SALES
Some sales stars are master manipulators who can rack up big numbers--but at the cost of long-term growth.

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I recently read a blog post giving the following characteristics of “quota-crushing sales pros”:

  • “They have no time for anything that is not their deal.”
  • “Charming one minute, in-your-face the next, pros will use all emotional tools to win.”
  • “They save the charm for the prospects and clients and the venom for your company.”
  • “They’re never satisfied … ever.”

This list was presented as if these were desirable characteristics, justified by the fact that such individuals could consistently “crush” their quotas, presumably making them more productive than their peers.

Unfortunately, the presence of this kind of person on your sales team is generally a huge mistake. Yeah, he’ll book lots of revenue, but it’s probably because he’s 1) shafting your customers, or 2) shafting your company.  Or more likely both.

Let’s talk about customers first. While aggressive selling can win new customers, it seldom builds long-term relationships.  Customers end up feeling manipulated into buying things that they neither want nor need, and consequently decide to buy elsewhere in the future.

Companies that depend upon “quota crushers” to make revenue generally end up with little or no customer loyalty.  As a result, they are forced to constantly acquire new customers.  While the “quota buster” is good at this, it costs a lot more money to get a new customer than to sell to an existing one.

And eventually word gets around, making new sales harder and harder to achieve.

Sales superstars can also be a huge productivity drain on the rest of your company because often their success lies not in superior sales technique but in a superior ability to manipulate their own company’s resources, according to research by Arun Sharma at the University of Miami.

In some cases, the superstars (who accounted for 20% of a typical sales team, Sharma found) consumed as much as 50% of the firm’s internal resources.  Since those resources would otherwise be supporting the rest of the team, the superstar’s revenue could be chalked up to “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

This is why sales superstars are often unpopular among their peers. While management may be convinced that their success is the result of great sales skills, the rest of the team suspects that the superstar is simply hogging resources. (A common complaint: “He gets all the easy leads.”)

The operative word here is “manipulate.”  Some sales superstars (and the managers who enable them) truly believe that selling is the process of manipulating people: customer and fellow-employees alike.

To that way of thinking, selling is something that you do to people, not something you do for people.  And while that may result in “quota crushing”, it’s not a long-term strategy, except for con men working in boiler rooms.

Does this mean that every sales superstar is bad for business? Of course not.

There are definitely salespeople who can make big sales numbers without manipulating people. But these “superstars” have none of the characteristics identified in the original post. Instead:

  • They always have time for their customers, even when it’s not strictly business.
  • They are committed to doing the right thing, even if it means losing the sale.
  • They treat both customers and fellow employees with respect and consideration.

In the short term, they might not make as many sales as the “quota crushers”–but when they’re done selling, your company has a loyal customer base, not a hundred furious (and probably vocal) customers who think they got the shaft. And your employee morale won’t be in the toilet.

Note: Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting columns to help you locate the kind of “superstar” that’s not bad for business. So stay tuned.

Last updated: Jan 2, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James was recently named a "Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Master" by Forbes, and his blog has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. His writing has appeared in publications as diverse as Wired, Brandweek, and Men's Health, and he is the author of numerous books, including The Tao of Programming, Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite, and, most recently, Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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