Question: I direct a sales force of 15 reps. My pain of getting them to do what I ask has been something that no human being should go through. First of all, we converted them from commission only to base plus commission. In doing so, you can imagine my challenges in moving them from coming and going as they like, to getting them to stay on the job eight hours a day and live within the guidelines of a corporate environment. So, where do I start? At times I find myself getting angry and frustrated with them, and at times I want to fire them all!

Answer: I wish I had a dime for every time I fielded a question like this. The question, regardless of the actual words and details of the situation, always boils down to this: “How do I change the behavior of experienced, satisfied salespeople? How do I make them more accountable, and get them to do what we (the company) want them to do, not just what they want to do?”

I can empathize with both sides of this issue, as I have been in both the sales and management position.

Looking at it from the salesperson’s point of view…
They have spent years developing relationships and routines with their customers, which now pay them adequately. They feel as though they have invested a major amount of time in their customers and now they are enjoying the fruits of their labors. And, as long as they are selling, who cares how they do it?

Looking at it from management’s point of view…

The sales force is typically the highest paid portion of the work force. They need to follow the company’s directions in order to move the company in the direction in which it wants to go. Salespeople who won’t adjust to the company’s directions are, at the least, a headache, and at the most, a detriment to the organization.

Where do I stand? First, let me suggest you go to my website and read an article which discusses this situation in more detail. The article is entitled, “How do you change the behavior of an experienced salesperson?”

There is a natural tendency for salespeople to become self-sufficient and to consider themselves above management. It’s easy to understand. Of all the professions, a salesperson has the ability to make decisions on a moment-by-moment basis about what he/she will do. That’s a tremendous responsibility. And, over a period of years, those decisions often become ingrained as unquestioned habits.

Enter a new sales manager who wants to do things differently. Or a management that has become more hands-on. Resistance on the part of the salespeople is to be expected.

But that doesn’t make it acceptable. Here’s where I draw the line. Salespeople are employees of the company. As employees, they have the responsibility to be good employees, to work to the benefit of the company, to hold the company’s interests always in mind, and follow the company’s directions.

If you had a delivery driver, for example, and you plotted out a new route for him, you wouldn’t accept the driver saying, “No thanks, I’m going to do it the way I have for the last few years.”

If you invested in a new data-entry system for your customer service representatives, you would not accept them saying to you, “I’m going to keep doing it the way I always have.”

See the point? You would not accept any other employee not following the company’s directions. Why would you accept that from salespeople?

A note to salespeople: While I appreciate the time that you have invested and the relationships you have created, those in no way make you above the basic expectations of employment. If you are going to work for a company, then work for the company – strive to be a good employee.

If you think that rules and directions don’t apply to you, then go into business for yourself. But as long as you are an employee, you have a responsibility to strive to meet the company’s expectations.

I understand that I’m taking a position that is unpopular with a number of salespeople. The last time I talked about this, I had a few salespeople write back. That is the price I’m willing to pay to honestly and clearly state my position.

Frankly, this is a pet peeve of mine. I see salespeople become arrogant and inflated with their own importance all the time. It is not right.

Managers, if you have salespeople who sabotage you, who nod “yes” to your face and then go off and do what they want to do, ask yourself this question: “Do you really want to spend the next few years fighting with a salesperson who thinks he/she is above the company’s direction?”

I doubt it. Fire them and hire someone who will be happy to have the job.

Have I made myself clear?

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales educators. He’s written nine books, presented in 47 states and eight countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations. Sign up for his free weekly Ezine. More than 1,000 sales managers have been trained in his Kahle Way Sales Management System.