The Secret Of Top Performing Sales Teams

whispering secret man womanWhile sales success is in many ways an individual pursuit, a salesperson is usually a part of a sales team as well.  Even though there might be healthy competition between members of a sales team, many of the same team dynamics that apply to other departments, apply for the sales department as well.  Interesting research has been done on what factors go into separating top performing teams from bottom performing teams.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review looked at this research¹, which showed that there was one factor that stood out as the greatest difference between top and bottom performing teams…the ratio of positive to negative comments among the team members.  (Top performing teams were defined by financial performance, customer satisfaction ratings and 360 degree feedback ratings.)  It’s interesting that the positive comments were not just by managers, but by the members of the team, to each other. Positivity top performing teams

Among top performing teams the researchers found that the average was 6 positive comments for every 1 negative comment. Conversely, on bottom performing teams, there were an average of 3 negative comments for every one positive comment.  Ouch!

Positivity bottom performing teamsObviously, this is a huge difference.  It’s not hard to imagine the difference in environments and how this would play out in an office.  Don’t you think you would sell more in a supportive environment where you feel like your co-workers are pulling for you and noticing great work?

(The same researchers did studies on positivity ratios needed for individuals to thrive, as well.  See my earlier post, “The Number 1 Thing Your Employees Want More Of…”)


Study after study points to the same conclusions; positive feedback is what motivates people to improve, repeat top performance behaviors, and continue striving for success.

Positive feedback can come in the form of praise or recognition, private or public, verbal or written.  EVERYONE needs it – whether the person is a seasoned pro or a rookie just starting on the job.  EVERYONE NEEDS IT AND EVERYONE BENEFITS FROM IT.

For some people, positive feedback comes naturally.  For others, it may be that they simply forget to do it, or are not sure how or when to do it.

Managers should encourage co-workers to do this and set the example as well.  As with any feedback you give, strive to make it specific to a particular action or event, timely (as close to when it happened as possible), and of course, it should always be sincere.  Smile and nod sincerely when you are listening – let them know with your non-verbal actions that you appreciate them.  Listed below are some quick ways team members can give support to each other with a positive comment:

  • Great job on that project!
  • You should really be proud of yourself.
  • Wow, tell me about how you did this!
  • I’ve learned a lot from you.
  • Thanks for sharing that info with me.
  • You are so good at that, will you help me get better?
  • Can I ask your opinion on this?
  • Great catch on that mistake, you saved the day.
  • Let’s try your idea!
  • Thank  you for listening.
  • Thank you for helping.
  • I keep hearing great things about you.
  • You really make things happen!
  • You are so creative.
  • You are a great problem solver.
  • I can see how much hard work you put into this.
  • How do you manage so many things at once?
  • You are always prepared for anything.

Now go out there and start spreading those positive comments!


¹ “The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams: A Nonlinear Dynamics Model” by Emily Heaphy & Marcial Losada  American Behavioral Scientist.
See Related Articles:

10 Phrases your Salespeople Want To Hear

Steve Jobs on Hiring And Managing Talent People

20 Low-Cost or No-Cost Ways To Increase Employee Engagement

Tips For Coaching your Salespeople


An infographic on the power of praise:

The power of praise infographic


Salesperson Turnover: Is Your Manager Hiring The Wrong People Or Did You Hire The Wrong Manager?

TurnoverUnwanted turnover on a sales team can be a fatal blow to achieving revenue goals.  Unfortunately, many sales managers still have the mindset that turnover or “churn” is to be expected, especially in rookie sales positions.  I couldn’t disagree more.  Not only shouldn’t it be expected, it shouldn’t be tolerated either.  If you are a sales manager with a high turnover ratio (or the manager of someone who does) you need to find out the reasons and quickly.  Not only does this churn cost you thousands of dollars in recruitment and training costs, and untold thousands of dollars in lost opportunities costs, but it also is damaging to morale and makes your company look bad in the eyes of your customers.

So, back to the original question, is the sales manager hiring the wrong people or is the sales manager the problem (or both)?  To find out the answers, here are the questions you need to ask…


1.  IS THERE ANYTHING HAPPENING IN THE MARKET THAT COULD LEGITIMATELY BE THE CAUSE OF AN INCREASE IN TURNOVER?   Is your turnover significantly higher than your competitors?  Have there been any major changes in the market or your industry?


Exit Interviews Sign2.  ARE YOU DOING EXIT INTERVIEWS?   YOU MUST!  An exit interview should be done by an HR representative for every salesperson who leaves, whether the person is fired or leaves voluntarily.  Or, you can use an online service to do this.  ( is one that is free and has exit interview templates you can customize.)  You need this information to help diagnose and get to the root of the problem.


