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Last month, a client posed an interesting scenario. He has been a very successful salesperson for many years but is relatively new to sales management. One of his younger male team members has begun to develop a bit of an ego. Shocking, right? While sales may require a fair bit of confidence, there are times when that behavior becomes detrimental to the team. Somewhere in the middle of “individual” and “team” lies the ideal salesperson. So how do you rein this young man in without clipping his wings?
In this case, the young man has been in the field for about two years. During this time, he had taken suggestions well, demonstrated a strong work ethic, and a general will to win. His effort is reflected by the steady increase in monthly revenue generation. He has climbed his way to the number two slot on the depth chart, but recently his behavior has changed. He has been missing training sessions, not showing up at the office every morning, and failing to communicate with his manager. Furthermore, the way he communicates his frustration to the inside sales and material handling team members is bordering on abusive. He appears to be drifting further away from the company and the manager fears that a blow up is coming. Again, how do we handle this young man who has gotten a bit too big for his britches?
I have seen this type of situation while growing up in my family business and while working with other clients. In fact, I would be surprised if this situation does not strike a cord in many of you reading this article. Let’s face it; sales people can be a pain the posterior. I am certain that many of you have fantasized about firing the whole lot of them in one fell swoop I had a client who did this at one time. Hasty? Perhaps. Gratifying in the short run? An emphatic yes. But let’s be clear here. I do not advocate this rash behavior. Reserve those thoughts for the commute home.
Although I had some thoughts on how I would handle this scenario, I decided to reach out to wisdom of my peers. I love social media for this purpose. I dug through my LinkedIn contacts and posed the scenario to several sales managers, presidents of companies, and a couple of sales management consultants. I was rewarded with some very sound suggestions by my friends and colleagues. Over the next 600 words, I will share their thoughts in the hopes of giving you some tools to deal with that sales ego.
A couple of my friends suggested the use of analogies when trying to work with salespeople. Often, they don’t consciously know that they are causing such a wake of destruction with their words. The key idea here is to try to help them visualize the importance of teamwork. One colleague likes to use the scenario of an actor on a stage. While the actor might be the most visible part of the production, he or she would be totally ineffective without the team members who control lighting, sound, and set production. Try acting in the dark and see how the audience responds.
Another friend shared the scenario of the football team. The quarterback may be the most visible member of a professional football team, but he shares the field with 10 other players. How effective would that quarterback be without an offensive line? Without skill players such as backs and receivers, the quarterback would have to scramble around hoping not to get crushed by a defensive tackle or back. The team members allow the quarterback to shine. If you can show hoe this analogy relates to the salesperson and the inside sales personnel, material handling team, and your credit management, you might be able to get the rogue salesperson back on the team.
One of my friends had a slightly different way to approach this situation. He suggested the manager should start with praise. People tend to be more open to constructive feedback when the conversation starts in a positive manner. Tell the recipient that you are excited about his progress and can see that he has a bright future ahead. Recognize the rapid rise in revenue and commend him on the things that make him successful. He also suggested the discussion of how team members allow him to be successful. No one goes at it alone.
The next step was a little out of the box. My friend suggested that the manager send this junior salesperson to work with a seasoned professional in another organization. This is where we can leverage our relationships with other owners and managers. Obviously, this might require that the person travel and spend some time away from home; but it may the person a new perspective. It may even be possible to have this person spend time with a professional in a totally unrelated vertical market. The veteran can mentor him about how attitude plays into the role of a leader. Even if he has no aspirations to become management, salespeople must develop strong leadership qualities to gain followers. Even Sherlock Holmes had Dr. Watson.
The Heart to Heart
The owner of a business I have been coaching for several years suggested that this might be more of a heart issue versus a head issue. His approach is to sit down with the individual and work on the ego and conceit issues. He likes to share his personal experience around the downfalls of ego and weave in how humility is not a negative trait. My favorite definition of humility is the ability to remain teachable. He encourages the person to think about helping others in the organization become successful. Great long term producers know that coupling results with humility is a tremendous combination.
And now for something completely different. One the best sales management trainers I have run across is a gentleman named Dave Kahle. He has been training and coaching for many decades. I was fortunate to have Dave weigh in on this scenario because he brought a very different approach to the problem. He suggested the use of a 360 degree assessment for the individual. The young man needs to hear how his behavior has been affecting everyone around him. He suggested that this approach will be relatively inexpensive, have more power than the sit down discussion, and take a lot less of the manager’s time.
As I started to ponder Dave’s suggestion, I reflected back on a 360 degree assessment I look early in my career. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the process, it boils down to inviting other members of your organization to weigh in on how they feel about you. You are opening yourself up to the good, the bad, and the ugly. Generally, you ask for feedback from your superiors, your peers, your direct reports, and others you interact with on a regular basis. Each of them is invited to fill out an anonymous questionnaire. The surveys are sent to the assessment company and an evaluation is produced. As I recall, I knew some of my flaws; but a few of the comments pointed out some glaring weaknesses that could have ultimately derailed my ability to be an effective leader.
In order to not single this person out, Dave suggested that the company consider doing assessments on the entire sales staff. I suggest that the managers should also consider taking the assessment. Let’s get all the cards on the table. If everyone in the organization begins to develop a sense of how their behavior affects the team, the company will be far better positioned to pull together when the going gets tough.
Dealing with the natural confidence of highly successful salespeople can be an extreme exercise in patience. We want to foster the competitive nature of the individual, but not to the detriment of the team chemistry. In this highly competitive world of recruiting and retention, the last thing we need is a prima donna who drives off the supporting cast. Shooting stars have a bright, short lived existence, but teams win. I truly appreciate the assist by my LinkedIn community. If you need help dealing with your problem child, I am just an email away.