Care and Feeding of Superstars

Every sales manager hopes and prays for a team full of superstars. Never happens! In fact, most sales managers I know would kill for just one superstar.

The average sales team tends to follow the classic bell curve with about 10 to 15 percent of the team being excellent performers, 10 to 15 percent of the team scraping by, and the remaining 70 to 80 percent chugging along, doing okay.

Superstar Versus Prima Donna

When I say superstar, I’m not talking about the person who is good, knows he’s good, tells everyone else he’s good, and won’t let anyone forget he’s good. You know the ones. They’re prima donnas and usually too good to let go but too much of an aggravation to keep.

I’m talking about the person who is an excellent performer, team player, and all-around nice person. They are usually consistent performers and, if you have sales contests, they always win.

While some sales managers consider anyone who sells up a storm a superstar, I don’t. Some, like the prima donna, can sell up a storm, but the damage they can cause both internally and with clients isn’t always worth the effort it takes to keep them happy. It’s an attitude thing. These lesser stars feel that, just because they bring in the bucks, they can treat the rest of the staff like dirt. They forget that the internal customer is their most important one.

A Prima Donna

Someone I know, who I’ll call Bill, was a sales manager and had a prima donna, whom I’ll call Maverick, who consistently brought in 50 percent of the monthly sales leaving the remaining 50 percent to be split among Bill’s remaining three salespeople. Maverick was demanding, opinionated, uncooperative, egotistical, and generally obnoxious because he knew Bill couldn’t afford to lose him. If Bill did, he would lose 50 percent of his monthly sales as well.

However, I have a simple management philosophy: Everyone has a utility level and an aggravation level and when the aggravation level exceeds the utility level, something has to change. Well, Bill finally got to the point where Maverick’s aggravation level exceeded his utility level and Maverick was given a new career opportunity.

The working environment instantly improved and to Bill’s surprise, within 60 days, the remaining three salespeople easily made up for the lost 50 percent, had a better attitude, were performing at a higher level, and Bill never looked back.

Bill’s First Superstars

Bill’s first superstars were Ralph and Harry. Both were consummate professionals. Bill had been parachuted into their midst as a young, newly minted sales manager. Fortunately, Bill was astute enough to realize that they were older and wiser than he was and if he tried to impose his ideas on these senior people, he was going to create problems.

While Bill focussed his attention on the rest of the team, Bill didn’t ignore Ralph and Harry. Instead, Bill called upon and used their experience to broaden both his own knowledge and the knowledge of the other salespeople. Bill held them up as examples of what a sales professional should be. Bill inadvertently made them mentors for the rest of the team and, in so doing, gave them a spot in the limelight.

Bill’s Last Superstar

Bill’s third superstar was Paul. Paul worked with Bill for over ten years. Paul wasn’t a superstar in terms of sales but he was a superstar in the way he s0ld. He was a consistent performer who personified the word persistent to the point where one of our clients dubbed him “Mr. Velcro.”

Paul brought in high-value opportunities that Bill wouldn’t have given a snowball’s chance in hell of happening. He was fearless in chasing down business opportunities, sometimes to the point of stubbornness. But it paid off for both of them.

Bill was blessed in keeping Paul for over 10 years. He and the company never treated Paul as an employee. They treated him as part of the senior management team and valued his input. Paul likes fine dining so every year they would take Paul and his wife to the nicest restaurant they could find (and afford!). They also made sure Paul had all the tools he needed to do his job and then they would let him loose to do it.

Paul could have gone to work for any number of companies and probably made more money. I believe that Paul stayed with Bill’s company because of the respect they showed him and the care they took in their dealings with him.

Lessons Learned

So what does all this mean to you? Well, there are a few lessons here.

1. Superstars aren’t always the ones who bring in the most sales. They’re the people who perform at a consistently high level year after year after year.

2. Don’t abandon or ignore your superstars. Just because they are doing really well doesn’t mean you should just pat them on the back and let them go their merry way.  Get them involved.

3. Just because someone can sell up a storm doesn’t make him or her a superstar. Remember the damage some storms can cause. Make sure their utility level exceeds their aggravation level.

4. Get to know your superstars (and all your salespeople for that matter). What turns their crank outside of business? Find out what’s important to your superstars and do your best to get or do something that shows you care.

I’ve always believed that caring and showing that you care will keep not only your superstars but also all of your team with you for the long haul. Treat your people well and you’ll build an unbeatable sales team.

For more information on sales coaching and training, please refer to The Right Skills.

Salesforce Training & Consulting is a professional sales training firm and registered Salesforce.com Consulting Partner based in Toronto, with offices in Boston and Chicago, providing sales coaching, sales management consulting, salesforce implementation, sales training and sales personnel assessments.

by   Mark Christie