Peppered across the sales teams of my management career, there have been one or two salespeople who flagrantly abused my trust – spending their time on a variety of activities throughout the working day, rather than on the job we actually paid them to go out and do.
One young salesperson (who was very hard to get in touch with throughout the day) turned out to be doing a completely different job for a few hours in the afternoons (see title of article), while quite happily taking the salary we paid and using her company car (and fuel card) to get there and back.
Another used the opportunity of calling on our client base to introduce her Dad’s business and take orders for him rather than introducing our stock list – something the tracker on her car failed to pick up, because she was actually everywhere we asked her to be (and doing more “calls” than anyone else on the team) – albeit without ever mentioning our company once.
So, with regards to keeping an eye on the sales team and making sure the odd one isn’t taking liberties – there was a chap who managed one of my northern sales team a while back who used to say;
“It’s never just one thing!”
Meaning – if you notice that something is out of kilter or regularly below par – or if you consider being “generous” by letting the odd thing slip – then have a wonder what’s actually happening underneath the surface, what’s going on that you have absolutely no idea about?
First off let’s filter field salespeople into 3 categories;
On the Radar
Under the Radar
Off the Radar
On the Radar
This group are always happy, they tell you everything that’s going on, regularly hit their targets and have a boundless enthusiasm for bringing sticks back with their tails wagging (a phrase I use to describe a younger me quite often – and not meant in any way derogatory).
Yes they can be a bit annoying when you’re up to your eyes in management gumph – their reports are always far too detailed and most of their ideas are a little bit crackpot – but isn’t it strange how we push back at the very people who are actually trying to make our lives as easy as possible?
In fact, there are times when we’re much happier to concentrate on the superstars who inhabit the next category.
Under the Radar
Hitting target is something that just happens with this group – and sometimes it’s difficult to work out how they’re actually doing what they do – as they breeze through sales meetings, make internal politics look like child’s play and customers rave about them constantly.
They don’t feel that they need to contact you unless they have something to say – which is a blessing – and you sometimes wish that they could sprinkle a bit of their sales stardust on the rest of the team.
Hey – so what if she doesn’t always stick to the road (maybe even follows a few of her own maps) these are the people that all those leadership books tell you to let run free – right? Don’t stifle their brilliance with a load of micro-management – and anyway, why wouldn’t you allow a little free movement after all those outstanding results?
But a word of warning. Don’t let their current success blind you from doing what you’re meant to be doing (you know, that management thing) – keep one eye focused on them just to make sure they don’t turn into – or are actually – this next type.
Off the Radar
Doesn’t return your calls, doesn’t send in expenses, never keeps the CRM up to date and has to be chased for reports.
Figures might not be too bad – and he probably presents well at sales team meetings (in fact he always has a completely reasonable excuse for everything that you bring up) – and you don’t want to turn into that sales manager from the beginning of your career who used to randomly park outside people’s houses first thing in the morning to make sure they were on patch – do you?
But remember – It’s Never Just One Thing– if they’re letting something slip, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ve got a casual disregard for some of your other guidelines and processes too.
So What’s the Answer?
Well the best cure is usually prevention – so my advice would be to ensure that you adopt a management coaching strategy (this article explains how you can organise it yourself and has a free download sheet to make it really easy).
You really don’t want this to turn into a problem that drags on too long without any action. So there’s another article which explains how to tell whether there’s a need for extra training or discipline – What to Do When Members of Your Sales Team Fall Behind.
Let me tell you something I learnt at great expense – if you end up leaving it and leaving it – and then suddenly come down hard and jump straight into a formal disciplinary, the salesperson will realise they’ve been found out, blame all those around them, feel badly done to and start to hide behind legalities, while threatening to sue you for unfair dismissal.
Once that begins, every spare minute you’ve got will be taken off you as you search for any scrap of documented communication that might save you and the business an unnecessary court case and a ridiculously unjust pay out.
That’s when you’ll look back and realise that all the structured development, coaching and monitoring – that seemed so unnecessary in simpler times – would have saved you from all this nonsense, but now it’s just to late.
Final bit of advice – put together a 2 month monitoring plan, get it built and ready now for when you need it.
Understand in your own mind when you’ll need to implement it and what you want to see from the salesperson with regards to change once it’s been instigated.
Do not fool yourself (like I did so often) and mistake someone who genuinely just needs a chance and a little direction, for someone who doesn’t give two hoots about you or your job security.
I know we all want to see the best in people and give our teams the benefit of the doubt – but there will always be one or two who won’t offer you the same courtesy – and anyway, if we don’t act decisively early on – what message would that send out to all the superstars who really are trying to help you?
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