3.  ARE YOU DOING 360 SURVEYS WITH EXISTING SALESPEOPLE?   This is an important tool in revealing many potential problems before it’s too late.  Again this can be done online and anonymous with free tools such as   The following questions are ones that will help you determine whether you have a hiring problem or a management problem, and where the issue(s) may be:

  • Did you receive the initial training and onboarding needed to be successful in the position?360-degree-feedback
  • Do you feel you are getting the on-going managerial coaching and training you need?
  • Do you have the tools and resources to be successful in your sales role?
  • Are you recognized for excellent performance?
  • Is poor performance addressed and confronted quickly?
  • Do you feel you have a career path with the company?
  • Do you feel you are continuing to develop your professional skills and knowledge?
  • Was your compensation package presented to you accurately?  
  • Has the company and your manager lived up to what you expected when hired?
  • Are you proud of what you sell and do you feel the company has a solid reputation in the business community?
  • Do you believe your manager is invested in your success and can help you achieve your goals?
  • Does your sales manager meet with you on a regular basis and communicate information you need to know?

Woman on dollar sign


4.  ARE YOU PAYING YOUR SALESPEOPLE APPROPRIATELY?  You need to analyze your comp plan and consider the following questions:

  • What is the likely amount a salesperson will make the first year under this plan?
  • Is this competitive with what the salesperson could make with an industry competitor?  What about a sales position with another industry?
  • Are you asking the salesperson to take all the risk?
  • Is the comp plan designed to launch the person successfully or is it full of potential roadblocks?
  • Is the comp plan straightforward and easy to understand?


5.  ARE YOU SETTING AND MANAGING EXPECTATIONS IN THE INTERVIEW PROCESS?  Starting a new job is fraught with stress coming from all areas of a person’s life.  The last thing you want is for that new salesperson to feel he was misled (whether intentional or not) about the position.  The sales manager must make sure she is 100% transparent about the pros and cons of the job, what the salesperson should expect in the first 30 days, 6 months, one year, and very clear about what expectations the manager has of performance.  This should be continually reiterated in each interview and spelled out in writing in the offer letter.

Guy with checklist


6.  ARE YOU FOLLOWING A SET HIRING PROCESS DESIGNED TO FIT TALENTS TO TASK?  This means having a set hiring process in place which is specifically designed to identify a person’s talents and skills; then determining if those are a fit for your sales position.  The following is the process I use and have found to be effective:

  • Define the sales position.  What exactly will the salesperson be asked to do?  What are the requirements of the job?  
  • Based on the above information, what talents, skills, and experience does the salesperson need to have on day 1?  What are the skills you are willing to train for?  This doesn’t mean describe your “IDEAL” candidate.  This means list the “deal breakers” those competencies the person MUST have to be considered and those that you would “like” but don’t have to have.
  • Based on those requirements, vet every application you receive against those and only proceed with candidates who meet those requirements.
  • Do preliminary phone interviews FIRST with those candidates whose applications/resumes you have vetted.  The phone interview should be 20-30 minutes and you should use a prepared list of behavioral based interview questions.  (see related article  “My 25 Favorite Salesperson Interview Questions”)  Every person you phone screen should be asked the same questions so that you can fairly assess the answers and stay in EEOC compliance.
  • Do face-to-face interviews with those candidates who have “passed” your screening interview.  These in-person interviews should also be comprised of a set list of behavioral based questions that are the same for each candidate.
  • The candidates should interview with a minimum of two people in the company.  Ideally interviews should include the sales manager, the sales manager’s manager, an existing sales person, and an H.R. or manager from a different department that interacts with sales.  The interviewer should take specific notes on the candidates’ answers.  Then all interviewers should give their evaluation of the candidate to the sales manager or fill out a candidate evaluation form.
  • Use a validated, PREDICTIVE, sales assessment for final candidates.  Sales assessments are key to increasing your successful hires.  Only 14% of sales people hired based on only interview information are successful hires.  A good sales assessment should boost that number to about 80%.
  • Evaluate ALL the information you have on a candidate before offering the position.  This includes interview information, reference checking information, sales assessment results, and of course your “gut instinct.”  This is referred to as the 30%-30%-30%-10% rule.


7.  DO YOU HAVE AN ONBOARDING PROGRAM IN PLACE?  Even if you’ve done everything right in the hiring process up to this point, if you don’t have a well-designed onboarding program you are setting your new hire up for failure.  Research shows that salespeople get up to speed 51% faster when a company has an onboarding program.  Onboarding includes not just outlining first day or the first week, but the first 30 days and beyond (see related article “Steps For Keeping Your New Sales Hire From Circling The Drain” for onboarding tips).


8.  DO YOU HAVE AN INDIVIDUALIZED COACHING PLAN FOR EACH SALESPERSON?  It is the sales manager’s responsibility to develop a salesperson’s talents and skills through coaching (see related article “Tips For Coaching Your Salesperson”).  To effectively coach you must first know what those specific talents and skills are (the sales assessment should tell you Sales Coach With Whistle Greenthat) and then have a plan in place for how you will best manage and develop them.  A coaching plan should include at a minimum the following information.

