For many years the legend of the 600lb sales gorilla or Alpha sales superstar has been strutting the hallways and boardrooms of businesses. Often revered for achieving top of the league ladder sales results, yet feared by many for their aggressive, manipulative, ego centric, demanding, intimidating antics, countless CEO’s and sales managers have allowed these sales prima donnas to remain in their sales teams but at what cost to their sales team and their business?

Too scared to confront them about their behaviours or sales tactics for fear of losing their sales contribution, many sales managers and their sales team have simply suffered in the presence of these sales bullies. In my many years of working with sales teams and sales managers I have met my fair share of sales gorillas and their distressed managers and sales teams. Here’s what I have observed:

  1. They have the ear of the Managing Director/CEO who thinks they can do no wrong.
  2. They won’t let the business anywhere near their customers.
  3. They tell tall tales about their legendary sales conquests.
  4. They refuse to be coached, counseled or trained.
  5. They are very demanding, always complaining about the lack of resources and taking up the time of countless people to do their bidding, leaving the other sales people to fend for themselves.
  6. They often exhibit bad behavior, and may be heard swearing or making inappropriate comments to their colleagues or other staff who are often too fearful to report them (see point 1).
  7. They can engage in questionable sales tactics, yet claim that they are pristine and operate with the utmost of integrity.
  8. They claim to know a lot of people and be very well connected.
  9. They use actual or implied intimidation to get their way with internal team members.
  10. They use charm and manipulation to get their way with key stakeholders.
  11. They act with righteous indignation if you question anything about them.
  12. They don’t think they need to comply with company policies so often refuse to complete paperwork or keep up to date CRM’s if they think it’s a ‘waste of time’.

You only have to watch the movie ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ to see your fair share of sales gorillas. This type of sales culture was revered by a number of industry sectors in the 70’s and 80’s, including real estate, car sales, stock broking, etc. Watching it makes me feel ill, but many sales teams got off on this and even use ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ as a model of how they should sell in some quarters today.

Yet most people watching ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ or meeting their very own sales gorilla feel repulsed by them. Often very wary of them, others wonder why they have to tolerate them and why management won’t act. Truth is these sales gorillas have never been pulled into line. Their outstanding sales results have somehow bought them immunity from behaving in a civil manner. The smell of money they can bring in has condoned behaviour that has often outweighed the need to act ethically and uphold team values and respectful behavior. Their bad behavior has been allowed to manifest without restrictions, ‘oh let him get away with it. Look at the results he pulls in’. These sales gorillas are the direct result of poor quality leadership, lack of clear standards and bad decision making.

What most businesses do not know is that these sales gorillas, for all their so called sales success, actually fall well behind the real sales superstars in terms of achieving high level and sustainable sales results who, by contrast, are open minded, curious, collaborative, team oriented, open to learning and aim for partnerships on every level. And these real sales superstars are humble too which is a direct contradiction to the behavior of the sales gorillas.

  • So are you currently letting fear hold you and your team hostage by allowing your sales gorilla to persist?
  • What would happen if you got rid of the sales gorilla?
  • How would the rest of your team respond when they left?
  • What would happen to sales and the clients?

In my experience when the sales gorilla finally departs, there is an initial sense of shock which quickly gives way to relief and the opportunity for the sales team to really pull together and prosper. The biggest fear of losing the sales gorilla’s sales power and their clients doesn’t eventuate in the vast majority of cases. In fact it is often revealed that the clients are happy the sales gorilla has left and look forward to a more open and prosperous relationship with the company concerned and sales grow even more.

I am not suggesting that most leaders intentionally hired these sales gorillas or intended for them to manifest however, without clear codes of conduct or values and a proper understanding of what you want by way of ‘good sales performance‘ you cannot hire or develop the right sales people to do the right things in the right sales culture.

In his book ‘The No Asshole Rule’, Leigh Buchanan writes about bosses behaving badly. Its thesis – don’t hire jerks, has become public policy in many companies around the world. I would suggest we think clearly about what we want manifested in our sales teams and take a leaf out of Leigh’s book and make sure we employ ‘The No Asshole Rule’ and don’t hire sales jerks.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Author: Sue Barrett,

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