The Four Most Difficult Sales Types to Manage

Managing salespeople is never easy. The top performers who also do things in the approved fashion and the chronic under performers are relatively straightforward to sort out. It’s the awkward squad who are trickier. Below we offer a snapshot of four of the most common types.

  1. The Prima Donna. Very successful, comfortable in their position, disruptive, believes themselves to be unfireable. Often the sales manager has decided on a ‘means justifying ends’ approach and turns a blind eye to the maverick behaviour.
  2. The Bowler. Long established, enjoys the lifestyle, solid performer never will set the world (or targets) alight. Good enough for yesterday, not looking strong for tomorrow.
  3. The Clever Cynic. Invests their energies in explaining, rather than changing the world. Fiercely argumentative with a good brain. Pulls others down, is pigeonholed as being negative (but often right) by peers.
  4. The Wonderful Struggler. Hugely liked, puts in enormous effort but always comes up (slightly) short. Very supportive of management, keen to learn but doesn’t seem to have the equipment to effectively sell.


What all these have in common is the ability to put into their managers heads the notion that the problem of dealing with them is greater than the problem of ignoring them. Often put as, ‘an empty seat is worse than them in the seat’. What we have found interesting is how commonly they are found, though fortunately not often all in the same team at the same time.

Whether that analysis of ‘leave well alone’ is the right one becomes a judgement call, one which after consideration the manager often errs towards the status quo.  What we have found to be entirely consistent is that these characters left unchallenged lower the spirit of the sales team, pull it towards the average, and generally create an environment of excuses.

What’s the solution? Whilst individuals have to be treated as individuals not caricatures, there are some first principles that will help any sales manager avoid these types gaining any kind of foothold of normality.  Here’s seven tips:


  1. Use values to create a behavioural framework that is as important to live by as any results.
  2. Use a performance management framework to focus feedback linked to job requirements and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Recognise effort but make it clear on its own its not enough.
  3. Set a clear vision for the sales team in terms of what the future demands are likely to be; set expectations of change, expose people to new learning requirements, train-in new skills
  4. Coach to the standards (behavioural and performance) required.
  5. Develop career plans for everybody, get a real dialogue going. Look for; perhaps create more, development opportunities for people.
  6. Demonstrate that where and when appropriate, and  supported by best practice process, you will do whatever is necessary to create/maintain this exemplar sales team.
  7. Show some leadership, stop ducking the tough stuff. Start impressing the people in your sales team who are not in the awkward squad and (to date) haven’t seen you do anything that validates that they are already performing/behaving in the right way.