  • Goals we have agreed upon and date to be achieved
  • The salesperson’s expectations of me the sales manager
  • My expectations of the salesperson
  • Top 3 motivators
  • I should remember NOT to do
  • Likes recognition in the form of
  • What salesperson likes best about sales
  • What salesperson like least about sales
  • Long range career goals
  • Key strengths/weaknesses
  • Growth area salesperson would like to develop and how I will assist

All of this information should be discussed in the first days after the new hire begins the job and should be updated every 6 months.


Infographic: What Mis-hired Misfires Cost You

Cost Of Mishired Misfires

4 Reasons Why You’re Not Attracting Top Sales Talent (And How To Fix It)

What is the most common challenge I hear from managers?  Hands down, it is that they have difficulty finding top sales talent.  And, when they do find a qualified candidate the person often opts for a different opportunity (many times a competitor).  Why?  Obviously there can be many factors for why you aren’t attracting top sales talent, but these are the ones I’ve found to often be at the root of the problem:

1.  Not looking for talent in the right places (and not looking continually).
2.  Using job ads/posts that are poorly written.
3.  Not addressing top talent’s hot buttons.
4.  Not setting expectations with the candidate about the hiring process.

The good news is that all 4 of these problems are easily fixed.  Here are the steps you can take to not only attract sales talent, but get them eager to come aboard.

Not looking for talent in the right places (and not looking continually).

The first rule of successful recruitment is you should ALWAYS be recruiting and ALWAYS be interviewing.  It serves two purposes; it sharpens your interview skills and increases your networking and scope of influence.  Like sales, you should never be without prospects in your funnel.  If you don’t currently have an opening then simply tell the prospective candidate the truth and add that you would like to meet to get to know the person better.  It’s flattering and I’ve never had a person say “no.”

woman dart boardAre you targeting your job ad in the right places?  Analyze where you are looking for talent.  Ask yourself how someone might reach you if you were not actively looking for a job, because most talented salespeople are NOT actively looking – they have a job.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t have one eye open at all times on potential greener pastures!  Think about your industry and what media those salespeople are consuming.  It’s likely that placing a job ad on industry specific websites or publications versus putting an ad on, makes a lot more sense.

Where are some other places those potential candidates might be?  I’ve found that posting to the “Jobs” section of industry related “Groups” on LinkedIn yields much more qualified candidates than generic job boards and websites.  (See “6 Free Ways To Recruit Salespeople On LinkedIn.”)    And while you are on LinkedIn, make sure you do a status update about the position and ask your connections to forward it to those they think might be interested.  Ask your current top performers to do the same thing.  I’ve found that they tend to know other top performers and have very large networks of work acquaintances.

Another obvious social media choice is Facebook.  If your company has a Facebook page, do a post about the job opening.  People who are your company followers are fans or your company and likely to be interested.  It’s possible that your next great hire could be one of those fans.  Or, someone who knows them is, and forwards the info to them.

Get creative.  Maybe you make a quick video about the job opening and post the video to your website and YouTube.  Send the link out as an email blast to your contacts and ask them to forward it to anyone they know who might be interested.  Ask your current salespeople, “If I was a company who wanted to hire you, where would be the best place for me to put my job posting to reach you?”

Using job ads/posts that are poorly written.

Think of a job post as one big news headline.  Meaning, your focus should be how you are going to hook the person into reading it.  Unfortunately, most job posts/ads read like a laundry list of desired traits that are more like an online dating site request than an engaging and dynamic job overview.  The Harvard Business Review did a great article about this, “Your Job Ads Are Driving Away Talent.”

Too often they start off with a P.R. paragraph about the company…Here’s a recent one I saw (names deleted to protect the inept)

XYZ Holding Company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pennsylvania-based XYZ Inc. and is comprised of: ABC Company and WYZ Company.  We are the fastest-growing widget organization in the United States. Consisting of more than 570 retail stores in 39 states and the District of Columbia through 12 retail store names, we are the industry leaders in each of their respective markets.  Find a better career and A Better You!  We believe that our Associates are our most valuable resource and are, therefore, the key to our future growth, performance and success.   We offer opportunities to grow and develop your career while providing world class customer service for our customers!

Woman on mound of moneyWow – doesn’t that just grab you and reel you in?  Um…no.  It’s all about what the company wants you to know, not what you want to know.  The start of the job ad reads like a press release.  The opening paragraph needs to hit that salesperson’s hot buttons.  Where are the specifics?  Where is the mention of money, career advancement, challenges, selling tools, growth potential?  Those are the things that grab a top performer’s attention.

A good tip to writing a great first line for a job ad is to ask the candidate a question i.e., “Do you feel you have gone as far as you can with your current company?  Do you sometimes feel you spend more time selling your ideas internally than you do with your clients?  Do you get the support and the resources you need to be at the top of your game?”

