Training for Sales Managers: How to handle difficult conversations in the workplace | Salestrong


Training for Sales Managers: How to handle difficult conversations in the workplace

The role of a Sales Manager comes with multiple challenges, and many of those will be from internal pressures. While there is an obvious need to contribute to the performance and success of a company, some of the biggest responsibilities for any Sales Manager are inward-facing – managing team members.


Dealing with difficult conversations in the workplace is an inevitable part of the job – regardless of company size or industry, the dynamics of sales people working together, with focus and intensity for five days a week or more means that there will sometimes be clashes of personality and even breaches of discipline.


The last thing we want to do is have a difficult conversation with one of our colleagues, but guess what? As Sales Manager, it’s your job to have that conversation and deal with the issue. And when an awkward situation arises it is far better to have that discussion, deal with it properly and efficiently, and hopefully resolve it instead of just carrying on and ignoring it. If you do that, the problem may fester and cause further disruption or quickly escalate out of control.


Managing difficult and challenging situations is a core part of the Sales Coaching theories we embrace here at Salestrong. Our coaching programme includes identifying and managing under-performing teams and individuals, and equipping managers to become better communicators and leaders. Our Management Coaching course covers off and teaches an understanding of how to have challenging conversations that deliver outcomes.


For Sales Managers, Business Development Managers and Account Managers – indeed, all management figures with direct line reports – dealing with difficult conversations and resolving staff conflict and poor performance is a part of the job.


It’s crucial, therefore, that managers are equipped with the know-how and skills to tackle such problems. Here are a few hints and tips to dealing with common difficult conversations you could find yourself having.


Poor employee performance

This is an important conversation to have and definitely not one to sweep under the carpet. If a team member isn’t performing this will be detrimental to the company – one weak link in an otherwise high-performing unit can have a negative effect. A poor-performing team member can also reflect badly on you as their manager.


You need to tread carefully with this conversation because there could be a personal reason outside of work that is causing them to underperform – if this turns out to be the case you may be able to help.


If they are struggling, you could offer further support and even extra training. But if they are simply not working hard enough you could initially set goals that they must work to. By breaking expectations down into smaller tasks and goals it can be easier for an employee to understand what is expected of them. And a lot less daunting than one overall aim.


If, after a reasonable period of time – say six months – things haven’t improved, it is certainly time to re-evaluate the situation.


A bad attitude from a team member

Attitude is everything when it comes to the sales environment. If you can see that an employee is coming across as rude, stand-offish or bored – either around colleagues or to customers – this is something you need to address. So too if their attitude is frequently negative in tone or content and colleagues are starting to react badly to it.


As with all these conversations, ensure it takes place in private, and don’t start with small talk – get straight to the point. Stick to the facts rather than what you have heard and give examples where possible. Then explain why it is impacting not only on the company but also on colleagues. It is important to make it clear that if their attitude doesn’t change you will have to take it further. Again, conclude by setting expectations so that you have measurable ways of assessing improvement – or otherwise further steps will be taken.


Concern over employee behaviour

Perhaps you’ve seen evidence of this for yourself, or a colleague has confided in you that they are being bullied – which can be verbally as well as physically – by another employee. Be careful with this information and don’t just act on hearsay.

Ask the employee making the complaint to keep a log of any incidents before setting up a meeting with the accused. This may lead to an investigation meeting, with your HR department involved.


Ineffective working practices

This conversation could take place with a new salesperson who is conducting presentations and face-to-face meetings with clients and customers in the wrong way or it could be with someone who has been in the job for an extended amount of time and needs to switch things up for a fresh approach. This can obviously be awkward because people don’t want to hear they are doing something wrong – but if you don’t tell them, how will they know?


Start by explaining the impact they could have on the company if they continue working the way they are, then explain what needs to be done differently and why. Finally, offer them training to support them and develop new skills, confidence and technique.


Too much time off and poor attendance 

Is a member of your team constantly phoning in sick? You need to approach this sensitively – they could also have issues outside work or even a problem with their health that they haven’t felt comfortable enough to talk to you about.


Provide them with the opportunity to discuss it with you. It may be something you can help with and make the situation a little easier for them. You could look at introducing some flexible working arrangements for them, even if that’s just on a temporary basis. But, of course, if they are just avoiding work you need to explain the serious consequences this could have for them.


Overlooked for promotion

This is a delicate situation indeed. You had a promotion opportunity within your team – perhaps in a deputy manager role – and two of your members went for it. The successful candidate is delighted, and better paid after a wage rise. The other will be hurting at being passed over.


Be prepared for a difficult discussion. Expect that disappointment, frustration and even anger to come your way. Do what you can to dilute that and then schedule a follow-up meeting with the dejected individual a couple of days afterwards.


With the temperature lowered somewhat, run through the reasons for them missing out on this occasion, deliver constructive feedback and agree some performance objectives over the coming few months for them to meet and improve their suitability for future opportunities. If the individual’s initial reaction was one of anger, point out that being able to handle difficulty and disappointment comes with a more senior position. Improving on that skill can be another objective.


These are just a selection of typical, often quite difficult, conversations a Sales Manager will have with team members over the course of a career. If you don’t feel equipped to deal effectively with situations like those – or the Sales Managers in your organisation need help mastering those skills – please talk to one of our experts at Salestrong to discuss your training requirements.


Contact us at or on 01778 382733.

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