Unless you're gifted with a team of million-dollar sellers, your salesforce is probably a mixed bag. One or two high producers, one or two who struggle, and the rest somewhere between. At P.J. Fitzpatrick in New Castle, Del., for instance, “we have a mix of actual performance, and a mix of experience,” sales manager Dave Rakulski says. Not only do salespeople produce at different levels — “We have three that are over $1.5 million,” Rakulski says, and “eight or nine” at $1 million plus — but some have been with the company a number of years, some less than a year. Some are well versed in particular product lines, others not so.

For sales managers with more than a few people on their team, this presents challenges. How do you keep the high producer happy, inspire those who haven't reached that level yet to add skills and improve performance, and at the same time foster the team spirit necessary to keep the sales department working in sync?

Enforce the Rules But Play Fair At many companies, the attention of management is directed toward the stellar salespeople, not only because of the dollars they bring in but because of the type of people they usually are. “Our top performers are closers,” says Mark Curry, president of Appleby Systems in York, Pa. “There's a lot of confidence, a lot of ego. They are the most persuasive people there are. No matter how much they make, it's never enough.”

The key to managing volatile, driven, and successful individuals, Curry points out, is to let them be who they are, but to insist that there are rules and that those rules apply to all. “Manage from strength,” he warns, “or you'll wake up one day and … guess who's running your compan?”

Others agree. “Just because a guy's selling $2 million, does that mean he doesn't have to come to meetings?” asks Tom Henderson, a direct sales trainer with many years of experience selling home improvement products. At P.J. Fitzpatrick, “[salespeople] don't have a choice in certain things, like showing up for meetings,” Rakulski says. “It's part of the job description.” And salespeople at P.J. Fitzpatrick are company employees.

Henderson observes that problems result when superstar salespeople start setting their own agendas. “You don't want that salesperson to be a detriment to the esprit de corps of the salesforce,” he says. At the same time, he notes, owners often become jealous or annoyed at the attention that the superstar salesman receives and the money he may be taking home. “They see him making $100,000 a year and they think: ‘I started this business. Why is he entitled to that?'” If you want to keep that top producer, Henderson points out, “don't start nickel and diming him with change order fees or administrative hassles. Don't start discounting his commissions.”

Bump Them Up For Brian Leader, president of Improve It Home Remodeling, Columbus, Ohio, managing the low-volume producer — that is, helping him or her improve performance —starts with benchmarks.