how_to_manage_an_unlikable_salespersonYou know this salesperson. She (or he) is really strong as a salesperson, but she just isn’t that likable. The unlikable salesperson doesn’t care much what people think of her. In her mind, she needs to do the job she was hired to do.

She might be highly driven to success. She might be highly motivated by money. But she doesn’t do things for your reasons. She does them for hers. Closing business is more important to her than whether people like her. She commands respect and her clients value her. Internally, though she might cause issues. She might be demanding and come across as selfish. Her perspective is that she was hired to do a job and nothing will get in the way of that. She might be needy, pushy and not always pleasant. Maybe she seems self-centered. But, she produces, repeatedly.

What do you do with her? Well, that depends. She might rub you personally the wrong way but she is very valuable to the clients and therefore to your company. As the sales team leader, it is wise to recognize that there cannot be any personality conflicts in sales leadership. She might need some help in playing nice with others.

I frequently find that business leaders will tolerate lack of performance longer than they will tolerate someone who might be pushy or rude.

Sales Managers: Don’t Take the Easy Way Out!

I am not suggesting that you accept completely inappropriate behavior or someone who violates company policy. What I am suggesting is that as the manager you need to figure out how to get the best from ALL types of salespeople. It’s easy to say something like “They just didn’t fit our culture.” Or “We never really saw eye to eye.” That is the coward’s way out. It allows a sales manager to not do their work─ particularly if letting an unlikable salesperson go is the default course of action. Do your work first.

Skeptical? Don’t forget how much it costs to replace a salesperson─ especially one that performs. (As a frame of reference, bad hires are estimated to cost 3-5 times their annual compensation, once you factor in termination costs, lost productivity, recruiting, and training a new person). Use our Sales Hiring Mistake Calculator here to ballpark your exact expense. How much is likability worth?

Think of salespeople as if they were machinery for a moment. Here’s what I mean. If you were in a manufacturing plant and had a variety of pieces of equipment. Some would give you no trouble but maybe wouldn’t produce as many widgets, while others might have all the bells and whistles but give you trouble from time to time. They might need regular maintenance. Salespeople are kind of like that.

Those salespeople who appear not to care what others think will also not care too much if you are unhappy with them. So try to look at the world from their perspective. What is important to them? Motivate based on what THEY care about. Ultimately this is what good coaching is about. It’s easy to coach salespeople who are just like us and respond to the same motivations that we do. It is messy and hard to connect with and coach those that are different from us.

I know some managers who would rather demote, fire or create different jobs for individuals based on their “ouchy” qualities, rather than get intimate with the individual and figure out how to get the most out of them. But let’s be honest: it’s not just on the prickly salesperson, it’s also on you as sales manager. Effective sales management is simple in concept, but difficult in practice. You can rise to the challenge.

How To Do a Better Job of Managing this Type of Salesperson

I know a business owner who calls these individuals PIA’s which is short for pain in the ass. I think this diminishes them. My preference would be that we celebrate the good parts and expect them to grow and improve the difficult parts. My three suggestions to cope with the so-called “PIA” are:

1. Get intimate with them. Find out what makes them tick. Help them understand that you are on their side. They might like to play the role of naysayer and lone wolf, but don’t let them. And don’t avoid them because you are intimidated by (or just don’t like) their behavior.

2. Be unemotional and expect them to behave the way you need them to behave, but don’t overdo it. Set the expectations regarding behavior and hold them accountable. Use a monthly grade card if necessary. Include their behaviors and the soft skills where you’d like to see change, as well as the performance items. For instance, if they have a tendency to make all their deals priorities and waste other people’s time with unqualified deals, then put a category about not wasting other people’s time as a line item on the grade card. Be sure to create logical consequences for areas where they fall down or don’t improve. Maybe it is a reduction in the number of leads they get if their behavior is not at a “B” average or greater, as an example.

3. View them as a piece of machinery and figure out what needs oiled or maintained to get them operating at full capacity. Draw on your insights from #1 and #2 and try to solve your “sales engineering” challenge.

If you focus on these three things you will be able to maintain your objectivity. You will have a greater chance of your unlikable salesperson succeeding at the highest levels, and will be able to determine when the person is out of bounds…and ultimately whether a change in personnel needs to be made. I tend to believe, though, that if we allow ourselves to get into the messiness of really managing, coaching and motivating those difficult salespeople, they will change and grow for the better, making personnel changes likely unnecessary.

In essence, you’ve got to motivate and coach all your salespeople individually. The unlikable salesperson is no different. You don’t need to like them to get them to execute. You just need to get them to execute to the highest level possible. That’s what expert sales leadership is all about.

Do you have a not so nice salesperson you struggle with? Let us know about your challenges in the comments.

Still struggling to fit comfortably in your role as sales manager?

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Have the opposite problem? Read about Managing Your Too-Nice Salesperson here.

To brush up on the costs of hiring a new salesperson, see Good & Bad News for Sales Managers Looking to Hire Quality Salespeople.