Don’t Let Your Top Sales Performers Stifle Your Business

Peri Shawn

“They’re driving me nuts!” aren’t the words most would expect to hear from a director managing a high-performance team. But as any sales manager knows, while top salespeople are essential to the company’s success, these high performers can also be “high maintenance,” causing problems that soak up management time and impact other team members.

It’s an issue because in many companies, high performers bring in the bulk of the sales. They’re so vital to the company’s ongoing success that one of its priorities is to prevent the most productive salespeople from being poached by headhunters.

How can a company help its top salespeople get even better – and give them good reason to stay around, while also addressing their issues more successfully?

Coaching that works with the strengths and limitations of high performers

Part of the solution lies in coaching, but with a difference. Traditional coaching methods often don’t work with high performers, which can cause the manager and high performer to avoid the coaching dynamic. The coaching relationship can dwindle and in many cases cease.

If top performers feel their company isn’t providing the performance improvement support they need to grow, they may be open to offers when a recruiter comes calling.

Getting the most from your high-performing people while being cognizant of their challenges is a three-part process:

1. Understand the realities of high-performing salespeople

Because high performers think quickly, their fast brains limit their ability to adapt their communications to others who may not think as fast. The result: holes in their communication – they may think that the client has “got it” when in fact the client is still trying to understand all of what was said. Misunderstandings result in unsatisfied clients; as a consequence, your customer service team may spend a lot of time cleaning up the loose ends left by the salesperson.

So, how do you work within these realities?

2. See the other side

Stop coaching the behaviors of your top performers. Instead, focus your coaching on the thinking behind those behaviors. You are not looking to interpret their behaviors, but rather to understand the intentions behind them.

To understand the behavior that creates the performance, focus on discovering three things:

  • What they are doing or not doing that is affecting their performance?
  • What they know or don't know and what they need to know that will improve their performance?
  • What they are thinking that might be interfering with their performance?  

3. Shift high performers’ thinking through building an environment of trust

The more your team trusts you, the more they will let you know what is really happening and the better they will treat clients. This is a strong case for focusing on developing the trust your team has in you.

Our research demonstrates that of over 52 behaviors that earn trust, one behavior comes out on top: demonstrating you are listening. The key word is “demonstrating.” It’s not about you feeling like you are listening – rather, it’s about your team members feeling that you are listening.

One of the most valuable ways to develop your listening skills is to get ongoing feedback. So, ask your significant other, your family, your friends and your team members to rank your listening skills on a scale of 1-10.  

If their responses aren’t as high as you would like, consider asking those who are close to you to give you some clear, visible feedback when they feel you are not listening as well as you could. (Listening is a feeling measured only by the other person.)

Through demonstrated listening, you’ll build trust with the people you encounter – and most particularly, those top performers you may feel at times you can’t live with – but who you really can’t live without.

Peri Shawnis co-founder of the Coaching and Sales Institute (, and author of “Preventing Sales Crimes: Coaching Secrets for Sales Leaders.” She helps sales executives and their teams sell more, better, sooner and more often without need to take even a day off for training. Email her at