When Good Salespeople Go Bad

Many dealers tell us that a strange thing sometimes occurs when they hire a great salesperson. They say that over time, if a salesperson becomes the best producer, he or she sometimes goes “wild”—refusing to follow instructions and causing trouble, but continuing to sell a huge amount of equipment, and becoming too valuable to fire. This article will take a look at the causes of and cure for this dreaded condition—Salesmanus Indomitus (out of control salesperson).

Symptoms of Salesmanus Indomitus

Salesmanus Indomitus refers to a salesperson who cannot be controlled by management. He or she could refuse to come to meetings or shows, use a process, demo or technique not approved by the company, or try to prevent the company from hiring additional sales staff by poisoning the minds and hearts of new recruits.

This sounds cruel, but we believe it is human nature; it happens spontaneously when a salesperson meets a manager who is not in control of staff. Salespeople are high-powered tools that should always be aimed at the customer. If they spend too much time aimed at the company, they can go wild. Then, no one wins.

Causes of Salesmanus Indomitus

Poor recruiting. If you are unable to recruit as many great salespeople as you need, you encourage this condition. If salespeople sense you can’t replace them or can’t get along without them, many will take advantage of the situation.

For example, Fred needs five salespeople but has two. He spends little effort on recruiting and has not hired a successful salesperson in two years. His star salesperson is Hilda. Hilda sells 70% of the sales and is irreplaceable. Hilda realizes that she can take liberties because Fred cannot replace her or the sales she generates. As a result, she begins to control the company and make the decisions. Fred feels he can’t stop her because he can’t afford to lose the sales she brings in.

Lack of confidence. Another cause of the condition is lack of confidence on the part of the dealer. If a dealer does not have the confidence to do a great demo, sell and recruit, the afflicted salesperson becomes completely indispensable. Many realize this and work to further undermine dealer confidence and increase dependency.

Focusing exclusively on sales. Sales are important, but if a dealer focuses exclusively on sales and not on loyalty, team success, ethics, and standards for activities and demonstrations, the company will suffer. If a dealer keeps a high-producing salesperson who will not attend meetings or shows, is not punctual, refuses to sell some products and services, criticizes the company, refuses to follow company policies and performs other subversive activities, that salesperson is calling the shots. He or she has become the manager, and the dealer actually works for the salesperson. Sales are very important, but anyone who detracts from the culture of success must be adjusted or removed.

Idle time. If salespeople sit around for long periods of time with little to do, they are more likely to contract this condition. Remember that a salesperson is like a loaded weapon and should always be pointed away from you and toward the customer.

Aggravating the Condition

Do not try force. The Salesmanus Indomitus will not respond well to force. You cannot engage in conflict or you will lose him or her. We suggest picking your battles and selling the salesperson into seeing things your way. You accomplish this like you would in any sales situation. Find out what he or she wants and needs—with some, it may be praise or status, with others, it could be perks, still others, time off. Find out what it is the salesperson wants, and try trading for what you want.

Do not let them help with new staff. Never leave them alone with new sales staff or ask their opinion of applicants. Remember, they will want new recruits to fail so they can remain indispensable and keep or even increase power. Always train new staff yourself and warn them about salespeople who may try to lead them astray.

Do not make them a manager. Never make the Salesmanus Indomitus a manager. Managers have to be loyal and dedicated to the systems and long-term goals of the company. Putting someone who is out of control in charge of your sales force is a recipe for disaster.

Doctor’s Orders

If you think you have out-of-control salespeople on your team, here are the steps to follow:

Learn a great demo. Over the years, we have noticed that owners who can sell are not bothered by Salesmanus Indomitus. This is because they have the confidence that no matter who works for them or what happens, they can sell enough to stay afloat. That’s why we recommend that you learn a great demo and prove to yourself and anyone else on your team that you can sell. You want them around, but you don’t need them on board. We are not suggesting you sell all the time, just during emergencies.

Learn to recruit and train. The best way to prevent this condition is to not let it happen. If you recruit and train the right number of salespeople, no one on your staff will become indispensable. If you should have five salespeople, work until you get five. No one tries to take over a company if he or she can be easily replaced.

When the time comes, be surgical and decisive. We hope that you never have to face this problem, but if you do, and if you have tried to adjust the salesperson into a productive staff member, act swiftly and decisively. It won’t get any better if you wait. It will cost you a few sales, but if you can replace him or her, you won’t suffer much. Keep telling yourself it is better to be the boss of a team you have to rebuild than work for an employee who doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Our experience shows that good managers always find replacements for out-of-control sales staff.

An Ounce of Prevention

So take courage, and start working now to prevent the Salesmanus Indomitus from developing. Then you will be ready … if and when good salespeople go bad.

Carl Davidson and Ric Harry are directors of Sales and Management Solutions, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in sales & management video training, recruiting and live seminars exclusively for the water equipment industry. A free demonstration video and list of products and topics is available at 800.941.0068. Send comments on this article to them at reactions@carldavidson.com; www.carldavidson.com.

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