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Managing a sales maverick

Alexis Thompson

Boyd Mayover co founder of The Sales Doctor gives his top tips on how to handle a rebellious employee working in sales

The sales maverick is a challenge that virtually every manager I have met, trained or been associated with has had to deal with. I believe that it’s a challenge that managers often find the most demanding of their time and ability. In my training sessions a question I get asked constantly is this:

How do I handle a sales maverick? His figures are considerably better than everyone else in the team however he is arrogant, creates a bad atmosphere, is negative, wont share anything with his peers or colleagues and these issues are causing a problem? 

So what’s the answer? My experience of successfully managing teams from three people to 140 is that the culture you build and promote within your company will largely determine their behaviour. Once the team members realise that you will accept this sort of behaviour, you are actually subconsciously encouraging it. There are two clear methods of stopping this behaviour, however it really is a matter of this – is the person a management challenge or is he just simply unmanageable? 

It’s very easy to confuse the two issues and make the mistake of firing when we should be managing and managing when we should be firing. Many managers say to me: “How do I get him onside, I can’t afford to lose his business however he causes so much aggravation within the team that I don’t know what to do?” My answer and advice is the following – you must first of all find out what motivates this individual in a one-to-one meeting and once you have done this you should be able to explain that whilst you are delighted his sales figures are great, you look for much more in your team. You should explain clearly what acceptable behaviour looks like and also clearly define what you expect from him. You might find that after your one-to-one you are able to use him as a role model. Sometimes people do not realise the negative effect they are having until it is pointed out to them. I could give you many examples of how a rogue has been turned around, however in my experience it is usually the manager’s ability in either ensuring the culture is clear in order to avoid this happening in the first instance, or the subsequent one-to-one meeting that makes the difference. Has anyone ever thought of using this person to coach or train? You will be surprised at the difference it can make. However, do not allow them to manage, as this is the easy way out and very rarely works. All you are doing is making a maverick manager who won’t care about his people and will just carry on doing things the same way and demotivate the team even more.

You must first of all find out what motivates this individual in a one-to-one meeting

I have found that if you are crystal clear in your comments to the maverick and let him know how valuable he is and that he can only stay part of the team if he buys into your culture and team ethic, he will either do as you ask or show you that he is damaging and has to go. Don’t panic about losing his figures.

 Many years ago a managing director I was working for who had built up three businesses worth millions which he then went on to sell, told me this about one of my employees. “Boyd what would you do if Jeremy unfortunately broke his legs on the way to work and couldn’t work for a year?” I replied by detailing a list of duties I would give to other people, how the work and leads would be spread within the team and also the training and coaching I would do to ensure the rest of the team could more than cope with the loss of Jeremy the maverick. “Well then,” my managing director said “you’ve solved it, don’t let Jeremy dictate to you or the team for one more minute. He does it your way or goes.” Jeremy left us soon after and it felt as though a black cloud had been lifted. Monday morning was astonishing. The team outperformed themselves and Jeremy, and it was a lesson for me that when a person becomes unmanageable they have to go.
However the first option of keeping them and moulding them into what you want and expect is always the better option. It takes time, management skills and listening to determine if this person can be brought back into the fold. Sometimes they are craving recognition and just need telling when they have taken things too far. This tip helped me and has continued to work for me throughout my career.

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