Our ideal candidate signDon’t use third person language in the ad.  Things like, “The ideal candidate will have…” do not engage the reader.  Write the ad as if you were speaking directly to that talented salesperson you want to hire – because if you’re lucky, you are!  When you are listing the “Responsibilities” describe the key aspects of the job, not a list of every possible thing the person might encounter.  When listing the “Requirements” you should only list the things that are deal breakers.  For example, does the person really have to have a college degree?  Is it a must that the person has experience in your particular industry?  Keep in mind that the more things you list here, the more likely someone will self-select out.  Many people think that if they don’t have a stringent list of requirements they will be inundated with unqualified candidates.  But actually, research shows that isn’t the case.  Don’t describe your “ideal” candidate, because that person may not exist and you may be inadvertently turning away great candidates.

Not addressing top talent’s hot buttons.

man graph upThese “hot buttons” are the key things that highly talented salespeople want to know when considering a job.  These are the items that should be included in the job ad as well as in an interview.  What are those “hot buttons?”  The company Sales Benchmark Index  did research specifically on that question to find out.  I have summarized their findings as to what are the primary concerns that top performing sales people want to know about when considering a job:

• What opportunity (accounts, industry or geography) does the position offer?
• What is my earning potential?  Now and in the future?
• Does my new manager have the skills to coach me and hone my skills?
• Will I have a chance to advance my career?  In what ways?
• Does the new role offer unique challenges beyond just winning deals?
• What kind of training and professional development will I receive?
• Will I earn recognition for outstanding work?  In what ways?
• Will senior leadership listen to my ideas?
• What kinds of tools will I use? Will the infrastructure shackle me or help me win deals?
• What type of internal resources will I have to help me?
Group with sales sign• Does the brand and/or reputation of the company open doors? Are the products/services respected?
• Who are the customers? Do they give positive referrals? Are they irritated or delighted?
• How will I quickly ramp up during my onboarding period? Is there an adjusted quota or a guarantee?
• What is the culture like? Is this a winning team? Are the sales people respected?

You won’t be able to address all of these in a job ad but make sure you are hitting as many as you can in order to increase your chances of catching the eye of the right candidate for you.  And make sure you are covering these items in your interviews with top performers.

Not setting expectations with the candidate about the hiring process.

Man woman interviewMany times I’ve had managers tell me that when they have found a talented salesperson they lose him or her because the person gets irritated with the interview process.  This might be because it is taking too long or involves too many steps.  The solution to this is to clearly outline the process for the candidate from the beginning.

Man in a wheelMap out each step and explain the reason for each step.  It’s like how people feel about airline delays, the worst part is not knowing what is happening.  Even if you are aggravated by the delay, you definitely prefer knowing the reason for it versus feeling left in the dark or jerked around and not appreciated.  Stay in CONSTANT contact with the candidate through email and phone.  Don’t let more than two days go by without some kind of contact and/or update.  You want this person to feel that they are a top priority for you and your company.  After all, he or she might just be your next superstar.

Related Articles:

My 25 Favorite Salesperson Interview Questions

Looking To Hire? 10 Free Recruitment Websites

Why Do Job Candidates Do These Things??? (And If They Do…Run!)

Steve Jobs On Hiring And Managing Talented People

The DOs And DON’Ts Of Interviewing

What Is A Realistic Job Preview And Why You Should Care


Here is an interesting infographic on the signs that your “rockstar” may be looking to hit the road!

7 signs your rockstar employee is looking for a new job

Salesperson Plateauing Syndrome, How To Prevent This Revenue Killer!

It’s a familiar scenario…A salesperson’s first year in a new job is filled with challenges; learning the products or services, navigating the internal company waters, establishing relationships, filling the funnel.  Year two for the successful seller, is about seeing the fruits of those labors start to pay off.  It’s exciting and unpredictable.  Year three and the salesperson has really hit his or her stride.  A solid book of business is established, the salesperson is seen asPlateauing Syndrome a leader on the sales team, ah… life is good.  Or, is it?  Research shows that for many top performing salespeople, this can be the point where they contract “Plateauing Syndrome” which can lead to that silent revenue killer…turnover.  Like many diseases, the key to dealing with it is to spot it early and treat it before it becomes pervasive.

Luckily, there has actually been research done on this phenomenon that can help sales managers understand it, see the warning signals, and effectively deal with it before it derails a valued salesperson on your team.

What Causes Plateauing Syndrome?  Two research studies* that addressed this issue, one done back in 1989 by the trade publication, Sales And Marketing Management and the other done more recently in 2007 in the Journal Of Selling And Major Account Management, remarkably found almost identical reasons for why top performing salespeople are susceptible to plateauing.  They also found that when this plateau effect happens, it usually leads to the salesperson quitting for another job opportunity so it’s critical for managers to address.  Here are the top reasons found for why a salesperson can plateau:woman wind up

Boredom.  The salesperson feels she’s done the job so well that there is no challenge left in it.  It has become routine and she feels she has stopped learning and growing her skills.

dead endDead end.  There is no clear career path to follow.  Where do I go from here?  It is the feeling that there is no opportunity to move forward.

