Selling isn’t like driving a delivery truck or working in an auto plant. You don’t put in your 20 years and get a gold watch. You are your own talent, your own challenge, your own work ethic. And what’s also true is that you’re only as good as your last sale.

So what happens when your best closer, let’s call him John, a guy who has been with the company, say, 10 years, stops selling?

We’ve all seen this.

Here are two things to consider. The first is how do we — sales managers — get John out of it? And right after that, how long do we let John stay in that funk before making the hard decision?

Mental Space

Understand that when this happens, the problem is between John’s ears. Nothing else — the market, the product, the economy — has changed. So first off find out what’s going on in John’s head. Have a one-on-one with this superstar closer who’s now spiraling. There could be many reasons for this sudden loss of morale on his part. Divorce, loss of a child. It doesn’t even have to be a significant event. Sometimes he’s just developed the wrong attitude and now it’s reached a tipping point.

You can find that out by asking certain questions. These will go deeper than would ordinarily be the case between manager and managed, but that’s where you need to go to get to the root of the problem. If John’s been there a while and you’re a reasonably good manager, there’s probably a relationship, and relationships are based on trust and understanding. If you as a manager haven’t found that bond or made that connection, it will be hard to ask those questions.

It could also be that there is no specific reason. It could be that he’s just burned out. Maybe he feels taken for granted. He’s been bringing in the lion’s share of the sales and nobody says anything. Sales guys have big egos and caloric temperaments. The really good ones have the heart of a general. It’s win at all costs for them. And, more than anything else, they do it for the appreciation. That’s the aphrodisiac. I remember when I first started selling that I’d be so jazzed I couldn’t sleep. The money’s great but the money is an ancillary benefit. Salespeople want recognition. They need it.

Get to the Bottom of It

Find out what the problem is. Then suggest that the rep give himself some time — paid time — to regroup. Have him take a few weeks off. Go somewhere on vacation. Come back and start fresh. If you, the manager, have a chance to turn this around, this is going to be your chance. You might have to invest a little time and money to say that this guy is worth it. Hey, look at everybody else and consider the fact that guys like this — top salespeople — don’t fall from the sky every day.

And if it doesn’t work out, then you need to be up-front about it. It’s time to draw a line in the sand; to have that tough talk and say: Hey, what happened to the old John? We miss John. We’d like to have him back. What can we do to get him back? Because if we can’t get the old John back, then maybe he’s no longer the right fit, maybe he’s not doing himself or the company any good.

—Michael Damora has been the sales manager at several large home improvement companies. Reach him at