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  • Mike Burke


I don't know what advice you got when you started managing, but I was told, "treat everyone the same."

And when I managed customer service, purchasing, and warehouse people, that advice seemed to work.

But everything changed when I became sales manager to salespeople that were on full commission.

Since everyone was on commission, the more they sold, the more they made.

You would think since everyone's was on commission, they would all be motivated to sell more.

But here's what happened.

There were specific salespeople like my top salesperson Frank that were always blowing out their budget no matter what obstacles they faced.

When they lost a customer for one reason or another, they always found a bigger, better one.

There were also salespeople like Dale that were always below budget.

When Dale lost a customer, nothing much happened except he wanted to let me know it wasn't his fault, then ask me to give him accounts to make up for his loss in income.

Whenever I gave Dale accounts in the past, their sales always seemed to shrink.

Plus, he had lots of accounts that should've been huge, but he was barely getting any business.

I was always trying to figure out what made some people stars and why others were slugs.

Dale and the other salespeople like him never seem motivated to grow their business.

They would come to the quarterly meetings with reports showing me all the reasons for their failure to meet their goals.

I don't know if this ever happened to you, but I was spending most of my time trying to get the under-performers to perform.

And spending barely any time with my top performers.

One day Frank, my top salesperson, came into my office with his order pad in his hand.

He said, "Mike, I'm sorry, but I've made a decision, and I'm going to Only Source.

Only Source was our largest competitor.

Before he finished his sentence, I jumped out of my desk and closed my door.

I said, "please sit down, Frank; let's talk."

He was uncomfortable.

I said, "I'm sorry, Frank, I didn't know you were unhappy."

That's when he said, "Oh, I'm not unhappy.

I don't want to leave, but Only Source offered me a higher commission rate."

"Plus, they're giving me accounts that I don't have here because other salespeople have them."

As I sat there, watch Frank hold back tears, the never say never in me was dreaming for ways to change his mind.

He broke the uncomfortable silence by saying, "I don't want to leave, but the opportunity is just too big to turn down."

Here's where it gets interesting.

Gordon was retiring at the end of the month, and I thought, perfect timing, I'll give him some of Gordon's accounts.

I grabbed Gordon's sales report and put on the hard sell.

Frank raised his hand as if to say stop.

In between my breaths, he said, "Gordon's a great salesperson, and we have the business at these accounts.

In desperation, I said, "yea, I know, but if it's about money, you're going to make more money with these accounts."

He said, "Mike, it's not just about money; it's also about the opportunity to grow accounts.

Unfortunately, the accounts I know I could grow Dale has on his list."

I imagined Frank taking most of our business to our competitor, and Dale losing any business I gave him from Frank.

But here's the most disturbing thing that went through my mind.

Dale knew that if he kept a little bit of the business, he gets a raise.

Frank wins, Dale wins, and I lose.

At this point in the conversation, I was deciding how I was going to tell my boss I lost my best salesperson.

That's when Frank said, "how about this?"

I said, "what, I'm listening!"

He wrote on a piece of paper from his order pad, slid it to me, and said, "How about you give me these five accounts Dale has?"

Then he added, "you can give Dale these accounts from me that I already have the business, and they need just need a babysitter."

"Dale can do that."

When I saw the accounts he wanted, I was in disbelief.

If we made the switch, Frank was proposing he was giving Dale more than the accounts he would get from Dale.

I said, "why do you want these accounts. We barely have any business with them?"

Frank said, "I know, but if we were selling them what I know I could sell them, each could be bigger than any customer I have now.

I said, "so, what you're saying is if I give you these five accounts, plus the other accounts that I just offered you."

Just as I said that he cut me off and said, "no, I don't want those other accounts, I'll have to babysit them and won't have the time I need to put into these five."

We both got up from our chairs and shook on it.

When Frank left my office, I started putting together the list of accounts that I was moving between Frank and Dale.

As I was cutting and pasting, Dale walked in my office and said," that's too bad about Frank."

I just let him finish his thought because I knew what he was going to say, and I wanted to hear it.

With a giant smile on his face, he said, "I know the purchasing manager at Frank's biggest account, and in his next biggest, well, I went fishing with the warehouse manager."

I gestured to him to sit down and said, "Franks not leaving, but we do need to talk about your accounts."

His face turned ashen.

Then he slowly and humbly said, "what about my accounts?"

I said, "I'm taking these five accounts off your list and giving you these customers to make up for it."

I braced myself for the rant that was about to happen, and after a five-second pause, it started.

Dale started to get loud, so I closed the door.

Then he said, "the accounts your taking from me all have potential, that's not fair."

So I waited five seconds and said, "you've had those accounts, four or five years now haven't you."

As he started to argue over the years, I cut him off and said, "what's going to change that hasn't changed in all these years?"

We had another uncomfortable pause.

Then he said, "why don't you give me one of Franks big accounts to make up for it?"

In the end, three of the five accounts I gave Frank were in the top 10 for the whole company.

And the accounts I gave Dale, well they shrunk.

At this point, you might be saying to yourself, "I'm not managing commission salespeople."

To that I say, OK, but don't you have employees like Frank that always find a way?

Don't' you also have employees like Dale that never find a way?

What I learned from this situation was that I needed to spend more time helping the people that had a fire in their belly to be successful.

Likewise, I learned I needed to be more direct and spend less time listening to the excuses of the ones that always make excuses.


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