Let’s start by defining what we refer to as a “tenured” sales professional – this is someone who likely has 10 plus years of sales experience, whether solely with their current company, or accumulated over the years at various places of employment.
Suffice it to say this is a person who is established in their sales career and can generally command a higher base salary – let’s think of it as the sales world’s equivalent to the corporate ladder – these individuals have climbed pretty high in their respective field.
On the surface this group sounds like pretty good company, right? Who wouldn’t want a whole team full of these experienced and seemingly motivated people?
Well, not unlike executives in the corporate world, this group often has to deal with preconceived notions regarding their talent and abilities. These preconceived notions can result in both favoritism and backlash.
This article will explore some of the misconceptions surrounding tenured sales professionals. Whether you’ve been tasked with managing tenured salespeople or you are one yourself, this article will shed some light on what the other side is thinking.
Misconception #1: A High Level of Experience Equals a High Level of Performance
Not true. Just because Tim, the tenured sales rep posted great numbers five years ago doesn’t necessarily mean his current sales performance is up to snuff.
Here is the double-edged sword. Sales managers tend to hold tenured reps to a higher standard yet often overlook them when it comes to training, coaching or other sales performance initiatives.
When was the last time Tim was observed? How long ago was a ride-along conducted or a sales call critiqued? Is he still generating the sales he used to? Sales managers can be guilty of thinking: Oh, Tim knows what he’s doing, I don’t need to waste my time boring him with some of this stuff… The resulting problem is that managers don’t invest the same ongoing coaching efforts that they would with a more inexperienced rep. Yet they expect better results.
Instead of making assumptions, sales managers would be better off making a point to invest time with each of their reps. This is not to say tenured reps will require the same amount of coaching as a new rep, but the more established group should certainly not be ignored. Some managers may feel that they’re showing respect to tenured reps by not keeping tabs on them, but, in actuality, lack of attention and accountability can easily lead to complacency, which leads us to our next misconception…
Misconception #2: Tenured Entitlement Comes with the Territory
Not so. This can and should be avoided at all costs.
Tenured entitlement refers to when a rep has been granted some sort of “special” status based on past performance or perhaps on a relationship with management. This special status often means the rep is no longer held to the same standards as the rest of the sales team…and this is where favoritism from management can lead to backlash from team members.
It’s not difficult to see the issues that arise from this situation. Those reps without special treatment start to wonder why they have to do things that the “special” guy doesn’t. It can also be damaging to new reps that witness this dynamic and become discouraged that their hard work is not rewarded with attainment of a similar status.
As a manager, you must first realize if you’ve encouraged or enabled this behavior, and second, you must fix it. Try starting with motivation. If you are showing favoritism, it’s likely that you have a good relationship with “special” team members. Sit down and be frank with them – but not offensive. Explain that you count on them for various reasons, but you’d like to see the whole team improve – including them. Ask what would motivate them to boost their personal performance. You may be surprised by their response.
The point is, as management, part of the job is to consistently encourage and expect the best from every member of your team. Reward exceptional performance accordingly; but then move on and set the same high expectations again for everyone the next month.
Misconception #3: Tenured Sales Reps Don’t Need Sales Training
There are two issues with this one:
1. Even the most experienced sales rep needs sales training.
2. Sales training reinforcement and reapplication of the core fundamentals are equally important to any sales professional, regardless of experience level. As touched on in the misconceptions above, no matter how good the perceived performance of a tenured salesperson, there is always room for improvement. And at the core of any advanced skill set are solid fundamentals. Therefore, it stands to reason that higher performing salespeople are not more advanced, they simply execute the fundamentals better. In fact, the top performers in the world excel at the basics.
Bottom line: Tenured and top-performing sales reps are extremely valuable members of any sales team, but just like with any performer, they need training, validation, reinforcement, and encouragement to stay at the top of their game. As a Sales Manager, this responsibility and these decisions rest on your shoulders. Use the power wisely!
Justin Zappulla is a Managing Partner at Janek Performance Group. He has worked hand-in-hand with a global clientele across a variety of industries and business segments including technology, finance, consumer goods, healthcare and manufacturing. With extensive sales performance management and training expertise, he works with hundreds of companies to develop and implement strategic sales performance solutions.