Kip Lee has a term for the ailment afflicting the salesperson who writes $200,000 one month and can't sell anything the next. The owner of Coastal Empire Exteriors in Savannah, Ga., calls it Fat Wallet Disease. The polite term is “economic leveling,” the tendency to work to some self-imposed limit.

“You can have a window guy who writes 200 deals a year and makes $100,000,” Lee says. “Switch him to sunrooms, and suddenly he'll only write 30 [deals] if he still makes that same $100,000.”

What causes some reps to behave in this way isn't clear. “People have comfort zones,” says sales trainer and consultant Rick Grosso. “When they have a big month and plenty of money, it's usually followed by a weak month.” In effect, they manage to average their earnings for no net gain, he explains.

TREATMENTS: IMMEDIATE Treating Fat Wallet Disease is hit or miss at best. The common remedy is to counsel salespeople, according to Dave Monihan, owner of Energy Exteriors, in Tacoma, Wash. “Make them realize that you can have a great month, and if you don't step up to the plate, that great month can become an average month or it can go down to a lousy month,” he says. “You have to refocus them right away and reset their goals.”

Radical cures might include cutting commissions or giving reps fewer leads, according to Lee. Any step in this direction must be gradual, he says. “If the salesmen are used to getting 10 leads a week, cut it back to 9, then back to 8,” Lee says. In which case, chances are you may have to hire more salespeople to handle the same number of leads.

Cutting commissions is tougher still. “You have to realize that you are going to go through your whole salesforce,” Lee says. “You're going to lose everybody.”

INCENTIVES CHALLENGE REPS A less traumatic and probably more effective approach is to make salespeople aware of the problem and to challenge them, Grosso advises. “People perform better for ego recognition and ego satisfaction than for money,” he says. “That's the key.”

Create an incentive that encourages salespeople to repeat their top performance a second month in a row, even a third, Grosso says.

“What you don't want is a salesman having a great month and then never achieving it again,” Energy Exteriors' Monihan adds.