Care & Feeding of Superstars

Every sales manager hopes and prays for a team full of superstars. Never happens! In fact, most sales managers I know would kill for just one superstar. Heck, just a plain old star would be nice.

The average sales team tends to follow the classic bell curve with about 10 to 15 percent of the team being excellent performers, 10 to 15 percent of the team scraping by, and the remaining 70 to 80 percent chugging along, doing okay.

Superstar vs Prima Donna

When I say superstar, I’m not talking about the person who is good, knows he’s good, tells everyone else he’s good, and won’t let anyone forget he’s good. You know the ones. They’re prima donnas and usually too good to let go but too much of an aggravation to keep.

I’m talking about the person who is an excellent performer, team player, and all-around nice person. They are usually consistent performers and, if you have sales contests, they always win (much to the disgust of lesser performing salespeople).

While some sales managers consider anyone who sells up a storm a superstar, I don’t. Some, like the prima donna, can sell up a storm, but the damage they can cause both internally and with clients isn’t always worth the effort it takes to keep them happy. It’s an attitude thing. These lesser stars feel that, just because they bring in the bucks, they can treat the rest of the staff like dirt. They forget that the internal customer is their most important one.

My Prima Donna

My prima donna, whom I’ll call Maverick, consistently brought in 50 percent of the monthly sales leaving the remaining 50 percent to be split among my remaining three salespeople. But was he ever a pain in the duffis! He was demanding, opinionated, uncooperative, egotistical, and generally obnoxious because he knew I couldn’t afford to lose him. If I did, I’d lose 50 percent of my monthly sales as well.

However, I have a simple management philosophy: Everyone has a utility level and an aggravation level and when the aggravation level exceeds the utility level, something has to change. Well, we finally got to the point where Maverick’s aggravation level exceeded his utility level and he was given a new career opportunity.

Our working environment instantly improved and to my surprise, within 60 days, the remaining three salespeople easily made up for the lost 50 percent, had a better attitude, were performing at a higher level, and we never looked back.

My First Superstars

My first superstars were Ralph Cameron and Harry Dahl. Both were consummate professionals. I had been parachuted into their midst as a young, newly minted sales manager. Fortunately, I was astute enough to realize that they were older and wiser than me and if I tried to impose my ideas on these senior people, I was going to create problems.

While I focused my attention on the rest of the team, I didn’t ignore Ralph and Harry. Instead, I called upon and used their experience to broaden both my own knowledge and the knowledge of the other salespeople. I held them up as examples of what a sales professional should be. I inadvertently made them mentors for the rest of the team and, in so doing, gave them a spot in the limelight.

My Last Superstar

My third, and probably last, superstar was Paul Crozier. Paul worked with me for over ten years. Paul wasn’t a superstar in terms of sales but he was a superstar in the way he sells. He was a consistent performer who personifies the word persistent to the point where one of our clients dubbed him “Mr. Velcro.”

Paul brought in high-value opportunities that I wouldn’t have given a snowball’s chance in hell of happening. He was fearless in chasing down business opportunities, sometimes to the point of stubbornness. But it paid off for both of us.

We were blessed in keeping Paul for over 10 years. We never treated Paul as an employee. We treated him as part of the senior management team and we valued his input. Paul likes fine dining so every year we would take Paul and his wife Cindy to the nicest restaurant we could find (and afford!). We also made sure Paul had all the tools he needed to do his job and then we let him loose to do it.

Paul could have gone to work for any number of companies and probably made more money. I believe that Paul stayed with us because of the respect we showed him and the care we took in our dealings with him.

Lessons Learned

So what does all this mean to you. Well, there are a few lessons here.

1. Superstars aren’t always the ones who bring in the most sales. They’re the people who perform at a consistently high level year after year after year.

2. Don’t abandon or ignore your superstars. Just because they are doing really well doesn’t mean you should just pat them on the back and let them go their merry way. Get them involved.

3. Just because someone can sell up a storm doesn’t make him or her a superstar. Remember the damage some storms can cause. Make sure their utility level exceeds their aggravation level.

4. Get to know your superstars (and all your salespeople for that matter). What turns their crank outside of business? Find out what’s important to your superstars and do your best to get or do something that shows you care.

Bottom Line

I’ve always believed that caring and showing that you care will keep not only your superstars but also all of your team with you for the long haul. Treat your people well and you’ll build an unbeatable sales team.