What could be sweeter than to see the talent that you suspected existed in your newly hired salesperson come fully to fruition? Closing at a rate that’s twice that of the rest of your reps; he’s a star. But success breeds its own set of expectations. Your superstar is suddenly invading the phone room to cherry-pick leads. He fails to show up for every other sales meeting, and soon enough you’re glad for that because when he’s there he openly challenges your competence and authority. By the time he departs in a huff, you and every salesperson on your staff is hugely relieved.
Lay the Foundation
Experienced sales managers prevent such a situation from developing by immediately setting expectations when making the hire and by managing in a way that encourages the best behavior — closing — while discouraging the worst — bluster and what comes after, demands for privileges.
First, hire right. Bill Moulds, national sales manager for Mid-Atlantic Waterproofing, in Yonkers, N.Y., says he searches for candidates who are “moldable, looking to learn, have the attitude that they don’t know anything, and are willing to sacrifice for the job.” Often, he adds, they “feel like they owe you for helping them to earn more than they ever did.” If that’s the case, they’re not likely to become demanding.
Second, make it clear from day one that the rules apply to all without exceptions for any reason. “Every new salesperson, no matter how experienced, has to go through our training program,” says Doug Cook, president of Feldco, a Midwestern window replacement company with seven branches in three states. After three weeks of training comes continuous evaluation and random checking of cars to make sure that kits and belongings are in order. Finally, every February, all salespeople — no exceptions — spend a week retraining on products. The underlying philosophy, Cook says, is that “no individual is bigger than the team.”
Vin Gerrior, director of sales for Lanham, Md.–based Thompson Creek Window Co., says that strict rules prevent such problems. When you hire, he points out, “lay out the groundwork and explain exactly what the job entails and what the expectations are — and keep your end of the bargain.”
If every preventive step fails and a rep comes to see himself as the baddest thing on the sales staff, Gerrior brings him in for a talk. He acknowledges the rep’s amazing numbers but tells him that the way he is acting is unprofessional. Moulds says that he might take such a salesperson to lunch to discuss the problem. But, he points out, he never loses sight of the fact that the company comes first. “If [that rep] needs to be on a pedestal,” Moulds says, “I won’t bend.”
—Diane Kittower is a freelance writer-editor in Maryland.