Do the Inmates Run the Asylum.
By Dr. Rick Johnson
Monday, 13th June 2011
Handling sales people that can put up the numbers but break every rule in the book, ones that can't get along with their peers and drive inside sales people crazy can be very challenging for a sales manager.

This will create a situation that ultimately will affect overall company performance regardless of this sales person's individual success. This is especially true if this sales person holds the sales manager hostage knowing his numbers help keep corporate off the sales managers back.

Do you pay the ransom?

This sales person knows the score and generally uses it to their advantage. The only way to handle a situation like this is to call the bluff. But it must be done in a calculated way by using objective numbers to your advantage.

The first step is to determine if this sales person is really responsible for the sales performance or are they just a member of the "Lucky Territory Club." The second question relates to the true potential of the territory this sales person is assigned to. Are they maximizing market share growth and profitability? In other words, their performance may look good based on the goals set but are those goals too low and do they reflect the real potential that territory represents.

What's the Root Cause?

The next action is to step back and try to examine the situation from an outside perspective. Seek help from your mentor, your boss or even human resources. This type of situation doesn't happen over night. Reexamine your culture, your management style and the accountability of the organization. Is this type of behavior common place? Has it been tolerated before? Have you as the sales manager set precedent in the past?

In today's environment Lone Wolf sales people generally don't have as much ownership of the customers as either you or they think they have. If your company has a good reputation, services the customers well and have practiced tier level team selling your risk of losing business by terminating this type of sales person is minimal.

Doing nothing is not an option

Allowing this type of behavior with no consequence sends the wrong message and it also gives permission to others that if they were that good at putting up numbers for the company they could do anything they want. Once you look at it from an outside perspective and see if the company has had complicity in the situation, then it is good to do a little self-analysis to see if "you" have complicity in the situation.

Frankly, in a situation such as this it is highly unlikely that the sales manager does not share responsibility for allowing this to happen. It is not about accepting this behavior, which is wrong; however, if the sales manager had reacted at the first sign of this type of behavior, this would never have happened.

The solution, whichever one you choose, will likely involve improving the personal skill sets of the sales manager and creating boundaries for the sales team. Without establishing boundaries the situation will repeat itself.

The Solutions ---- Termination, Coach, Mentor or Train?

This type of situation with an employee has limited options; we can either fire or teach. If an employee's performance is not what is expected, it generally can be traced to a lack of training or they lack competency. However, if their performance deficiency is related to attitude (their numbers are good) we must consider the following:

  • Is this employee motivated to learn and change
  • Do you have the time and resources available to invest in behavior modification
  • Is this employee worth the investment
If the answer is no to any of these questions --- Terminate

If the answer to these questions is yes --- a personalized coaching and mentoring process must be established with clear ground rules and timelines for acceptable improvements.

The biggest issue is that of motivation to change. Often times a Lone Wolf will not feel the threat of what can happen to them. As a result they don't cooperate and work on changing their behavior. They have become complacent, arrogant and live in a comfort zone. This arrogance is what blocks their ability to realize that they need to change. If this type of response is recognized early on, termination is still an option.

Who pulls the trigger?

The last piece of the puzzle is to understand who will make the decision and what course of action to take. If the consequences of the actions compromise the strategic direction of the company, it becomes a decision that should involve discussion with the executive team.

That does not mean the sales manager is relieved of the responsibility of dealing with the problem. It simply means that additional input is required before pulling the trigger. It is entirely possible due to the importance of the decision to the company that the CEO may make the call.

Don't pay the ransom

It is never a good idea to pay the ransom. You are only delaying the inevitable. Being held hostage to improper behavior due to the fear of losing revenue is short term non strategic thinking. If you find yourself in a position where a sales person can actually make or break your company then you have not done an effective job as the manager.

You may be a major part of the problem. It is just not acceptable in today's business environment that any sales person owns the account base so strongly that it can jeopardize the success of the company. Start the process of rehabilitation or termination.

Step 1 ----- Coach, Mentor & Train the employee to create behavior modification that brings them in alignment with the firm's values, beliefs, and integrity.

Step 2----- Reestablish accountability with the entire sales team

Step 3 --- Start the recruiting process for the possible if not probable replacement of the employee.

Sales management is not easy. This is especially true in today's environment with the generational influence, the evolutionary transition from the Lone Wolf sales approach to the Lead Wolf team selling solution provider. Remember, compassion for the employees is both strength and a weakness.

If you find yourself being held hostage by this type of employee and he has been with the firm twenty years, follow these guidelines. However, if the answer is termination don't get caught up in the self imposed guilt about maintaining integrity due to the employee's tenure.

Think about what you're doing to your integrity and the company's integrity in the eyes of the rest of your employees by not dealing with the situation effectively.

Rick Johnson, Executive Advisor, Expert Speaker, Wholesale Distribution's "Leadership Strategist", founder of CEO Strategist, LLC a firm that helps clients create and maintain competitive advantage. Need a speaker for your next event, E-mail rick@ceostrategist.com.

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