How to Treat Your Sales Staff

By Butch Bellah

A good manager inspires her staff to be better. In order to really inspire your sales superstars to achieve more and continue to outperform the rest of your team and their competition, you need to give them special treatment.

If one of your sales team puts in the effort to achieve a certain goal or attain a certain level of customer satisfaction and gets the same treatment as the person who underperforms, it’s not going to take long for her to become very demotivated.

If someone’s performance justifies recognition or special treatment, make a big deal of it. If a salesperson singlehandedly has the best month in company history, and you respond with a, “ho-hum, nice job,” you’ve crushed that salesperson and demoralized her — perhaps fatally as far as your company is concerned.

Instead, make an announcement to the entire company. Recognition in the local newspaper, the company newsletter, or even a special note to all the salesperson’s customers are all good acknowledgements. This doesn’t mean breaking the bank, but you need to do something, anything to let that person know she’s appreciated and her accomplishment was meaningful.

Don’t treat anyone differently, but don’t treat everyone the same. Let’s stress the difference: Don’t treat any one person differently, but you cannot treat everyone the same.

Never do anything discriminatory against anyone for any reason. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to earn her way into whatever you call your elite group. And don’t treat anyone poorly, just give extra special care to the people who are bringing in the big deals and keeping the doors open.

When your best people distinguish themselves, by all means treat them differently, just as you treat customers differently based on their value to your company.

Another way to look at it is to think of yourself as a doctor. (And honestly, that’s a lot more true than you think.) You have to diagnose the issues with each of your salespeople to discover what ails each of them and what problem you need to solve for each of them today.

Now, do you think everyone is going to have the same problem? Are you going to write the same prescription for everyone? Probably not.

Each person on your team has special needs exclusive to her. Handle her accordingly. But, when it comes to the peak performers, they deserve to be put at the top of the list.

If a top salesperson is waiting on a customer and needs you, turn your attention to her immediately. Don’t let yourself be bogged down with issues that aren’t as pressing or handling something that isn’t as important as what one of your top sellers has in front of her. These people don’t ask often, but when they do, help them and their customer!

Here comes a soapbox moment: Some people may see an inequality in treating people differently, and they’re right. Many managers don’t believe in awarding participation ribbons for salespeople like they do in Little League and youth sports. The world doesn’t work that way. There’s a reason some people are successful and some aren’t. It’s that innate desire to be a winner. And it should not only be recognized, but rewarded.

Look at it this way: If two people were to go to a personal trainer and begin individual workout programs, the trainer would take in to account their current physical health, past history, injuries, and their overall abilities. Not everyone can start bench-pressing 100 pounds.

But, if the trainer treated everyone the same and set the bench press at 50 pounds because that was the most the weakest person could do, how much good is that doing the strongest person? It’s not doing her any good. In fact, it’s hurting her.

You lose strength every day you don’t push yourself harder and attempt more. Sales skills are just like a muscle — if you don’t use it, it gets weak and eventually atrophies.

By not pushing your top performers and treating them as top performers, you’re letting their sales muscles decline.

To push your top performers, continue to raise your expectations for them as you would anyone else. Ask them, “What do you need from me to increase your sales by X percent?” Some goals may scare even a superstar salesperson, but that’s okay; in fact, that’s good. All goals should be a little scary; if they aren’t, they’re not big enough.

As you find yourself helping your best salespeople improve, you’ll begin to teach them about more than sales. You start getting them thinking about managing other salespeople and becoming a division or district manager.

You start developing skills they need to advance their careers. You aren’t there just to make your people better salespeople; you’re there to make them better, period.

Some of these people will be your leaders of tomorrow, and now is the time to help them start finding those muscles. You may not be developing them fully, but they need to know deep-down inside they can be a leader, they can be a manager, and they can be a part of the future of your company.

If you’re trying to treat everyone alike, stop. Now. You’re killing the motivation for your top performers and not helping anyone else, either.