Most sales managers I know have a love/hate relationship with the prima donnas on their sales teams. They love the star player’s passion and hard work. They hate the self-centered behaviors that demoralize or discourage the rest of the team.
This puts the sales manager in a quandary. If they come down too hard, the prima donna may pack his/her bags and leave. But a simple truth in sales management is that what you don’t confront, you condone. And what sales manager wants to send a message that self-interest supersedes team–interest?
If you have a prima donna on your team, first look in the mirror and ask, “What role did I have in allowing this situation to develop?” And, more importantly, “What changes do I need to make as a leader, going forward, to build a stronger sales team?”
Have you, for instance, taken a hands-off approach with your prima donnas, simply leaving them alone for weeks or months at a time? (“Hands off” is a nicer way of saying a “lack of management.”)
In terms of building a stronger team, have you communicated performance expectations, or set standards, on anything other than production? (A “standard” is only a standard if you coach to it on an on-going basis.)
To change the environment that created the prima donna, make a list of specific inter-personal “success attributes” that you would like your entire team to adopt. I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to think about what a prima donna does that you don’t like, and write down the exact opposite behaviors! Based on prima donnas I’ve worked with, I quickly came up with items like “criticize privately, compliment publicly,” “attempt to solve problems yourself before seeking help” and “support others in their attempts to deal with change.”
Once you have the list of “success attributes,” share them with your team, starting with the prima donna in a one-on-one meeting.
Explain to the prima donna that you’d like him or her to take a leadership role in adopting these behaviors as an example for the team, because everyone looks up to them. Don’t worry that they will see through what you’re trying to do. People with bad attitudes don’t usually recognize it in themselves. They are almost always blind to the ways that their own behavior is disruptive to others. I’m suggesting that you can use their ignorance to your advantage.
Afterwards, talk about the success attributes with the rest of your team. Then make sure you coach the team to these new standards regularly.
If you still have problems with the prima donna after you’ve taken these steps, you need to escalate.
Have a one-on-one, heart-to-heart positive confrontation with your prima donna:
- Provide specific examples of their detrimental behavior and discuss its impact on the rest of the team.
- Then ask, “If roles were reversed, how would you feel if you were on the receiving end of that behavior?”
- Communicate the importance of teamwork, and the important role that they have in the overall performance of the team.
- If possible, share stories from your own past about the impact of the lead salesperson’s behaviors on the rest of the team.
- Be very clear and specific about your expectations of their personal behavior going forward
Passionate, hardworking, experienced and talented people deserve to be treated, in some ways, differently. They consider this special treatment a form of recognition. But in other ways—determined by you—they must be treated exactly the same as everybody else. You must actively manage this situation, and manage everyone on your team to your expectations.
Kevin Davis, president of TopLine Leadership, is the author of Slow Down, Sell Faster! Understand Your Customer’s Buying Process and Maximize Your Sales (Amacom Books). His company provides custom workshops based on the “Slow Down, Sell Faster!” sales model, as well as a 2-day Sales Management Leadership workshop for sales managers. Contact Kevin through his website at www.toplineleadership.com.