Defeating Pirates on the Team

There has been a good deal of news lately about pirates raiding ships along the African coast. Bucking all authority and rule of law, these criminals capture sea-bound vessels filled with precious cargo. The shipping companies quickly give in and pay the ransom. Then the pirates disappear, only to repeat their crime on another ship.

There is a version of this in our industry, though it may be more of a question of incompetence rather than out-and-out piracy. Take the case of the business owner who recently fired his senior salesperson. (I said “senior,” not “best.”) The salesperson had been with the company for years. He had technical expertise that everyone relied on, understood heat load calculations and duct design, and was the go-to guy for difficult applications.

His sales results, however, were poor. His close ratio had slipped considerably, and his average ticket was declining as well. He rarely sold accessories and never generated his own leads.

The usual excuses were made: he was going through a bad spell with sales that would turn around once the weather warmed up; the leads were poor; and their prices were too high to be competitive. Worse, he was defensive when offered help or coaching. This had been going on a long time. In any company, a low-performing salesperson with a bad attitude, regardless of seniority and ability, will eventually poison the entire team. Some owners say that they hang on to their employees because of everything they know. They see no choice but to allow the individual to continue. These owners/managers wind up feeling like they are being held hostage by their own employees.

After the termination the business owner conducted a quick review of the salesperson’s lead log. The results showed a lot of potentially lucrative open proposals that never received a single follow-up call.


One of the single most important functions of an owner or sales manager is to control the sales process and prevent this type of sales piracy. It is the owner’s or sales manager’s job to manage and monitor a salesperson’s daily activities in the best interest of the customers and the company.

Here is a list of five things you should be doing:

1. Create specific and measurable job descriptions for salespeople. Measurable is the key word here. Set specific performance metrics for your salespeople and manage to those results. For example, if you want to improve the number of self-generated referrals a salesperson creates, set a monthly goal and manage the activities to generate the results.

2. Execute a specific follow-up process to track every lead to completion. In this case, completion occurs when a customer says “Yes,” “No,” or “I’ve gone with another company.” Update the follow-up log on a daily basis.

3. Hold weekly sales meetings. As fundamental as this may sound, unless you meet with your entire sales staff weekly, you risk missing an opportunity to address challenges the group is facing, conduct sales training, share information about promotions, and motivate them.

4. Conduct ride-alongs. This is one of the easiest ways to see your team in action. It is also a relevant opportunity to coach them and praise them. Many salespeople are extroverts, performers; they respond well to feedback. It also shows you care enough to spend time in the field with them.

5. Conduct lost job autopsies. There’s always a reason a salesperson loses a job. Call the customer and find out. It is one of the best ways to get feedback on your team.

Another thing a sales manager needs to do is step back into the field and sell. The rest of the sales team tends to respond to this leadership and improve their game as well. It might take a while to find a top performer, but at least they are all back on the same team again.

Publication date: 05/11/2009

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