Inadequate Management.  This encompasses many areas that fall under a manager’s control.  The salesperson may feel overlooked by a manager, feel a lack of support from the manager or that he is unappreciated, or that he is not being treated fairly by management.  Remember, this may or may not be the case but if you are a sales manager, their perception is your reality.burned out

Burnout.  After several years of going full speed all the time, the salesperson is physically or emotionally (or both) exhausted.  She may have neglected other parts of her life and now that work is going smoothly, everything else seems anti-climactic.

Economic Complacency.  While salespeople are motivated by money, even top performing salespeople can have a point at which they become complacent and need external motivation beyond money to get them motivated to achieve more.

warningWhat Are The Warning Signs?  The research studies found that there are some advance, cautionary signals that a sales manager can be aware of that indicate the salesperson may be in the initial stages of the Plateauing Syndrome.

Client relationships suffer.  This can manifest itself as not establishing rapport with new clients the way the salesperson has in the past, not identifying client needs and responding appropriately, or not following through on commitments.detached

Detachment.  The salesperson seems more distant and detached from co-workers or clients, or both.

Prospecting dwindles.  Prospecting activity is no longer proactive and is ineffective.

Resistant to management.  The salesperson seems indifferent to a manager’s input, or even insubordinate.

Resistant to new things.  When the Plateauing Syndrome is taking hold, a salesperson begins to go into an “auto pilot” stage where she isn’t interested in doing things differently or selling new ideas.  (And yet, this is precisely what can snap a person out of a plateau as we’ll see below.)

oversleepWorks patterns change.  If the salesperson suddenly begins working fewer hours, coming in late, is late for meetings, or is taking a lot of sick days this can be a warning signal.  Sometimes reducing work hours is the right response to being burned out or feeling overly stressed.  The important thing is for the manager to be aware of the reasons why this is the case and discuss it with the salesperson.

How To Prevent Plateauing Syndrome.  Interestingly, the research study in the Journal Of Selling And Major Account Management went straight to the source and asked top performers who were in the midst of a plateau, what they felt would be the best way to remedy this situation.  Here are their top responses:

ladderProvide opportunities.  Because a leading cause of Plateauing Syndrome is when a salesperson feels he is at a dead end in terms of career growth, identifying a career growth plan is critical.  A career plan does not necessarily mean a promotion to management.  It means a plan that shows how the salesperson can continue to grow his skills, knowledge/expertise, and income.

Avoid excessive job demands.  If the plateauing is being caused by burn-out, reducing the amount of job pressure the salesperson feels can reinvigorate her.  Many times top performing salespeople going through this think that their managers don’t really understand all of the effort they have put into growing their business and that, “Nothing I do is ever enough.”  Make sure your expectations and job demands are fair and in-line with the salesperson’s talents and skills.

Re-design the job to fit the salesperson.  If the salesperson is particularly strong in certain areas, try to match those strengths to the tasks you are asking the person to do.  Working on things where you are using your natural talents is the most energizing and rewarding work someone will do.

moneyMonetary incentives for superior performance.  Obviously if the plateauing is caused by a person feeling complacent because he has met his economic goals, this remedy isn’t the right one.  However, plateauing salespeople listed this as a top remedy because many don’t want a ceiling or cap on their income.  Set monetary incentives that stretch the salesperson but are reasonable.  Unattainable monetary incentives are as bad as not having any incentives, which means they are incredibly de-motivating!

Individualized perks.  Look for creative ways to reward the salesperson.  Find out what are their interests, personal motivators, what is important to them, and create unique prizes that are developed around those.  Or, it might not be a prize at all.  It might be putting them in charge of an important project or coaching new salespeople.  Find out what their hot buttons are.  Not only can it get them out of their funk but it shows you care about them individually and took the time to do so.

Discuss the issue and offer solutions.  When you see a top performer heading into the Plateauing Syndrome, address it head on and get it out on the table.  Find out the salesperson’s take on why it might be happening (probably one of the reasons listed in the first section above) and brainstorm ideas for solving it.  Many times identifying the problem and giving a name to it lets the salesperson know it’s ok to admit it and talk about it.

More competent sales managers.  If salespeople are plateauing because they feel their manager isn’t able to address their particular needs, that’s a big problem.  Managers (and their upper management bosses) have to be able to assess if they are providing the motivation, coaching, and resources needed for the salesperson to perform.

Because Plateauing Syndrome has been found to correlate closely to salesperson turnover it’s important to watch for it and address it quickly.  Or, as Benjamin Franklin wisely put it,

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

See Related Articles:

Are You A High Maintenance Employee?,

How Much Time Should Sales Managers Spend Coaching Their Salespeople?,

Why Your Salespeople Quit, The Number 1 Thing Your Employees Want More Of (No It’s Not Money),

10 Phrases Your Salespeople Want To Hear, 20 Low-Cost Or No-Cost Ways To Increase Employee Engagement,

Tips For Coaching Your Salespeople

*Sources: Sales And Marketing Management study by William Keenan Jr., 1989, the Journal Of Selling And Major Account Management study by Robin T. Peterson & Minjoon Jun, 2007

Salesperson Plateauing Syndrome Infographic:

Salesperson Plateauing Syndrome Infographic

Are You A High Maintenance Employee? Is That Good Or Bad?

