Your Sales Team of Parasites
In most businesses,
the development of sales professionals consists of three basic
stages. Each stage is a transitionary period in which the sales
person assumes a different form than in the previous stage. Because
this process in some ways parallels that of our friends in the
insect world, I call these three stages Larval, Termite, and
Sales Larvae are the
neophytes of our profession - soft, helpless, legless individuals
who, due to lack of knowledge and experience, fumble blindly about
their sales territory. This is not an issue of ability. They simply
haven't yet mutated into full-fledged sales people. You probably
still remember your first day in your sales career. If so, you
certainly remember your days as a Sales Larvae. If you're a manager,
your job is to turn your Larvae into full-fledged Termites as
quickly as possible.
Termites are those
sales people at the top of their game. They are fully equipped with
the tools and skills necessary to methodically work their way
through the toughest sales barriers. Like Larvae, Termites are a
relatively easy stage for the competent sales executive to manage.
It is the third stage of sales person development that gives most
supervisors migraine headaches - the dreaded "Parasite".
long-term sales employees who have, after years of tenure within the
company, no longer call on new accounts, and live, often quite
comfortably, off of the business generated by existing customers.
They have forgotten along the way that their first priority is to
grow their market or territory through new business development
efforts. Over time, they lose their ability to forage for their own
food, and instead attach themselves to the bloodstream of the host
employer, drawing nourishment in the form of a paycheck. Hence the
The "Parasite" sales
person represents a difficult personnel problem. Because of their
time with the company, most sales executives will feel obligated to
cut these people some slack and look the other way, allowing the
Parasite to feed undisturbed. After all, here you have a tenured,
long-term employee - one who has often been a dependable producer in
years past. Further, they are often well-liked and respected, and
bring a lot of experience and industry knowledge to your business.
An argument could be made that they are "deserving" of Parasite
status, and I understand that logic completely. I just don't agree
Why? Because, as the
business owner or sales manager, you have a business to maintain.
Check that - you have a business to grow. After all, the last
time I checked, the job of a sales person was to grow the business,
not to baby-sit it. Where will your company end up if your sales
force isn't meeting its growth objectives?
There are significant
negative consequences to your Larvae and Termites for tolerating
this situation. Having a different set of rules for your senior
sales people sends a poor message to the rest of the team about you
and your management style. In effect, the policy that you are
publicly condoning is as follows:
We have two (or more) sets of
standards - one for our Parasites, and one for everyone else;
We don't treat everyone equally;
We don't hold people accountable
Becoming a Parasite, i.e. not
having to produce, is a long-term reward for sales seniority
within our company;
If you stay around long enough,
you, too, may become a Parasite.
Do I sound harsh? Do
you think I'm cold, cruel and heartless - that I don't care about
people? You couldn't be more wrong. These issues have nothing to do
with popularity contests or your relationships with your people.
Yes, you need to have good relationships with your direct reports.
However, you must hold your sales people accountable for
new-business results if you and your company are going to succeed.
Therefore, your Parasites must "morph" back into Termites. These
talented and capable freeloaders must learn to forage for their own
food once again. Here are some suggestions to reverse the
revised, two-tiered commission plan that (a) pays a much higher
premium on new business and (b) a significantly reduced
commission on work from existing customers. This will serve to
compensate your sales people for their efforts in a manner more
corresponding to the effort required to close business, and will
put their focus where it needs to be - on finding new clients.
Announce this change well in advance of its implementation, to
give your people an opportunity to prime the pump with new
opportunities. Rest assured, you will get a lot of negative
feedback from your parasites on this idea; some might even elect
to leave the company. Stick to your guns. Don't forget that you
are paying your sales people to grow your business.
Tie most of your
rewards and recognition programs to achieving new account
development. Lavish praise and financial reward on those who
respond to your focus on new business. Additionally, tie in part
of the compensation plan to profitability of the business that
your reps are selling. This will serve to remind them that not
all new business is good business.
With a Parasite,
you have, for all intents and purposes, a dormant sales
territory. Give your Parasite a reasonable timeframe to change
their work focus, and monitor their efforts in new-account
development. If they show no interest in doing what is required,
or if they don't make progress, give the prospects in the
Parasite's territory to a more aggressive sales person. Yes, I
know it sounds harsh. As I see it, though, your only other
option is to be a popular failure.
specific accountability goals for new account growth. Tie in
significant financial incentives for goal attainment, such as a
quarterly bonus for meeting new-business objectives. At the same
time, introduce negative consequences for failure to meet
minimum objectives. Parasites will generally not release their
grip on their host unless pain is applied to the source of the
allow your Parasites to hold you hostage. One of the most common
reactions that Parasites have to these management directives is
to threaten to leave the company and take their customer
relationships with them. They will often want you to believe
that the future of your company hangs in the balance of their
continuing to represent you. Don't believe it! I have seen this
scenario play out many times. I have yet to see a single
instance where the company suffered a significant business
decrease by the departure of a Parasite. In fact, it is not
uncommon for customer relationships to actually improve and grow
with the Parasite's departure.
Most of the
parasites reading this piece will squirm in their chairs as they
read through the list. Hate me if you like. From the movie The
Godfather, I quote the mission statement of a highly successful
business enterprise, the Corleone family: "It's not personal. It's
business". Go ahead. Make your Parasites an offer they can't refuse.
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