Salesperson Spends Time on the Phone, But Not with Customers

A client asks, "One of my salespeople makes far too many personal calls. Some of what they discuss during these calls is personal in nature and though they don't speak loudly, it is not difficult to hear what is being discussed. They are an otherwise solid performer, at or above quota most of the time. How do I address this issue with them?"

What seems like an annoying problem, a sales representative making too many personal calls, can turn into a larger issue if it continues unchecked for a prolonged period of time. Your instincts are right, and by the way a similar issue exists if a salesperson is spending too much time at work on personal email or IM. Start a dialogue with them right away.

Track the calls

Analyze this salesperson's call report for a week. How many work-related calls are they making? Exactly how many of their calls are personal? What is the total amount and percentage of time being spent on these calls? Are they calling the same phone number repeatedly or are they calling a variety of different numbers? What is the average duration of the calls?

Discuss the situation

Set up a time to speak with the salesperson and restrict the conversation to this topic. Have the data on their phone calls handy, but only use it if they deny that this behavior is occurring. Instead, start off by saying something like, "I couldn’t help but observe that you have been making more personal calls than usual. Is everything alright?"

Many business owners and managers are surprised to discover, when they open the discussion with that question, that their sales representative is actually dealing with a difficult issue. It could be that they are buying or selling a home, solving a daycare or eldercare issue or going through a divorce. If it's the case that they are dealing with a temporary crisis, ask them what kind of assistance they need to solve the problem. Discuss the possibility of their taking a few vacation days or a short leave of absence. Try and help them come up with some potential solutions.

If it turns out that they have just been making a lot of random personal calls and they don't appear to be dealing with a crisis of any kind, ask them about their job. Are they still enjoying what they are doing? Is something / someone bothering them? Do they need a new challenge? If you have made any recent changes to their compensation plan or territory, could it be affecting them? Could they be job hunting? Be open to whatever they have to say.

The end result is the same

Whether they are in crisis or have just been abusing their telephone privileges, one thing needs to be clear at the end of the conversation. Their personal call volume is too high and the content of their calls is too personal for the workplace. This behavior is affecting their productivity, their income, and their relationship with their co-workers. Somehow, they need reduce the number of personal calls they are making and/or make their private calls offsite and during a lunch hour or break.

Failure to address the issue will lead other staff members to believe that making a lot of personal calls during the work day is acceptable. At best, the salesperson making all the calls will become fodder for office gossip. At worst, the other salespeople will be distracted by these calls and their own productivity will suffer. The sooner you have this conversation with the offending employee the better.