HARDISON’S TIPS – NOVEMBER 15, 2021 – Why You Might Have to Let Your Top Salesperson Go
It seems like a crazy notion: Fire your top sales performer? Really?! Why on Earth would you cut loose the one person who brings the most revenue to help your company survive? But the fact is that your strongest salesperson might also be your organization’s weakest link. Here’s how that can happen and what you can do about it:
A Problem Child and Prima Donna
What does the salesperson in question look like? Well, a lot like a “problem child” who’s also a prima donna. Consider the characteristics:
The problem child salesperson doesn’t like to follow the rules. In fact, he may not like the fact that rules exist at all. Certainly, they don’t apply to him (he thinks). And aren’t your sales processes rules? Don’t you have procedures in place so each sales effort is manageable and trackable and repeatable? And what about your CRM? If your top salesperson is also a rule breaker, will he – does he? – use your CRM so you can use data to improve your sales operation?
The problem child salesperson also probably doesn’t play nice with others. He’s not a team player. He looks out only for his own interests and looks for ways to boost his own sales, even at the expense of the team achieving its overall sales goals. In this way, the problem child salesperson can willfully upset the team dynamic. And why not? He isn’t concerned with the team; he will just go on his singular way, leaving the other salespeople to gnash their teeth in unison.
What’s worse than a salesperson who is also a “problem child”? One who has a sense of entitlement and has become a prima donna. You know the type – that salesperson who has a supercharged ego and an inflated view of his own talent or importance to the organization. Again, he thinks that rules are for everyone else and that he is invulnerable to discipline or termination; after all, he’s your superstar, right? But remember this: If you don’t confront the situation and deal with the prima donna, you are condoning his behavior. What kind of message does that send to your team?
Accountability for All
Tolerating the bad behaviors of a salesperson – even your top salesperson – tells your sales team that numbers matter more than teamwork, and that isolated individualism is valued more than cooperative growth as a cohesive unit. In the short run, this tolerance might yield improved sales, but the discord will impact your organization and could eventually destroy the team.
Think about a different message you can send the team. What if you put in place policies and processes and expectations that applied to every salesperson? In that case, you have a foundation for cooperation and growth. You also have a baseline for discipline and termination should you need it. (With your prima donna salesperson, you will almost surely need it.)
When you think about it, the troublesome salesperson does control his own destiny. He can become a team player and work for the good of the team and the organization, or he can be subjected to discipline. Once the disciplinary process comes into play, the prima donna can cooperate, toe the line and learn from the experience, or he can play his games elsewhere. In any event, you will have sent the right message to your team and even to potential recruits down the line.
By showing your team that you won’t tolerate selfishness, you will encourage teamwork. You will also encourage better communication. Perhaps best of all, you will nurture an environment of positivity and productivity. Imagine the productive time your team will regain if no longer engaged in that ongoing toxic discord. That energy can certainly be better spent if, as a team, you can better define what success looks like, and adapt your processes to achieve that more frequently.
You Are Not Alone
In a recent Aberdeen Group research study of more than 240 sales organizations, findings indicated that 36% of “best-in-class” companies are much more likely (60% vs. 44%) to terminate a top performer due to non-sales issues. Perhaps even more telling is the finding that 54% (vs. a 29% industry average) of these best-in-class companies base at least part of the salesperson’s financial compensation on behavioral components.
Writing about the findings of this study, Aberdeen Group’s Peter Ostrow notes that “hubris-filled ‘A players’ can be destructive to the overall mood, and success, of the team as a whole… with top sellers strutting around like peacocks.” Ostrow refers to these salespersons as “high performing sales jerks,” and notes that their high-maintenance ways command “inordinate amounts of damage control” while tending to “de-credentialize the entire sales function.”
The mere fact that a study like this was necessary shows that this is an industry-wide problem. It also shows that best-in-class sales organizations, on average, recognize the dangers of the prima donna and do something about the situation.