Sales Manager Challenge: Negative Sales People

If you manage sales people long enough, you’re sure to encounter negativity. It can be frustrating to say the least. But it doesn’t have to hit as hard as it sometimes does, provided you take the right action to address it.

Negativity in your salesforce can come from many sources.  One of your reps could be disgruntled at the company’s leadership for making a string of fateful decisions and decide to take it out on you. A rep could be disappointed or angry because he or she didn’t get a coveted promotion.  Someone could be frustrated at decisions made that affect commissions, even if the decision still gives opportunity to meet income goals but in different ways.

A salesperson might express his negativity first by telling you directly. Regardless of the outcome he might recruit others to share the same attitude by airing negative comments in meetings.  I’ve seen reps even hijack meeting agendas.  Worse is when a rep works the back channel to get others on board ‘the problem’.

Here are some ways to deal with negativity.

1)    Listen.  Though it’s tempting to shut down a negative person try the opposite.  Sometimes people feel they haven’t been heard.  You don’t have to promise that you’ll fix the complaint.  It might be beyond your authority to do so.  Authentic empathy can have a significant impact.  Be genuine when listening.

2)    Stick to agendas for meetings.  When a negative salesperson tries to take the meeting off track you can refer to the need to get back to the stated agenda.  It’s ok to ‘parking lot’ issues that come up even if they are the same ones expressed earlier.  Including time frames for agenda sections gives you another defensible stand.

3)    Differentiate whining from complaining.  A complaint is a one time event.  Whining is incessant and highly distracting.  Accept complaints as the valuable feedback they are. Shut down whining quickly.  One way to shut down whining is to address it 1:1. Tell the person his/her comments have been noted and now you need her to respect the process and time it takes to deal with it.

4)    The best way to keep the weeds out of the lawn is by growing healthy grass.  Constantly reinforce where you want your team to focus.  Overcommunicate.  Repeat yourself to make sure your message gets through.

5)    Don’t take it personal.  It’s easy to take a salesperson’s negativity personally for many reasons.  It prevents you from doing what you’d rather be doing – focusing on the positive things and what can be controlled.  When you take negativity personally it takes your immune system down, and when you’re down you can’t be as productive.  Plus,  you’re more likely to read into some comments as personal attacks when they aren’t.

6)    Find sources of positive energy.  Maintaining a positive defense mechanism takes effort and intention. Don’t expect it to just come naturally.  Maybe get into a routine every week or even every day to feed yourself the positive thoughts.

Good Selling,


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