High MaintenanceThere seems to be a lot of discussion out there right now about “High Maintenance” employees.  Depending on what you read, these are either the folks that are destroying companies or the ones that are driving the success at companies.

Which is it?  Is being a high maintenance employee a good thing or a bad thing?  Should we hire these types or avoid them like the plague?

In a word…yes.  Because, there are different types of high maintenance employees. In her book, “High Maintenance Employees” Katherine Graham Leviss classified two types as:HMHP


I propose that there is also a third type of high maintenance employee: HMHPBJNWI

The High Maintenance High Performers are the highly talented employees who are challenging to manage but produce the biggest results and are worth it.  The High Maintenance Low Performers are the employees who spend more time figuring out how to game the system than they do working.  They need to be ferreted out of a company because they are dead weight dragging it down.  The High Maintenance High Performers But Just Not Worth It employees are really the biggest threat to a company.  They are the highly talented employees who produce results, but in the process exhaust everyone and can destroy morale and company culture.

Based on some great books and articles on this subject (see footnotes below for links) and my own experience analyzing employee performance, I’ve put together some of the characteristics of each High Maintenance “type.”  As you read through these, do you see yourself or people you manage?  (And, if any former bosses of mine happen to be reading this…yes, I know I’m in here too.)

High Maintenance High Performers:

Confrontational and Blunt.  They usually get right to the point and are direct about what they want because they KNOW what they want very clearly.

Bored Easily.  They master new things quickly and then get bored once they have, and look for new challenges.  That is why they frequently are job-hoppers.  They simply must feel they are continually learning and moving forward.

Low Bureaucracy Threshold.  They do not deal well with bureaucratic obstacles and are not typically diplomatic in dealing with it.  They usually ignore corporate hierarchy and do not have an innate respect for authority.  They respect accomplishments – not titles.

Demanding.  These are talented, high performing individuals who know their worth.  They are demanding of themselves and have very high standards.  They push limits and boundaries to see what’s possible.  This also means that they demand the same from those around them.  They have high expectations and do not “suffer fools gladly.”

man with questionIndependence.  They want clear, direct communication of what is expected of them and then the latitude to get it done their own way.  They want freedom and control over their work.  And, to that end, they question EVERYTHING.  It’s not meant to be disrespectful.  It’s because this is how they learn and because they need to know the “why” of something in order to evaluate what they are being asked to do.

Emotional.  It could be something big or something seemingly insignificant, but if they feel it is important they will get involved and give it their all.  A favorite phrase is, “It’s the principle of the matter.”  They fight for what they believe in.

What I Do Matters.  These high performers need to feel that their work makes a difference in the success of the company.  They are usually very entrepreneurial and see their work as running their own company within a company.

Recognition.  They have a very strong ego drive and need continual recognition for their accomplishments.  They must feel they are appreciated for their expertise and what they bring to the company.  They want to be asked their opinion about things and be “in-the-know” when it comes to company politics or inside information.  I’ve always said, praise high maintenance high performers and they’ll kill for you.

Quick Decisions.  They are very decisive, trust their gut, make decisions quickly and expect others to do the same.  They get frustrated when dealing with people who want to analyze and think through all the possible outcomes first.

High Maintenance Low Performers:

Blame Game.  Nothing is ever their fault.  They are unable or unwilling to see their part in any situation where they have made a mistake.  The closest they might come is to admitting they made a mistake but then follow it up by saying they only made it because of someone else.gossip talk too much

H.R. Groupies.  Because they are chronic low performers, they are constantly in H.R. complaining about something in order to cover their butt and deflect attention away from the real issue; which is of course, their sub-par performance.  Many times they take advantage of well-intended H.R. managers because they are so adept at playing the martyr.

Everything Is “Unfair”.  They are always complaining to their manager about some perceived slight they feel they have received.  It seems that someone is always getting more of something than they are and they believe if only they had a level playing field they could be a top performer.  They make it their business to know everyone else’s business and they are obsessed with knowing just what everyone else is doing and getting.

Bad Money Management.  Because they are overly concerned with what others have, they frequently are materialistic and live beyond their means.  This creates more stress as they find themselves increasingly in debt with no way out.  Often they look to their company to bail them out.

Always An Excuse.  No matter what the situation, these people are masters at having a well thought out and prepared excuse for their lack of performance.  It might be something in their personal life or something work related, but you can be sure it will be creative.

woman tied to train trackThe Lifetime Movie Effect.  Something is always going wrong.  One day it’s a flat tire, the next day maybe it’s spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend trouble, or kid problems, or someone is sick/dying/in a car accident, you get the idea.  No one can be this unlucky.  Usually they are just more weapons in their arsenal to make you either feel sorry for them, not put them on probation/fire them, or buy themselves some more time.

