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On a sales team, a prima donna is one whose ego and inflated sense of self-importance get in the way of how the team jives together overall. While some don’t have a problem getting along with those with big egos, others may feel discouraged, annoyed, or intimidated by their more abrasive personalities. Prima donnas may be great with customers, but turn around and act insolent with co-workers.

However, prima donnas also tend to become great salespeople. It’s hard to find that balance between letting them be who they are and letting that fuel their production, and making the rest of the team feel comfortable working together with them. After all, great sales numbers are awesome, but when team members don’t work well together, you may find yourself with high turnover. We want prima donnas to drive company sales, not drive away co-workers. That’s never a good thing for a sales team.

So, the question is, how can you successfully coach a prima donna into being a more positive, friendly, role model sales team member?

The trick lies in using his or her own sense of entitlement to bring out positive traits. Here’s how to make that happen.

Don’t ignore their behavior, no matter how great they are at sales.

Prima donnas know how great they are, and they know you need their numbers, so they may think they can get away with a lot of things without you stepping in. Unfortunately, in many cases, that’s true.

As a sales coach, you’re great at coaching for numbers, right? And that’s what prima donnas are giving you. So, you just sort of leave them be, rather than step in to address the negative aspects of their personalities, since number-wise they have great results. After all, it’s so much harder to tell someone you don’t like their personality. It’s just an uncomfortable situation for anyone. Right?

Hit the brakes on undesirable behavior. You need to set the standards for your team and hold your team members (all of them) accountable.

A great way to start this is this: Use your prima donna’s sense of entitlement to get him or her to help you.

Identify improvements to your team’s culture and involve your prima donna in implementing them.

The thing about people with big egos and inflated, self-important behavior problems is they usually can’t see this behavior in themselves. They think they’re the height of excellence and can’t really do wrong. So, if you work to involve them in your overall sales team culture improvements, they’ll think you’re asking because they’re the most important member of the team — not because they’re the one that needs to change.

For instance, you could tell your prima donna that you want to improve the morale of the team by getting all team members to buy off on a few standards of excellence such as:

  • Supporting teamwork by helping others

  • Criticizing privately and complimenting publicly

  • Exhibiting appropriate degree of humility

Additionally, you could include the fact that you’re trying to keep brag speak out of conversations amongst team members.

By implementing changes in your team and asking your prima donna to help you with putting them into action, chances are, he or she will be compelled to first make those changes himself.

Escalate and confront if necessary.

This is where sales managers sometimes get uncomfortable. But remember, your team is looking to you to take control of the situation, and if you don’t, they may feel the need to start looking for opportunities elsewhere.

If you’ve tried various measures to involve your prima donna in team morale improvements and they’re just not catching on and not changing his ways, it’s time to have a chat.

Here are some tips to make confronting a prima donna go as smoothly as possible.

  • Keep the tone positive. We’re using the word “confront,” but you don’t want it to feel like there’s a negative connotation to this conversation. Don’t be foreboding or talk down to your prima donna like a schoolteacher would to a misbehaving student, as that will only make the situation worse.

  • Ask them to name their strengths, like sales numbers, activity-level, and customer-focus. Then praise him for those skills. Get them focused on positive things they does well, before telling them what to work on.

  • Ask about great teams they’ve been on in the past. Get them to identify a couple things that made that team great. Get the prima donna to talk about interpersonal skills the team had that worked really well, and start to transition that into what they could do personally to improve his team skills.

  • Bring up the specific personality traits of theirs that have been abrasive to the team, but don’t tell them that the whole team thinks that way. You don’t want the prima donna to feel ganged up on.

  • Finally, discuss how certain strengths of successful people can sometimes become overused, which then turns that strength into a weakness. For example, a “drive-for results” mindset when overused could be interpreted by others as not caring about co-workers’ needs. An “action-oriented” attitude when overused could be interpreted by others as intimidating.  

We’re not in kindergarten, here. Your prima donna should be able to take some positive criticism. Prima donnas make a big difference on team success and have a place on the team. We appreciate their dynamic energy and need them to know that as part of the team their actions matter and impact their environment for better or for worse.

Prima donnas just need proactive management and coaching, like everyone else on the team — just maybe in a slightly different way.

Great sales numbers are awesome, but when team members don’t work well together, you may find yourself with high turnover.”

Kevin F. Davis | Award-winning author, president of TopLine Leadership

Learn More

The 7 Sales Skills That CAN’T Be Taught By Dan Ross,
Sr AVP, Commercial Sales, Salesforce
Why It’s Now or Never for Social Selling with LinkedIn’s Mike Derezin Interviewed by Laura Fagan,
Product Marketer, Sales Cloud, Salesforce
Making the Tricky Transition from Sales Peer to Sales Manager By Keith Rosen,
Author of "Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions"



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