Managing Nomads

Do your people know where they are going and how to get there, or are they wandering in the sales desert?

I realize that you shouldn’t need to be concerned about this as a sales manager. I know you feel you hired responsible people with good work ethics. People who get up in the morning and go about doing what you hired them to do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.

Wandering Willies

Over the many years I’ve been in sales and sales management, I’ve recognized that the sales profession attracts a unique type of individual. For the most part, they are very sociable, outgoing, personable, and totally lacking in self-direction.

I’ve often felt that many salespeople are like leaves blowing in the wind in that they seem to wander off in whatever direction is convenient at the time. When they leave their homes in the morning, the wind takes them off in whatever direction it happens to be blowing. Sometimes they blow into the office, sometimes they blow into a prospect’s or customer’s office and, sometimes around 10:00 a.m., the wind blows them into the local coffee shop where they congregate with all the other sales leaves that also blew in.

I call these blowing sales leaves “Wandering Willies.” They start off their day with no particular place to go and therefore they go no place in particular. They just wander until they stumble over an opportunity. They’re like the blind squirrel that finds the occasional nut.

Natural Defect

I feel that naturally good salespeople are born with a birth defect. The organizational gene in our DNA stream is missing. You’ll note that I’m including myself in this category. We do not like to be organized and will fight all attempts on the part of others to organize us.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be organized, it’s just that we have challenges doing it naturally or willingly. I learned early in my sales career that I better get organized if I was to succeed in sales.

One look at my desk and you’ll say that I’m still not well organized and you’d be correct. I’m better though. What I do is have quarterly organizational frenzies where I get my desk, my files, my opportunities, and my mind organized. Then I’m off and running efficiently for about 30 days when the decline starts, and I slide into chaos until the next quarterly frenzy. It works for me.

Blanket Condemnation

Before a lot of good salespeople get really annoyed and put out a contract on me, let me say that I realize that there are a lot of highly disciplined, well organized, and effective salespeople out there. I just don’t happen to be one of them. This article is about the remaining 90 percent of us and for the people who must manage us.

Know Where Your Children Are

Remember those ads on television years ago that asked parents, “It’s 11:00 p.m. Do you know where your children are?” The corporate version of this for sales managers is, “It’s 11:00 a.m. Do you know where your salespeople are?” Some salespeople can be like kittens and if you don’t know where they are and what they’re doing, they’re probably up to no good (or nothing at all).

I’m not suggesting that you have to spend all your time monitoring and checking up on your salespeople. After all, you’re a sales manager and not a parent. What I am suggesting is that some of your salespeople the ones I’m alluding to in this article require a certain amount of guidance and supervision to ensure that they’re going in the right direction and doing the right things. This is why daily and/or weekly planners and daily reports are important.

Helping Your Nomads

There is an old axiom that says if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. The key to helping your Wandering Willies is to not only help them know where they should be going but, in some cases, show them which road to take.

One of the best ways I know of to help your nomads figure out where they’re going is to ask them to turn in a plan for the upcoming week that includes where they plan on going and why they are going there. That activity map should be on your desk first thing Monday morning at the latest. Sharp and dedicated salespeople will fill it out Friday afternoon, so their minds are free to enjoy their family over the weekend.

While I’m not a big fan of daily reports, you may be wise to ask for them from time to time to see if the person is actually following the plan. You should also do the occasional Friday afternoon surprise inspection on the person’s activity for the past week. Did they do what they said they would do? If not, why? What got in the way? What could they have done better? Did they try to fill their week up with too much? Do they need help prioritizing activities?

Use the exercise to help improve the salesperson’s ability to better schedule and use his or her time wisely.


Another old saying, I remember being pounded into my head by one of my sales managers is, “Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan.” You might want to pound that into the heads of some of your salespeople as well. And while I’m dragging up all the old platitudes, how about this one, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Bottom Line

Don’t let your salespeople fail. Help them learn how to plan so they don’t spend time wandering around the sales desert.