Nothing Is Ever Enough.  You can give them everything they have asked for and yet it is like filling up a sink with no drain plug.  No matter how much you give, it will never be enough and they will continue to under-perform and sap your strength.  Why?  Because they just don’t have the talent to do the job, or they are just too lazy to do it.

High Maintenance High Performers But Just Not Worth It:

ASAP Syndrome.  Everything is urgent.  Everything is needed As Soon As Possible.  They constantly expect everyone to drop what they are doing to help them with even the smallest of details.  Big things, small things, it doesn’t matter everything is a crisis and top priority.

More Drama Than A Soap Opera.  This is one of the most insidious problems with these types of high maintenance employees.  They create drama by intentionally stirring the pot.  They gossip, they divide and conquer, they look for ways to increase their stature at the expense of others (usually their boss).  They manage to get people all whipped up and upset over things they ordinarily wouldn’t have given a second thought to…It’s like the little devil sitting on your shoulder whispering in your ear.

Reply To All Disease.  They are constantly emailing EVERYONE about EVERYTHING.  They feel the need to involve everyone in what they are working on, usually in an attempt to point out, “See how great I am, look at all the things I’m doing.”

“You Do Know Who I Am Right?”  The ego drive has really warped into something sinister; a sense of entitlement that is way out of proportion to who they are.  Yes, you may be a top performer, but you’re not curing cancer.  They feel the rules, guidelines, procedures, etc. just don’t apply to them and it creates resentment and chaos with the mere mortals who work with them.

More Of A Hog Than Boss Hogg.  Not so much a money hog (although they can be) as a credit hog.  They are constantly hogging all the glory for any accomplishment and fail to credit those that helped them achieve it.  Rarely is an accomplishment in a company the sole work of one person.  Yet these types of employees would have you believe that without them nothing would ever be achieved.  It infuriates co-workers and destroys any team building and teamwork culture a company has tried to build.

The Grudge Master.  They can remember every slight (perceived or real, large or small) that has been done to them.  They just can’t get past it and take everything personally.  They use these as justifications for their own poor behavior or choices.

“That’s Not My Job.”  Not only are they not team players but if you ask them to pitch in and help out with something they deem beneath them, they will be insulted and pout.  If they feel certain tasks or jobs are beneath them, what message does that send to the person who normally does those things?

Obviously, High Maintenance Low Performers need to be terminated or helped to “de-recruit” themselves as I like to say.  But what about the High Maintenance High Performers But Just Not Worth It employees?  Can they be reformed and join the High Maintenance High Performers group?  And what are the most effective ways to manage High Maintenance High Performers?  I’ll leave those questions for Part 2!


“Confessions Of A High Maintenance CEO”, David K. Williams, Forbes,

“The (Unlucky) 13 Traits of High Maintenance People”, Cheryl Conner, Forbes

The 3 Types Of High Maintenance Employees Infographic:

Types of High Maintenance Employees

How Much Time Should Sales Managers Spend Coaching Their Salespeople?

We all know that coaching salespeople is a critical part of a sales manager’s job, but just how much coaching is necessary to make an effective impact?   How many hours should a sales manager spend on coaching salespeople?   Who benefits most from coaching – top performers, core performers, or under achievers?  And, what constitutes great sales coaching – how does a sales manager best implement it?

These were my questions as I set out to research definitive answers.  It turns out there are several studies that have been done on these exact questions.  So, here are the answers…

How many hours should a sales manager spend coaching?  About 5 hours per month, per salesperson.  Therefore, if you have 10 salespeople you should be spending 12-13 hours a week on individual coaching or roughly 1/3 of your time.  The Sales Executive Council’s research study showed that salespeople who received more than 3 hours of coaching each month performed at 107% of goal, with 5 hours per month, per salesperson as the optimum amount.Coaching and goal attainment

A study reported in the London Business School’s Business Strategy Review found some startling results as well.  A sales manager of a large insurance company freed up 2 hours a day to dedicate to coaching her salespeople.  In the course of just 3 weeks, sales were up 5%!  The article points out that this required her to pass off some admin work to others and decrease her attendance at internal meetings, which brings us to our next question.

Given that coaching salespeople is the number one thing a manager can do to increase revenue, what is keeping them from doing it?  The answer is mainly two things – too many other time draining tasks (being bogged down by administrative work i.e., paperwork, reports, emails, phone calls, internal meetings, etc. that have no direct impact on revenue growth), and lack of training.  This is backed up by what the research says is the problem as well as what sales managers themselves say they need.What Prevents Sales Managers from coaching

Most sales managers spend almost half their time on administrative tasks and selling (results of a study by the Sales Management Association).  In contrast, top performing sales managers spend almost half their time on coaching and motivating sales people, according to Objective Management Group research.  Additionally, only about 15% of all sales managers even spend as much as 25% of their time on coaching, even though salespeople that are coached daily outperform other salespeople by 30%! How Managers Spend Their TimeHow Managers SHOULD Spend Their Time

