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How To Handle An Established Sales Rep Who Won’t Engage In New Account Development?

by David Brock on January 23rd, 2009
Paul Castain raised this issue at LinkedIn. It’s an interesting question. Let me reposition it with a challenge I’ve seen in many organizations.

You have a “top sales performer” — they make their numbers, often lead in the numbers, but don’t do a whole number of other things. As Paul raised, they might not spend time bringing in new accounts. they might refuse to do forecasts or update the CRM system, they might overspend on expenses, they might sell only a few products and refuse to sell the broad portfolio of products they are expected to sell. There can be any number of challenges these “top performers” create. What do we do with these people? Do we let them continue on their own, as long as they produce the numbers or do we do something about them?

I actually had one of these people working for me in my very first sales management job. You could always count on him for the numbers, but just about everything else was a disaster. He refused to collaborate with his team-mates, he thought the rules and processes of the organization didn’t apply to him — he showed up in the office when he wanted, he was months late on expense reports and they were always over budget. When I asked him for a forecast, he’d say, “Don’t worry, I’ll make my numbers, I always have.”

He really frustrated me, I was upset that he wouldn’t do all the other things that we expected sales people to do. His peers started complaining about his behavior, “Why can he get away with these things and we can’t?” We had a very complex systems solution to sell, he needed support from pre-sales engineers and other people–none of them like do work with him and would come to complain with me.

I struggled with what to do. I coached, pleaded, begged. I told him to give me his receipts and I would do his expense reports, I did the same with his forecast.

Fortunately, I had a brilliant manager. He saw my struggles with this difficult “top sales guy.” He recognized the problem immediately and stepped in to solve the problem — he fired me! About 60 days later, he also fired the problem sales person.

As managers and leaders, we are expected to manage performance. Performance has many dimensions. Hitting your number is one criteria–often the top one, but there are many other dimensions of performance. These can include a variety of things. For example, if new account development is an important part of the organization’s growth strategy, then the performance plan needs to include new account development criteria and metrics. There are certain performance standards important to the efficient operation of the organization. For example, timely forecasts so that manufacturing can do the right planning for customer demand. Timely expense reports so finance can manage cash flow and reporting appropriately. There are many other things.

Establishing strong performance standards and holding people accountable to those standards is critical for the success of any organization. Once, those standards are relaxed or not enforced, then the organization will not achieve its goals. Taken to an extreme, chaos reigns.

My manager was absolutely right in firing me. I did not recognize the impact this individual was having on the rest of the organization. Morale was very low. People saw this guy getting “special treatment.” I lost all respect and credibility with may people and the organization. People didn’t think I was tough enough to step up to managing this difficult individual. Overall performance in my group and related organizations was starting to decline. This problem was not the sales person, but it was me. I was not managing for performance, I was willing to sacrifice everything for a guy who made his numbers.

Why wasn’t the problem sales person immediately fired? My manager (or by this time former manager) was right on this, as well. He sat down with the problem sales person, reviewing performance expectations with the sales person. He made it clear to the him that he was expected to meet all performance standards we had established. The manager established a plan with the problem sales person and a time frame to get into compliance. Unfortunately, the guy didn’t and was fired 60 days later.

Fortunately, I learned from that experience. Today, I see to many managers and organizations that are not achieving their goals and objectives. Very often, when you start looking at the issues, they have poorly defined and/or poorly managed performance standards. In sales, too often people focus on the number only, and don’t address other dysfunctional behaviors. In my experience, these have a debilitating impact on the organization.

Today, managing this issue is more difficult than ever. With most companies looking for sales and deals wherever they can, should we be firing top producers who consistently do not meet other performance expectations or standards?

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  1. hocoblog permalink

    Great article. Thanks

  2. Vincent permalink

    Thanks. This brings insight into one of the questions I was evaluating.

    Will you fire a salesperson who met most of the other non-sales related performance indicator, but fail to achieve his numbers consistently? Could it be the case that complex internal processes take away precious sales time?

    Will you rather have your rep spend more time on managing these internal standards, or to be out there meeting clients? Another argument you can put forth is that the salesperson should meet clients during office hours, and do the rest after office hours. How much time does your internal control take from your sales reps?

    • Interesting questions Vincent. Not knowing the situation, it would appear there are problems with the internal organization. A sales person must maximize the time they spend with customers and generating new business. They do have internal responsibilities, but when these take precedence over selling, then something is wrong. A key part of the manager’s job is to protect the sales teams from the organization–reducing some of the workload and chaning the processes you allude to in this comment. Interesting situation. If I can help you think about it furtner, don’t hesitate contacting me directly at

  3. Peter Fox permalink

    You fool! All it comes down to is numbers. Stop trying to make a STUPID job more complicated that it is. It’s a sales job man.

    • Peter, thanks for the comment. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. The sales person’s job isn’t simply about the numbers, it’s about implementing the organization’s strategy, enabling them to continue to grow. If new accounts are a key part of the strategy and the salesperson consistently refuses to do try to acquire new accounts, then the sales person is actually hurting the company. When anyone accepts a job with a company, they are ageeing to perform to expectations. They don’t get to choose which areas they want to do and which they don’t want to do. If they choose not to do certain aspects of the job, theh they need to accept whatever consequence might be.

      I’d quibble with the “STUPID job” comment, but I’ll let things rest where they are. While we disagree, thanks for joining the discussion. Regards, Dave

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