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Passive-aggressive sales people and measurement

by dmitchel  |  July 29, 2012  |  4 Comments

In the past week I’ve been dealing with a number of customer inquiries from senior sales management, all of which have a common script. Basically, there is a passive-aggressive sales man (and, yes,  it is almost always a man) who does not want to comply with the reporting framework that the management team want to put in place, especially the parts of the frameworks that focus on tracking individual sales activity. They don’t want to log the sales calls that they make, the number of meetings they’ve had, and certainly don’t want to record any of this in a common sales-force management system.  They just went to go out an sell and “not to be bothered  by all this trivial admin rubbish”.

The argument the mavericks make is that they are too experienced to be subject to that level of monitoring, that they can be trusted to deliver “the goods” and that any executive who wants to measure what they are doing is too inexperienced to be their manager. Being accountable for the “numbers and just the numbers” is what they ask for, none of the intermediate rubbish. The question I’ve been faced with is “should I just let them get on with it” and instead focus  measurement on the more junior sales staff. My answer is… absolutely not. No sales person is so good or so experienced that can opt out of the metrics that sales management need to track the business. A sales person who wants to opt out doesn’t understand the reasons why a sales manager needs metrics – as a tool to look at the effectiveness of an entire sales team, rather than to spy on what an individual sales person does. Selling is team sport, not an individual pursuit. Team sports need a framework of rules, to make sure that everyone is playing fairly and that each member of the team is doing their fair share. Asking to opt of those rules is an early sign of someone who doesn’t want to play in a team.

My message to those inquiries… tackle mavericks early, as soon as you start to notice those behavioural tendencies. Don’t leave it for a few weeks or months before you have a conversation with the passive-aggressive sales man. Team members all need to have the same measurement framework and to play by the same rules. Nobody is too good to be accountable for the same metrics as the rest of their team.  Set rules about the information that you want each person to provide and be very firm about this not being an option. If you need to get formal and take disciplinary action to make it stick then do it and don’t blink. The maverick sales person will play a game of chicken with you and will wait for you to blink first. Don’t blink.


Tags: sales  sales-management  

David Mitchell
Research Director
1 years at Gartner
23 years IT industry

David Mitchell is a research director within Gartner Research, where he specializes in providing go-to-market advice to both emerging and maturing technology and service businesses, helping them drive growth through improvements in channels, marketing and sales ...Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Passive-aggressive sales people and measurement

  1. t_mak says:

    Accurate observation!

    “Set rules about the information that you want each person to provide and be very firm about this not being an option.”

    That’s the key to motivate the team to reports.
    It should be clear, possible and executable. Any other don’t give you a accurate feedback to analysis and managing and the second way could make the delay of salesman main job, so they don’t wonna do it.
    A golden mean is the piont.

  2. Bill Carlson says:

    Actually, sales is very much an individual sport.

    And good luck reining in the top performers. I know all the arguments, not engaging in debate, just pointing out the realities. Consider, for example, sports teams where the superstar does get treated a little differently.

    Top performers are going to be in demand and although you can argue to take a position that they need to bend to the rules of the organization, I’d suggest they’re rare enough entities to warrant figuring out how to accommodate their behaviors.

    Disciplinary action? Really? Good luck with that — even if the sales process overall might be a team sport, the performance and results travel with the person.

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