The other issue that prevents coaching is a lack of training for sales managers.  Many sales managers are promoted because they were of course, top performing salespeople.  However, they often receive little training in how to effectively coaching others.  Only 7% of sales managers were found to be effective at coaching without training in Objective Management Group research.  Sales managers themselves seem to know this because increased training was cited as a top item that they feel would make them more productive, along with better time management, increased admin support, and less paperwork (Pace Productivity Inc. research).Make You More Productive

Who benefits the most from sales coaching?  The answer may surprise you.  The Sales Executive Council research study found that great coaching from a sales manager does not improve the performance of all salespeople equally.  In fact, great coaching impacts the middle or “core” salespeople the most.  Core salespeople who receive ineffective coaching average 83% of goal attainment.  However, when they receive great coaching, that jumps to an average of 102% of goal.  Coaching had very little impact on under performers.  While the research didn’t show coaching to have a large impact on increasing goal attainment with star (top) performers, it did have a significant impact on RETAINING those star performers.  Top performers were 50% more likely to stay if they received good coaching.  In essence, the study found that you coach your core performers for increased productivity and the top performers to keep them happy.

What is great sales coaching and how do you implement it?  It’s important to remember that coaching and training are not the same thing.  Training is more about teaching and acquiring new skills.  Coaching is more focused on how those skills are applied, the “doing.” I think this graphic outlines the essential elements of sales coaching.What Is Sales Coaching

The Sales Executive Council research found that what separated top performing sales managers from others was not just about who and what they coached, but HOW they coached as well, starting with the commitment to 5 hours a month per salesperson.  The research identified ten “hallmarks” of outstanding sales coaches as outlined in this graphic.10 Hallmarks of Outstanding Sales Manager Coaches

Where do you go from here?  My suggestion would be to first get a true handle on where you are spending your time.  You can track your time with a planner or there are online resources too.  An easy, and free way to do this is at  Track yourself for two weeks and then look at the resulting data.  You will probably be surprised at what you find out!

Sales Managers Time Priorities Infographic:

Sales Manager Time Priorities Infographic

Are You On A “Bad Boss” Website?

CoffeeIsForClosersThink you are a good boss?  Think you know how your employees (past or present) would rate you?  Want to know for sure?  Several “Rate Your Boss/Company” type websites have sprung up around the internet and you may want to check them out.  And if you are considering a new job, you definitely want to check out your potential new boss and company.

One of the most popular is   The eBossWatch website is an anonymous (and free) way to either “Rate Your Boss” (good or bad) or look up a potential boss.    The website describes their service as enabling “people to anonymously rate their bosses and employers using a respectable evaluation form so that job seekers can search potential workplaces and can access inside information about what it’s like to work there.”RateMyBoss

The founder started the website in 2007, the website states, “after experiencing first-hand the nightmare of working in a hostile work environment.  He decided that there had to be a better way for people to evaluate prospective employers.”

A person can go to the website and choose to “Rate My Boss” or do a “Boss Search.”  The “Boss Search” database is searchable by name or by company.

When “Rate My Boss” is selected, the person is asked 6 questions and can respond as Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Somewhat Disagree, Somewhat Agree, Agree, or Strongly Agree.

For each rating that a boss receives, a graph is generated that a person can click on to view.

RateMyBossReportCritics of sites like these point out that there is no verification procedure that ensures the person doing the evaluation of the boss really did work for him or her; the boss does not have an opportunity to respond on the website; and the boss is not notified of the posting.  But there is no denying the increasing popularity of these types of sites.  eBossWatch even does a yearly “Worse Bosses” that they post on the website.  It is an interesting mix of the famous and non-famous.

If you want to be proactive and find out what your employees are thinking, you might want to encourage them to go to On this website, employees can type out a message to their boss and the website emails it to the boss.

TellYourBossAnythingThe boss can respond back to the feedback and the website sends it to the employee.  There is no charge for the basic service. You can upgrade to a paid account if you want more options.

But how about taking it a step further?  If you are a boss and manage more than a few people, you can ask your employees to respond to a poll question or a survey with several questions.  It is a great way to get 360° feedback, and if you go to, it doesn’t cost you anything to do so.    If you have something simple you want their input on like, “What would be a good team building outing for us to do?” you can create a simple poll (similar to my blog poll question).

SurveyFor more in-depth information, you can create a survey with many questions, and have multiple choice answers or fill-in answers.  It’s a great way to proactively solicit feedback from your direct reports in a way that is easy, convenient, and anonymous.  You might even consider creating one for feedback from customers as well.  You can send employees (or clients) the poll or survey as an email with a link to click on or embed it on your website with the html code they give you.

Now, go see if you are on, I know you’re dying to do it!

If you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss. He doesn’t have tenure.  -Bill Gates

Related articles

Here’s an interesting Infographic from on the real costs of bad bosses.
Bad Bosses