From the April 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

Barbs being bandied about your sales floor? Cutting remarks getting lobbed over cubicles? If you've got warring sales reps, you're in a world of business hurt.

Infighting among your sales squad can lead to an unhealthy environment for all your employees. As Jay Arthur, author of Motivate Everyone: Family, Friends, Co-Workers (Even Yourself)! (LifeStar Publishing), puts it, "Discord can be crippling-nothing gets done because everyone is bickering." Arthur warns that when a manager is engrossed in supervising hostile employees, costs can pile up in wasted time, lowered job motivation and the potential loss of skilled workers. If you're living a sales version of the Capulets and the Montagues, here are practical steps to take to resolve the conflicts:

While you may be hopeful that grown-ups will work out their own conflicts, don't bet your business and sales productivity on it. James DeSena, author of The 10 Immutable Laws of Power Selling: The Key to Winning Sales, Wowing Customers, and Driving Your Profits Through the Roof (McGraw-Hill), suggests you invite reps in for a meeting and ask them to agree to work to resolve the conflict. DeSena instructs managers to solicit each side's story, ask for a commitment to work together without fighting, and let reps know their behaviors will be monitored.

  • Understand the roots of squabbling.
  • The sales field attracts strapping and competitive personalities, so it's no wonder dissent in the ranks can ensue. Fights over territory, commissions and leads can all wind up causing strife. Do what you can as a manager to remove reasons for rancor by establishing clear sales objectives. You'll also want to wear your empathy hat when diagnosing problems. As Arthur explains, discomfort at home finds its way into the workplace and makes reps cranky. And be aware of angst-inducing times, such as the end of the quarter, when reps are under pressure to post numbers.
  • Boot the bad apples.
  • If you've spent a good amount of energy and time to eliminate sales-force infighting, know when you've had enough. If reps refuse to play nice, rely on your carefully documented warnings, and be willing to, as Miller explains, "weed the garden" with terminations.

Miller offers these do's and don'ts for sales managers dealing with battling reps:

Do:

  • Clearly define geographic territories
  • , market segments and/or accounts for each rep. Confusion over who calls on what customer can create serious feuds.
  • Create
  • and encourage an environment of personal accountability-one of "no excuses," where complaining and blaming others are simply not allowed.
  • Call on each rep to share
  • , teach and give back to the team in sales meetings, thereby fostering an inspirational culture of dialogue and mutual respect.
  • Get to
  • know the unique personalities of reps and what makes them tick.
  • Establish team revenue goals.

Don't:

  • Overly and publicly praise the number-one rep.
  • Sales managers who continually lift up the same person as an example of success run the risk of creating jealousy.
  • Offer quick, short-term "spiffs"
  • (monetary rewards). It may only raise the potential for more infighting.
  • Threaten salespeople. Fear is not a motivator.

Kimberly l. Mccall (Marketing Angel) is president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. (www.marketingangel.com) and author of Sell It, Baby! Marketing Angel's 37 Down-to-Earth & Practical How-To's on Marketing, Branding & Sales.