Seven Tips for Managing High Performing Salespeople

Posted on September 12, 2011.

Steve Martin (not the actor) recently wrote a great blog in the Harvard Business Review on the Seven Personalities of Top Salespeople.  While I completely agree with him about the successful traits of this breed of worker, as a former sales manager, I also recognize the unique challenges managers face when trying to lead and manage this group. Here are some tips:

  1. Provide strong teams to support them.  As Martin points out, top salespeople are actually fairly humble, favoring success and winning over ego.  These people want and need the very best support teams that will help them win. And if they don’t have it, they won’t be shy about demanding you help them get the right people.
  2. Let them have control.  A common complaint I heard from my sales team was that everything worked great until they had to hand something off and depend on some unknown person at the other end of the phone. If you want your top salespeople to succeed, let them control the process from beginning to end.
  3. Give them a great product to sell. The reality is that top salespeople will just not sell what they don’t believe will benefit their customer. I saw this time and time again. When our company rolled out a product no one thought would work or wouldn’t benefit their customer, they simply refused to sell it.
  4. Don’t stifle their curiosity. As Martin mentions, great salespeople are also pretty nosy. It’s one of the traits that make them successful. So when that nosiness bleeds into the office and they want to know about where the company is going and changes that may be on the horizon, you need to keep them in the loop.
  5.  Let them fire or transfer customers who don’t listen.  Maintaining a relationship with a customer they respect and listens to them is important to top salespeople.  When someone on my team was happy to give up a customer to a new teammate, I knew it was because there was nothing else they could do for them or they weren’t accepting their recommendations. 
  6. Let them know where they stand. Top salespeople want to win, and equally important to them is beating others. It’s important for them to have a scorecard or benchmark that measures their success against their peers. Whether it’s officially recognized in large groups or not isn’t as motivating as knowing he or she is number one in the office, the region or the country.
  7. Support them.  It’s not uncommon for top salespeople to do whatever it takes to win the  business.  This may mean fighting for their clients internally, whether it’s with the product development team, implementation team or credit team.. As long as they are respectful and right, you need to support them, which may take personal courage on your part.

It’s important to know the characteristics and personality traits of top salespeople. It will help you in the recruiting and hiring process. But once they’re on board, it’s critical to understand how to keep them.

How do you motivate your top salespeople?