Sales motivation is a perennial area of focus and also an area that is perennially illusive for leaders in most organisations! Citing reasons for why the sales force should be motivated, would be like preaching to the choir.
Traditional sales motivation “tactics” have been grand sales contest launches, cash incentive programs, trips to exotic international locations and suchlike rewards. There is a reason for why we call these schemes “tactics”. Simply because these are tactical in nature and have not been able to produce any transformational or enduring results.
So what would a transformational approach mean? First, it would target enduring results and not just short lived.
Second, it would consider the fact that fundamentally people have different motivators and therefore a “one size fits all” approach will not work sustainably. Third and possibly the most critical – managers are responsible for the motivation and success of their sales force. The schemes are mere tools, the final outcome depends on how managers use these tools or enable other tools based on their understanding of their team members.
Managers who have been able to drive sustainably high performance from their teams, have been the ones who invest time and focus on understanding what drives each team member and then deploy varying degrees and styles of attention, sales training, sales motivation and management. That emanates from the fact that just like different asset classes some sales people have greater ability, competency and internal drive than others, and a growing body of independent research suggests people at different levels of the skill will interplay will have different motivating and developing needs. The four significant types that emerge from the skill will interplay are “Stars”, “Coasters”, “Strivers” and “Problem Children”. An average sales force has a clear majority of “Coasters” and “Strivers”, a small but elite group of “Stars” and a group of “Problem Children” whose performance straggles. A judicious manager uses different strategies and tactics to motivate each group and thereby move the performance curve of the team upwards.
#1 Re-focus the Person to the Job
Coasters are people who are highly skilled but their motivation may have slipped due to some factors – internal or external. Often these are star performers who have slipped down the other side of the slope. This, for reasons varied such as loss of a key account, failure to develop a relationship with a new manager or battling a crisis in their personal life. This is a potential nightmare any manager can face. When the motivation of coasters decreases, so does the application of their sales skills. They make fewer calls, they achieve less in meetings with customers and their results suffer. But this is not the only damage that they do. Their de-motivation and negativity, if left unchecked, spreads to other members of the team.
Coasters are often seen by their managers as unmanageable, and the cause or source of their de-motivation is often seen as beyond identification. Coasters need to be managed positively to return them to a motivated state. The objective is to re-focus them. The cause or source of their de-motivation has to be uncovered, and this can take much time and effort on the manager’s part. Once uncovered, these issues have to be addressed as positively as possible. The exact motivators for them will depend on what has brought their will down. Any approach that heightens their sense of responsibility, perhaps in sharing their knowledge or skill with other team members or building a natural social pressure, can be useful in re-focusing them. But what is expected of them from a behaviour perspective has to be clearly established by the manager. The task is clear: re-focus the person to the job, not the job to the person
#2 Teach and Preach
Strivers have low sales skill and high motivation. This person might be a recruit, from inside or outside the business. They’ve got a brand new and exciting job. They are new talent on the road all set to build a sales career and enjoy all the rewards that it brings. They are very keen; very motivated.
Strivers need to be positively challenged and driven to effectively carry out their sales development. If the skills do not develop the motivation will eventually die. As a result they will slip backwards and could become Problem Children. The objective is to teach them new skills and preach possibilities with inspiration and success goals.
Sales training is essential to build the skill level and excellence. Development and financial targets should be realistic and achievable; otherwise motivation will evaporate through failure. Pace-setting goals, targets and bonuses have been found to motivate Strivers by keeping them enthusiastic and fore seeking of genuine praise earned via the achievement of targets and development of skills.
#3 Rebuild and Restructure
Problem Children have both low motivation and sales skill. A classic example of this might be someone who was moved into a sales role from an administrative position as part of an overall business restructuring, and has not been trained (in a VUCA-Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity world, it is not surprising how often this kind of situation can happen) or a person who never upskilled himself at the opportune time and the consequent lack of relevant skills contributed to a crescendo of demotivation or those have been left to fend for themselves or learn on the job without any management support. Problem Children need to be given direction. They need to be driven to increase skill, which is a direct contributor to sales motivation. The objective is to build them up. Problems need clearly defined Standards of Performance/KPIs (SOPs/KPIs) within which they need to work. This includes number of calls per day, call structure, staggered targets etc. Sometimes it is also the manager’s role to evaluate whether the results will be commensurate to all the effort that has to be invested in enhancing skill and sales motivation for a particular person.
#4 Praise and Incentivize
Stars are the sales people that are highly motivated and skilled, they are the ones that are always hitting target. They are highly skilled through training and experience. They are successful and highly motivated with a high achievement orientation quotient.
Since Stars represent the most efficient portion of a company’s performance curve they need to be nurtured and shielded from negative influences.
The objective is to keep them motivated. Stars are an interesting challenge for further sales development. Typically, managers think that their Stars are their greatest asset and can be left to their own devices to get on with the job and bring in the results. Ignorantly, they turn their attention to the other categories. This in many cases can be the cause of Stars slipping into the Coaster category. Stars need lots of contact and attention from the manager and genuine appreciation and acknowledgement will go a long way in maintaining the motivation of these valuable assets.
Bringing variety into the job for them and using their sales skill and experience to produce special projects or benefit other members in the team, ceiling less incentive plans and over achievement bonuses are some ways that will also have a positive effect on prolonging their motivation.
If you can identify your sales forces into the above four categories and work with them appropriately, then sky is the absolute limit for your sales achievement.
At InspireOne, we endeavor to provide some of the most customized sales development solutions to our clients, based on the fact that different motivators will work for different people. Years of experience and interactions with some of the nation’s biggest companies and their sales teams has nurtured the way we deal with sales development and identify the specific issues in managing sales forces today.
For learning on-the-go, our game based microlearning solution – Master-O – allows you to leverage & customize our existing sales training content library. Thus, enabling you to contextualize the learning content for your sales force and showcase business results.
Do you face such probing problems in sales? How developed is your sales training? We would be glad to address all your questions and queries.
Great post on understanding your own sales force. Thanks a lot 🙂
Appreciate your depth of knowledge; very well written!