Tips to handle the problem-creating sales maverick

I'm often asked by sales managers how to handle high-performing sales reps who make life difficult. This can be tricky because there are many of these "mavericks" in selling.

I put them in two categories. There are some who post very strong results for organizations that don't have much of a formal selling system. They don't have any other program to fall back on, so they develop their own. These reps have gotten used to doing things their own way and they often get great results.

Then there are other reps who are unlikely to fit into any organization for long. These folks often have a problem with managing relationships -- they have to be in control all of the time. As a result, they may post strong short-term results, but are highly unlikely to build strong long-term relationships with customers. These salespeople have a tendency to want to dictate the terms, and have no place in a professional sales organization.

The first step for the sales manager is to evaluate the situation closely and find out which type of rep she is working with. If you know for certain that the person has the capability to maintain solid long-term customer relationships, the odds are good the you're dealing with someone who's simply trying to stick with a system that has provided good results in the past. If, on the other hand, the rep has lots of short-term sales, but also has a habit of leaving furious former customers in his wake, you're better off getting rid of the person.

The process for working with the first rep -- the one who's developed a selling routine that works for her, and is simply trying to stick to that routine, may surprise you. It's best to give these people a very wide berth, unless you're committed to implementing a comprehensive selling system that will guide each and you supervise.

In many environments, managers allow the second type of rep -- those who perform well -- to take their individual approaches to interviewing, prospecting, and so on -- and that's fine. But you can't have it both ways.

I understand that not every organization is ready to adopt a formal selling system, and that's OK if management is willing to accept the consequences of that decision. If you're not trying to build or implement a system that everyone has to follow, then the maverick may well fit in, and may even be your most valuable player. You just have to understand that as part of the working relationship you'll have to cut that person a little more slack.

However, you decide that your departmental objectives require that everyone, including your maverick, follow a comprehensive selling system, then some communication is in order. You'll have to sit down with the person and make it clear that everyone you supervise will be held to the same standards and procedures, period.

And sending this message can make for an interesting meeting. Some of these folks will understand your objective and will agreeably make the effort to hit the goal you've set. Others aren't going to be. If you want to make your system work you must implement it across the board, and you have to get rid of the people who challenge your authority.

This can be difficult politically when you're dealing with someone who's putting up big numbers. But in that situation parting company is absolutely essential. If your goal is much, much higher than a single salesperson can attain for you, and your star performer simply refuses to adhere to your system, you have no choice.

Some years back, I was starting up a new sales division for an insurance company in Southern California. I had a very aggressive sales goal, and knew that to hit it, I'd have to implement a comprehensive selling system for everyone. I had to build the organization from scratch, and I had to get everyone executing in a certain way.

As it happened, I inherited a rep who had established himself as the top producer in the company -- a fellow who had been reading his own press releases a little too closely. I only had to go on one sales call with this person to realize that, numbers or no numbers, his interviewing skills were poor. He was alienating people. What's more, he was incapable of following any system other than his own very brisk and shallow one. I knew he was not going to be able to build up good long-term relationships for our organization. What's worse, he challenged me at every turn -- even after I'd tried to coach him tactfully through the new system. There was constant conflict, and it was big distraction for everyone. I had no choice but to terminate him. It would have been impossible for me to set up my selling system with him constantly second-guessing me.

As expected, he went to the president of the company and asked to be reinstated in another division. The president called me and asked what I thought of the idea; I told him that the salesperson was not representing our company as it ought to be represented, and that if he was rehired, I was going to quit. The president backed me.

Without the distractions of constant conflict with that sales rep, I was able to focus on getting everyone to block and tackle correctly. I taught them the basics and evaluated everyone according to the same standards.

That new office went on to become the number-one sales operation in the entire company.

Once you make a decision about a sales rep, follow up on it quickly. If you determine that it's in everyone's best interest to part company, do it quickly. Don't wait a month or two because the person posts a big sale or asks for more time. The most expensive time is between when you decide to let someone go -- and when you actually do.



Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.