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How to Manage the Star Sales Rep Who’s Toxic For the Rest of the Team

How to Manage the Star Sales Rep Who’s Toxic for the Rest of the Team

Ideally, your top performers will be the tides that not only lift the business through their outsized revenue gains, but likewise have an elevating effect on your other sales reps. Or to use a sports analogy, you’d love your top performers to be like the elite players who make their teammates better.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes your stars have no effect because they prefer to work as independently as possible. Or even worse, they actually have a negative effect and bring the rest of the team down. And it’s this latter issue that keeps sales managers up at night. What do you do when an A-level rep causes issues and headaches?

There’s two primary ways top performers can have a negative impact on their coworkers. First, they can rely too much on their inborn talents and take shortcuts, leading fellow sales reps to take the same shortcuts because they mistake them for keys to success. Second, a top performer can be aggressively competitive and seek to prevent others’ successes – particularly if your sales contests are designed as winner-take-all mechanisms.

A lot of the expert advice that you’ll find on the internet suggests letting these talented, but troubling reps go. While that’s certainly an option, it’s also one of last resort. There are several strategies and pathways to take before hitting that nuclear button. Which to consider depend on the precise issue and your organization’s specifics.

If the issue is the toxic rep’s shortcuts spreading through the team
In this case, have a whole team meeting where you go over every step of your sales process. Explain why every step is important and shouldn’t be rushed or skipped entirely. If possible, point to deals that were lost because, for example, a buyer wasn’t clear on when a solution would be implemented following a contract signing.

Follow this up by meeting with the star rep individually. Talk to them and find out why they’ve been deviating from a proven sales process and respond in a way that shows you both understand why they did what they did and points out the value in consistency. For example, something like, “I understand that you have a great relationship with these buyers, and that’s terrific – a real testament to your strong rapport-building skills. But taking the time to clearly define next steps and the timeline helps our implementation team act more quickly and seamlessly, which helps us keep the relationship and gets you your commission faster.”

If the issue is aggressive competition
Examine your sales culture. Are there certain metrics or philosophies you’re using that encourage an adversarial relationship between sales reps, such as the aforementioned winner-take-all contests? Think about ways to restructure your culture – re-design your contests to encourage and reward collaboration, for example. Think of ways you can promote mentorship and develop the leadership skills of your team members – including your star reps.

See if a switch to team-based selling makes sense for your business. Particularly in B2B, buying decisions are the result of a group of decision makers, rather than an individual, so it can be a good solution – especially for complex transactions with longer sales cycles – to correspondingly involve more of your own people in the process. And as we’ve written about previously, many sales organizations are seeing better results and morale by shifting to a team selling model.

Only after you’ve exhausted these avenues and the behaviors aren’t showing signs of changing should you contemplate making a staffing change. Be patient – the toxic star rep didn’t become this way overnight. Like a lot of things in sales, it happened gradually over time, so undoing the harmful mindset will likewise take a while. Be consistent and caring in applying your corrective coaching.

Having a difficult top performer is never an easy situation to manage. But by identifying the precise problematic behaviors and implementing changes – whether on the individual sales rep level, the larger organizational level, or both – to address the issues both makes the formerly troublesome star an all-around asset and lifts the rest of your team.