Managing Sales Reps with “Attitude Problems”

21 Apr

Sometimes they simply have an opposing point of view.  Sometimes they are disrespectful of other team members.  Other times they simply refuse to do tasks commonly associated with what it takes to optimize sales results.  What’s their problem?  What’s your problem with them?

As a field sales manager you are accountable for delivering the optimal results possible with the assets assigned to you.  You are going to have a set number of sales resources.  Forget about the discomfort that you may feel from a rep with an attitude.  Stay focused on your job…optimal results!  First things first.  Are they making the goals? 

If not then you must take direct action by coaching and counseling.  You have to look at the territory as a resource and if the sales rep is not delivering that you’re not operating at full capacity.  You can afford an under-performing territory if you’re confident the numbers will improve.  You cannot afford to support an under-performing rep forever.  The next step is the most difficult one a sales manager has to perform…an autopsy of the sales pipeline.  Put on your stethoscope and begin to assess where in the sales cycle the problem resides.  Once you see where prospects, or lack of prospects, are clogging the pipeline you can next figure out what sales skills are lacking.  Most likely culprits?  Prospecting, presenting, probing or proposing are the most common ailments.  In this case the poor attitude is a symptom of a SKILL problem.  This is the most commonly overlooked solution because when we see a attitude problem we automatically begin inspecting the symptom instead of the illness.

If the rep consistently meets the goals but gives you or your team attitude problems then the plan of action is much more complex, but if left unaddressed it’s going to get worse.  High sales will is driven first by high sales skill.  But some people regress.  So I would recommend that you divorce yourself from the notion of “motivation”.  Motivation is what happens when there is a belief, held in expectation that something personally important will happend when a task is performed.  You need to go a little deeper.  Will is defined as the combination of desire, incentive, security and confidence.  When someone that used to have high sales will regresses, then one of those four drivers has reversed.  You need to figure out which driver has reversed then address the problem:

Desire – this is the closest to motivation.  It’s possible for people to lose the desire to perform tasks.  They simply feel that they have outgrown the need to perform the task, or that the they have already captured what was important to them and are now unwilling to perform certain tasks.  The most common example is prospecting.  Say the rep has a goal to make $100k per year.  Once they get to that level they stop performing a task they hate, like making old fashioned calls to set appointments. 

Incentive – there is a very strong link to incentive and desire, though incentive is a little more subtle.  Incentive can be a self imposed limit, such as a low income goal.  Incentive, as a driver of will, can regress quickly.  You see this all the time.  Outbound telephone calls disappear when the pipeline is full.  Then when the pipeline of prospects thins out people forget what got them there.  It becomes your job to remind them that the task of outbound calls is how they filled up their pipeline.  In other words, make sure they see the linkage between the task and their success.

Security – This is a tricky driver of sales will.  If you grew up in sales like I did then you know that security is fleeting.  You can feel a loss of security because of your own perceptions, or because of things going on around you that are outside of your control.  The most obvious are mergers or downsizings.  The less obvious are management changes or a change in the sales process.

Confidence – A change in confidence can come from within or from the outside world.  You can imagine what more senior sales reps felt when their company went from emailed weekly sales reports to an online CRM.  Confident people will speak out and ask for help.  Those that lose confidence will be afraid to ask for help, they don’t want to be discovered.  People are subject to a regression in confidence more today than ever before because the span of control for sales managers continue to get wider and wider.  The less communication there is, the more likely that a reps perceptions will cause damage to their confidence.

So, in the end, I hope that your view of attitude problems has been altered.  Your job as sales manager is to dig a little deeper and find out how you can help.  However, if the rep is the “bad apple” sooner or later they will ruin the rest of the team.  You may have to take action quickly.  Your team depends upon you to show composure and care for people.  Be the best coach and leader that your team ever had.  You’ll enjoy your job and over time you’ll create a team of winning professionals.

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4 Responses to “Managing Sales Reps with “Attitude Problems””

  1. Tom Knight April 24, 2009 at 6:46 am #

    Good insights…thanks for the reminders!

  2. heykeenan April 30, 2009 at 11:30 am #

    Greg,

    Have to disagree with you on this one. There is no excuse for a bad attitude. A dip in performance, frustration with incetives, lack of motivation, all are excusable and understandable. However, a bad attitude speaks to their disposition or manner. It is not connected to desire, incentives etc. Bad attitudes can be affected by those things, but they are not caused by them. Bad attitudes can be present when things are going well. I have no tolerance for bad attitudes. It doesn’t matter if they are making their numbers or not. Bad attitudes systemically tear down your region, one rep at a time. Bad attitudes don’t allow for growth, openness, support, or most importantly, coaching. I give one warning for bad attitude. Get rid of it, or I get rid of you regardless of performance.

  3. gregdeming May 1, 2009 at 5:47 am #

    Hey Jim, thanks for visiting the blog and leaving a comment. I don’t think we disagree. Maybe I could have done a better job with the post. The intent of the article was to give some ideas on how to get to the root cause of the attitude and see if it’s “fixable”. Seems that the best outcome is to fix the attitude and keep the results. Thanks again Jim.

  4. sapcentrifuge philips hr1861 August 3, 2013 at 8:05 am #

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