A Disgruntled Sales Force…Perhaps the Scariest Skeleton in a Corporate Closet

By Joni Santos on Oct 17, 2012

3 Minute Estimated Read Time

BOO! Did I scare you? Probably not… but what if I was a disgruntled salesperson selling to your top customers? Just the thought of an unhappy employee representing your brand in a negative light is enough to make you scream, right? It doesn’t matter what your sales team is unhappy about. A disgruntled sales force can be a really scary thing and should not be ignored. 

Why, you ask? Well, consider the following example:

Joe, your top salesperson, has worked for you for 10 years. He’s not only a capable salesperson who consistently exceeds his goals, but he’s also a trusted advisor to some of your company’s top accounts. Last year, your company experienced supply chain issues, resulting in unfulfilled orders and customer complaints, leading to fewer orders this year, and finally ending with Joe missing his numbers and not making bonus. And on top of all this, his family can’t take their summer vacation now, because they can’t afford it without the bonus income. Joe is unhappy, and rightly so. After all, he’s on the receiving end of complaints from a lot of people - his customers are complaining about missing products, his manager is on him for missing his numbers, and his family blames him for ruining their summer.

But this is just the beginning of the turmoil. Joe stays with your company, partly because he has worked for you a long time but mostly because the job market isn’t exactly exploding with opportunities. So, he sticks it out, coming to work day-in and day-out but with less enthusiasm and less drive to succeed than in the past. And now he’s started complaining to his co-workers, infecting them with his negativity. Joe’s disdain is unfortunately apparent to and affecting everyone around him  – his boss, his colleagues, and his customers. This discontent will continue to fester among the troops, negatively impacting productivity, and eventually reaching a tipping point for all involved.

Sadly, this story is all too real. On May 18, 2012 Forbes.com revealed the results of a new survey[1], which indicated 2/3 of the survey respondents were unhappy at work but were “staying put” until the job market improves. No matter how you slice it, this is scary… sure, employees are coming to work today, but their scowls are likely evident to your customers, and their less-than-perky approach to their jobs likely means less revenue for the company. And then, as soon as the market improves, you may see a mass exodus of your sales force and be left with gaping holes in your coverage plan, excessive turnover costs, and a bottom-line that has, well, hit rock-bottom.

So, what can you do to prevent this? What can you do to turn that proverbial frown upside down? Susan Adams states in her Forbes article, “If employers want an upbeat, engaged workforce, they need to find ways to help employees feel challenged and rewarded by work.” She offers the suggestions of more training, education, and career path planning.

Joseph Folkman, Harvard Business Review, suggests the following ways to bring employees back to a happy state[2]:

  • Encourage your employees more
  • Trust your employees more
  • Take an interest in their development
  • Keep them in the loop with open communication processes
  • Be more honest with your employees
  • Connect with your employees more regularly

While I agree with Adams’ and Folkman’s ideas, I believe they are missing a critical step, one that should be implemented annually, to actually gauge the level of contentment among the sales force. I suggest utilizing a 3rd party to deploy an anonymous sales force survey each and every year. Make this survey a part of your sales management cadence. Ask the tough questions to determine levels of happiness and potential future turnover costs. Ask questions that will uncover the true underlying reasons why the team feels the way they do. Then, and only then, can you fully understand the lay of the land and the best ways to address current challenges.

Whatever you decide to do, you need to do something… and you need to get started today. Don’t let a disgruntled sales team be a skeleton in your closet. Address the problem head-on, or it might come back to haunt you.

Read more about the importance of happy sales teams in our Top Performer Profile:

Dave Duffield: Inspired by Core Values, Ahead of Technology Curve


Joni Santos

Written by Joni Santos

Joni Santos thrives on connecting with clients on a level deeper than your typical consultant to develop customized business solutions that drive measurable results. With her diverse background in corporate marketing, field sales, training/development and consulting, as well as having worked in and for companies from start-ups to the Fortune 50, Joni brings a unique and well-rounded perspective to each sales effectiveness initiative. Best known for her team-player attitude, eye for detail and propensity for planning, Joni drives the delivery of high-impact client programs that are on time, on budget and on point.

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