BY JAMIE SCARBOROUGH and SONYA MELOFF
One of the best things about being a salesperson is that your value is easy to measure. How much revenue did you bring in? How profitable were your deals? How many new clients did you get? While employees in other departments are given wishy-washy performance reviews based, at times, on a manager’s subjective opinion, sales people are given targets: you hit them, you‘re good; you miss them, you suck.
Top salespeople have it better than any other employee in the company. They’re usually among the highest earners in the entire company; they have more fun (ever seen a President’s Club Bahamas trip for non-sales members?); they have more freedom (“Hi Deb… Oh, you are out at client meetings all day? Go get ‘em!”); and they get more perks (car allowance, expense account, swag).
In a lot of ways, salespeople are treated like elite athletes: as long as they’re performing, they’re pampered. And just like certain star athletes, some salespeople believe they’re too important to follow the company’s rules.
From minor annoyances like not consistently updating your CRM or missing internal meetings, to real antisocial behavior like bullying other employees/departments, ignoring rules, cheating the system and undermining leadership, some salespeople can really become a big distraction for their manager and for the company as a whole.
So, what do you do about it?
As a company leader, you have to weigh the constant need for immediate revenue against the long-term health of your organization. Your sales people are front-line employees with a significant impact on your day-to-day results. But their negative actions can hurt your company in the long-term. Your job is to determine at what point your sales rep’s bad behaviour becomes unacceptable.
There are typically three levels of bad behaviour, ranging from minor irritants to major issues:
LEVEL 1: “I am too busy trying to make targets to [fill in the blank]”
Example: The rep isn’t doing all of the administrative work needed to keep himself and the company organized.
How do you handle it? Some salespeople are extremely organized and do well at administrative tasks; other successful reps struggle with it. Your job is to ensure that each admin task is really needed. If it is, make a small portion of each rep’s compensation contingent on completing it. Or, for a truly overwhelmed top performer, provide a support resource so that he can focus all of his attention on generating revenue.
LEVEL 2: “I like the status quo, so I am going to slow down or reject internal changes”
Example: The rep causes havoc when you try to change her account portfolio or interact with her clients.
How do you handle it? This often happens with long-tenured sales reps who don’t like the fact that the company is evolving and/or are put off by a new manager. The likely cause is that the rep feels like she’s are losing power within your organization and becoming just a number. Take the time to explain the positive short and long-term impacts of your organization’s changes. Ideally, get her input on strategic developments before they even happen so that she feels invested in these developments. After that, if she’s still reluctant and dragging her feet, then you’ve got a level 3 problem on your hands.
LEVEL 3: “I don’t respect this company or its leaders, and I am the only thing holding this ship above water”
Example: The rep openly bad-mouths key decisions, bullies other employees and departments, and consistently undermines his manager.
How do you handle it? This sales person is a cancer within your organization and there’s no place for him at your company in the long run. If his upcoming sales are critical to your company’s success, you need to quickly neutralize his power within the organization by putting more staff on his accounts and portfolio, giving you access to the key information and client relationships needed when you finally are able to let him go. If you can let him go immediately, it’s a great opportunity to show the rest of your organization that you care about the long-term health of your company more than short-term cash.
A great leader thinks about the company’s overall culture and—while understanding that people are flawed and mistakes will be made—responds to bad behaviour with the appropriate level of discipline. A bad leader puts up with anything from their top performers in exchange for the next dollar.
Not sure which one you are? We’ve built this handy flow-chart for your reference. It should help illustrate the difference in decision making:
Source: Sales Talent Agency