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How To's for Sales Leaders

When the Rock Star Sales Rep Becomes a Prima Donna

Every sales team has one: the star player who has lot of passion and puts in hard work. And these stars have the sales results to back up their bragging rights. But what happens when these “rock star sales reps” turn into “prima donnas”? They still perform at a high level, but their self-centered, demanding, rules-aren’t-made-for-me attitude has become toxic to your team.

This is a tricky situation for sales managers. You don’t want to risk losing a rock star but you have a responsibility to the rest of the team to create a good working environment.

Before confronting a prima donna, ask yourself how you might have contributed to the situation. Many managers have told me that they had to admit they’d been taking a hands-off approach to the rock star player. After all, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But as they realized in hindsight, by focusing only on the upside of the star’s performance and ignoring the downside, they’d created an environment where the star expected special treatment above and beyond whatever their performance warrants.

So the first step towards a fix was to think about changes they could make as a leader to take advantage of their people without letting any single rock star turn into a prima donna.

Start by making sure that your team’s standards cover not just the numerical outcomes you want to see but also “success attributes” you would like your entire team to adopt. You can get ideas by defining the opposite behaviors from what the prima donna is doing that hurts the team. That could lead to success attributes such as “being positive to other coworkers”, “enthusiastic for resolving customer problems/ complaints”, and a general willingness to accept feedback and coaching from management.

Then share these standards with your team, starting with the prima donna. Explain that you’d like him or her to take a leadership role in adopting these behaviors as an example for the team. Don’t worry that the prima donna will see through what you’re trying to do! People with bad attitudes don’t usually recognize it in themselves. They are almost always blind to the ways that their own behavior is disruptive to others.

Once you have the prima donna on board, talk about the success attributes with the rest of the team.

If you still have problems with the prima donna after you’ve taken both of these steps, you need to escalate. Talk to them one-on-one. Provide specific examples of behaviors that have had a negative impact on the rest of the team. Ask, “if roles were reversed, how would they feel to be on the receiving end of that behavior?” Talk about the importance of team work and the important role they could play in helping to improve the performance of the whole team. Be very clear and specific about your expectations of their personal behavior going forward.

You must actively manage this situation, and manage everyone on your team to your expectations. Remember, your sales team is watching everything you do.

About the Author

Kevin Davis is president of TopLine Leadership, Inc., a leading sales and sales management training company serving clients from diverse sectors. He is the author of two books on sales effectiveness: “Slow Down, Sell Faster!” (Amacom, January 2011) and “Getting Into Your Customer’s Head” (Random House, 1996) Contact him at kevin@toplineleadership.com

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