Halloween season is getting very close, and my granddaughter is already pitching granddad on which costumes I should invest in to have her enjoy in a wonderful Halloween party at her kindergarten. But, on a more serious note, I think all of us have a fear of ghosts.

The ghosts I’m speaking of are not the supernatural kind. Rather, they are the salespeople who you’ve hired, paid salaries and expenses to, worked with for months and months; only to realize that you hired the wrong individual and that they will never produce the results that you desire. The Wall Street Journal has indicated that these ghosts cost as much as $600,000 per incident. You heard me.

Every salesperson that you hire who does not break even and hopefully produce a profit for you will eventually become a ghost and his/her involvement in your business will set you back by $600,000. Now, that figure is not just made up of out-of-pocket salary and expense dollars. Rather, and this is the big and dangerous part of hiring ghosts, it is the cost that the salesperson inflicts on your business as a result of poor performance out in the territory.

Any salesperson who has followed a ghost into a territory will confirm that these poor-performing salespeople frequently do a lot of long-term damage to the attitude, morale, and appreciation of customers in the territory. As a rookie in IBM, I followed one of these ghosts; and many of the customers’ attitude vis-à-vis IBM had been “poisoned” by the behavior of this ghost.

Those who weren’t poisoned had a bad perception of IBM and our product line; and they frequently said things like, “There’s no need for you to stop by and talk to me. You see, I know everything I need to know about IBM equipment.” The ghost had visited this customer, the ghost had shared incorrect and/or inaccurate information with the customer and, tragically, the ghost had failed to build any value. As a result, the workload for yours truly as a rookie was higher than it needed to be.

The same is happening in your dealerships as we speak. I’m willing to bet that more than one reader of this article has a future ghost on the payroll right now. So, if you feel that you have encountered the cost of ghosts and/or you have a potential future ghost on your payroll right now, read on through the conclusion of this article as I will help you avoid repeating this mistake. And, if you have a ghost on your payroll right now, I’m going to show you how you can move quickly to minimize the cost and damage that the ghost can do and/or may be doing to your business.

Let’s start at the beginning. You see, far too many dealers hire men and women because of a gut feeling. I’ve literally heard a lot of dealers say that they want to hire men and women who have a “fire in their belly”. That fire may be indigestion and can be extinguished with any one of a number of antacids (LOL). Gut feel in hiring people based on your personal likes and dislikes is a significant contributor to the creation and manifestation of these ghosts.

Don’t hire people just because you like them. You must learn to hire people based on the attributes which can’t be trained. For instance, the guy or gal may be the most likable human being on the planet but, if they don’t have the mental agility, DNA and personality profile of a “hunter”, then all of the likability in the world will do nothing but turn that individual into a visitor or an ambassador who will not produce revenue and will cost you a significant amount of dollars.

Ghosts don’t only impact the P&L of a dealership, but they also impact the morale of the owner principals as well as the rest of the sales team. The other salespeople see the ghost getting away with violations that are contrary to management wishes, but management is tolerating the ghost because management operates with many ghosts based on the mistaken belief that next quarter will be better.

Ghosts have mastered the ability to sell management on how great next month or next quarter will be. Once management’s anxiety regarding the near-term future has been resolved, albeit with a fabrication, their anxiety is reduced and they stop holding the ghost accountable.

The second step to reducing the impact of ghosts is to hold all of your team accountable immediately for the quantity and quality of activity which you know leads with predictability to profitable revenue generation. The lack of accountability facilitates long-term tenure on the part of these ghosts. The longer you keep a ghost, the more he or she costs you; it’s just that simple.

If you don’t understand what your team is doing, how they’re doing it and with whom, then you are in all probability losing money, but you just can’t tell where or when. Don’t wait for that six-month or one-year anniversary to come by and take a look at the production of the ghost before you decide to act. Without exception, activity produces some level of results. Correct activity in the correct quantity and quality will produce spectacular results. If you’re not holding your team accountable for the quantity and quality of activity, you’re losing out; again, it’s just that simple.

The last bit of advice that I have regarding dealing with ghosts is, once you recognize a potential ghost, cut your losses a.s.a.p. Go through their forecast. Is it reality or “hopium”? In other words, are they hoping that good things will happen and then communicating those hopes to you as sound business decisions and logic. You’ll find that, when you eliminate the hopium from your forecasting, your sales will go up and the frequency and magnitude of ghosts impacting your P&L, not to mention your peace of mind, will go down.

As always, I wish you…

Good Luck and Good Selling!!!

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Sales management is one of the least formally controlled components of most organizations. Since 1978, Gil Cargill has worked with over 5,000 B2B sales forces.