Credit: Illustration: Ryan Snook

Robert Reichek, owner of Reicorp Remodeling, a sunroom and remodeling company in Atascadero, Calif., thought all his problems had miraculously vanished. The new salesman he'd hired was closing one out of every three sunroom leads. In two months he had more business than he could build.

In time he saw the other side. First came the rep's demand that he change from a graduated commission to a flat 10%. Soon there were complaints about other salespeople “wasting” leads. Next, a request that the superstar be paid for rescinded sales, since after all, a presentation had been made, and a lot of work put into it. Reichek says it wasn't long before he found himself “negotiated into a corner.”

DEMANDS OF THE SUPERSTAR Superstar salespeople are a boon to your bottom line but they're also, owners and sales managers say, the most difficult to manage: prickly, demanding, entitled. “The superstar knows where he stands,” says Rick Edwards, owner of Custom Patio Rooms and More, in Pittsburgh, who has hired some 500 sales reps in the last 25 years. “His name is on the white-board. He knows he's selling twice as much. And he wants to pick his territory, select his own leads, and not have to work shows.”

Typically, a star performer feels he or she has no need to attend sales meetings, since they already know anything that would be shared there or because “his ego is so big he doesn't want to share his ideas,” says Jake Jacobson, vice president of sales for Premier Window & Building, in Towson, Md. “I had a guy who said: ‘I'm not coming to meetings.' I said, ‘Fine, when you're writing $2 million a year, let me know about it.'”

But, Jacobson adds, many managers will put up with a lot because a star closer — 50% or better — is rare, and when it comes to selling, reliable. “He has the talent to go anywhere, and you know if you give him a lead, and it wasn't sold, that he pulled out every tool in the bag. As long as he doesn't disrupt the rest of the team, let him sell.”

BOUNDARY LINES Reichek and others point out that the only way to keep a superstar from driving you crazy is to have written rules and guidelines and to be scrupulous in enforcing them.

Out of bounds: lying, stealing, insubordination. Edwards says that among the worst was the rep who would fill out sales reports on leads he never ran. But it's critical that rules be clear. Reichek, for example, in an effort to work amiably with his superstar, put together a sales manual, specifying acceptable and unacceptable behavior and just how and when it would be rewarded.

Another suggestion, from Jacobson, is to manage the person. “One guy's turned on by money, one by ego, someone else is motivated because you take him out for Chinese food once a week.”

The trick, owners and sales managers say, is to find suitable rewards without letting your star walk all over you. Edwards suggests you're better off not even trying to integrate that superstar into the sales team. “Keep him running a lot of leads. And whatever you do, don't make him the sales manager.”