out of over 1,500 in our go to market org. That’s a normal quarter.

"When we’re doing performance management right, we can often tell within three months or less of a sales hire, even during the holidays, whether they’re going to be successful or not. Sadly, we don’t hire perfectly. We try to fire perfectly. In this case, clearly we were far from perfect. The video is painful for me to watch. Managers should always be involved. HR should be involved, but it shouldn’t be outsourced to them.

“No employee should ever actually be surprised they weren’t performing,” he added on X, noting that “sometimes under performing employees don’t actually listen to the feedback they’ve gotten before we let them go. Importantly, just because we fire someone doesn’t mean they’re a bad employee. It doesn’t mean won’t be really, really great somewhere else. Chris Paul was a bad fit for the Suns, but he’s undoubtedly a great basketball player. And, in fact, we think the right thing to do is get people we know are unlikely to succeed off the team as quickly as possible so they can find the right place for them. We definitely weren’t anywhere close to perfect in this case. But any healthy org needs to get the people who aren’t performing off. That wasn’t the mistake here. The mistake was not being more kind and humane as we did" the CEO added.

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