Building a Sales Team: Part 3 – Managing “C” Players

In the first post of this series, I stressed the importance of assessing and analyzing your sales team. Through that process, you should emerge knowing who your A, B, and C-level players are. Completing the ABC ranking exercise is often quite enlightening. You see what it takes to become an A Player and the inconsistencies you can coach in your B Players.

The further value of this exercise is realizing who your C Players are and what needs to occur for the growth of your entire team. C Players, if left unchecked and unchanged, will erode your team’s ability to reach the goals you’ve worked so hard to distill, operationalize, and achieve.

Therefore, it’s your responsibility to call them out professionally, objectively, and relationally. Doing this respects your entire team’s efforts while staying true to your overall mission.

Alert Them to the Issues

The first step is to let them know that issues exist. Begin this conversation by stating you’ve observed behaviors preventing them from succeeding in their role. Then, cite the inappropriate behaviors with specific examples along with the impact these behaviors have had on them, the business, and their colleagues.

Observe their reaction. Notice how your direct report listens and processes your development direction. Give them time to present their side of things. Some may agree that the issues are present and will show a willingness to improve, even if they are unsure how to proceed. That’s ok…agreeing that there are issues is a good starting point. However, often you’ll hear their resignation to their sub-par behavior or, in contrast, they will get defensive, providing excuses and laying blame. This is a red flag and is when you should consider moving to the jettison stage (see below).

Plan for Change and Success

Once there is agreement on the issues and their causes, create a plan that gets them back on track. Map out a 90-day development plan that addresses these unacceptable behaviors. This should be very specific with measurable goals, a feedback mechanism from peers, and regular check-ins/coaching by you. They should understand that this 90 days is not just to correct issues but for them to demonstrate their willingness to “do whatever it takes” to remain on the team. With your attention, coaching, and support, you are setting them up for success. Ultimately, though, it is up to them whether they take advantage of it or not.

Jettisoning C-level Players

At some point, it is important you ask these C-level players if they are happy in their current role. If they say yes, then reinforce what you require from them to maintain their position and successfully complete their 90-day plan. But if they say they are not happy, you should mutually and relationally move to an exit plan. It’s been my experience that this step is the one managers are most reluctant to activate. So often I see C-level players who are kept on the team even when it’s clear they are not making positive contributions. Worse, they have a virus-like tendency to try to bring others along with them. While it’s your job to mentor your team members, it’s also your job to have the best team you can assemble and sometimes that means jettisoning C-level players for the good of the team.

I understand this is a hard step and you may be filled with anxiety and trepidation. So, what I tell my clients is this:

Most C Players are not losing sleep over their actions, only you are.

Lastly, C-level players can command a lot of your attention, making it harder to focus on your other team members. Don’t let this happen. Make sure you are acknowledging the accomplishments your more successful direct reports are achieving. As a manager, it’s important you maintain this balance and keep driving all your team members towards their goals.