Small Business

Out of the Corner and On to Your Team


Direct sales is a tough gig for someone with no experience. What should you do when your boss plants a "Dunce" on your sales team?

Last week after I finished speaking at a sales conference, a salesman pulled me aside and whispered: "What should I do? The president of my company just assigned his girlfriend to work on my sales team. She doesn't have any sales experience—and doesn't care." I call this situation "the Dunce Bomb" because if you handle it incorrectly, you could blow up your relationships with your accounts.

Here are some ideas on how to deal with a Dunce on your selling team. Remember, a Dunce can be male or female, romantically involved with a co-worker or not. My strategies apply for any Dunce you may have to deal with.

1. Have a frank talk with your boss about expectations. Ask what role he or she envisions for the Dunce. Perhaps you can get the Dunce assigned to one of those projects everyone always says would be a good idea but no one ever has time for, like cold calling a new territory, or trailblazing a new product line.

Alternatively, maybe you can sell your boss on reassigning the Dunce to another department, where the Dunce's performance is not so easily measured. Remind your boss that direct sales is a tough assignment for someone who isn't properly trained.

2. Keep an eye on your sales numbers. Remember the expression, "This too shall pass," and when the Dunce is no longer working on your team, it's important that your numbers be on track. Your boss may not offer much sympathy if your numbers are down when he or she is nursing a broken heart from the Dunce's departure.

3. Don't waste your time repeating information to the Dunce. I learned this from watching the salesman take a call from the Dunce in front of me. He spoke to the Dunce as if she were a child, repeating simple words and commands. The Dunce still didn't get what the salesman was saying. If the Dunce doesn't understand what you say, force yourself to drop it and get back to selling.

4. Do not turn over or share your key accounts with the Dunce. I mention this because the salesman who complained to me told me that he had done just that. The salesman thought he was doing the boss or the Dunce a favor, but I bet the salesman will regret that move because the Dunce could easily damage them. You worked hard to win your accounts and build relationships with the key buyers; don't risk your investment. Try to get the Dunce assigned to a separate set of customers, so the Dunce's performance is easy for all to measure.

5. Look for the opportunity. Get to know the Dunce to learn about his experience and plans. Who knows? Perhaps the Dunce has a deep knowledge of a business that could help you. Or maybe the Dunce has a gift for making people feel welcome, a great memory, or great connections within the local community.

If you can, leverage the Dunce's experience and make him useful, instead of a potential waste of time and a threat to your sales. Just don't spend too much of your time or energy on what may be a temporary assignment for the Dunce.

6. Force yourself to overlook any pay or favor inequities. Since the Dunce is your boss's current favorite, don't be surprised if the Dunce's pay plan is juicier than your compensation plan. The Dunce may also get to come in later, leave earlier, take longer lunches, and receive other perks.

Console yourself that you are building your career; the Dunce is just milking a personal relationship. These scenarios have a way of working themselves out over time.

If you find a Dunce has replaced one of your key customers with another, the same basic rules apply—keep your eye on the business, look for the opportunities, and keep selling. Perhaps you could take them both out to a meal, which would give you access to your customer too.

A career in selling is like getting a PhD in human psychology. Don't get distracted by the drama of having a Dunce on the scene. Instead, keep your focus on your customers. Happy selling!

Michelle Nichols, the founder and president of sales consulting firm Savvy Selling International, leads a weekly podcast and writes her Savvy Selling column every other week.

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