It all begins with Enrollment: Take this first step into the world ofeffective management by learning how to field an efficient and motivatedsales force.
Oct 1, 1997 12:00 PM,
A few days ago, I spoke with a sales manager for a large contractor locatedon the East coast. “We want to motivate our people,” he said. “We want yourconsulting firm to help us.” I asked what problems he might be having thathad prompted this call. “Problems? Don’t worry about it. Just give me areal dynamic sales meeting. I need to raise the roof! Can you raise theroof?” he asked hopefully. “By the way, where can I hire a live band onshort notice?”
As we spoke, I began to share with him some of the ideas that’ll appearlater in this article. I’ve been to more motivational meetings than I canremember. Meetings where dynamic and exciting talkers actually had peoplejumping up in their seats and shouting. Bands playing. Entertainersentertaining. Big-name people giving autographs. Nearly naked dancing girlsleaping across the room like gazelles.
I have seen executives spend money at a frantic pace to achieve thismotivational excitement. I’ve also been in the office the morning after,when the whole place was buzzing with talk of the meeting. Executivesbeamed and everybody went home feeling good, as though they had justinvented lightning in a bottle.
The only thing is that I have never seen an appreciable increase in salesbecause of this motivation. I never saw unhappy employees leap up andscream they had been converted and would not be quitting the firm aspreviously decided. I never saw uncooperative salespeople come to the salesmanager with tears in their eyes begging for another chance to be thesalespeople I had hoped they would be. I never had a slumping salespersonsuddenly snap out of it and start selling up to expectations. I never saw asalesperson with poor sales skills suddenly become efficient.
What I often saw was a brief one- or two-week slight increase in sales froma few people that was followed usually by some kind of general staffdepression and an unexplainable slump in sales, which then eventuallyworked back to business as normal. I also saw the huge invoices to pay forall this excitement charged against my sales budget. The result was mybuying personal office supplies at a K-Mart from my own money by year’s end.
Money’s not the answerSome people think money is the answer to their motivational problems, but Ioften hear from baffled sales managers, “These people are making goodmoney, and they don’t appreciate it!” There are limits to using money as amotivational tool.
Of course, the other side of that coin is that you must pay a decent salaryor make a real commission earnings opportunity open to your salespeople. Ifthe salesperson does everything you ask and meets your expectations, youmust compensate fairly. Further, you must set the sales expectations at alevel the average salesperson has a reasonable chance to achieve. Salesmotivation techniques don’t work when the salespeople think they are beingvictimized by unfair demands.
Why doesn’t money work over the long term? Simply because everyone has afinancial comfort level. Once they earn that amount of money, money rapidlyloses its power to motivate. That, when all the baloney is cut out, is whyalmost every sales job pays partly in salary and partly in commission. Itmotivates salespeople to keep selling until they hit their comfort level.
Real motivation, I’ve since discovered, does not come from money anymorethan from excitement or from dynamic talkers. True motivation comes fromwithin the employee. Employees feel a connection with the employment. Theythink they are contributing to something worthwhile. They have a sense ofachievement with their job, with their supervisors. It’s a sense ofsatisfaction and belonging. They may not say this to you and may even havecomplaints about you, but if you meet enough of their basic needs, theystay with you, go the extra mile when asked, and even defend you tooutsiders.
So, how do you do it? The answers (and there are lots) would fill a fewgood books. However, they all come from good communications betweenmanagement and sales. When you have programs in place to keep goodcommunication with your people, then a sense of belonging and even familydevelops over a period of time.
This article will outline some of the specific areas vital to developingyour sales staff communications. Although they all require effort, theyreally cost no money to implement. It’s my personal conviction you can’t”buy” people for very long with glitzy perks and hype motivational meetings.
Motivation isn’t the problemSometimes what appears to be a motivational problem is not. I once receiveda call from a sales manager with an industrial manufacturing concern withits headquarters in the New England states. He wanted my opinion about arecent sales hire who was not selling. In addition, this salesperson didnot respond to any of the company’s motivational programs. The employer wasunsure as to what his next step should be.
“I’ve tried everything to get this guy excited and selling,” said the manager.
The first step was to find out about his background and see how that gelsor doesn’t gel with the way this company trains new salespeople. It turnedout that the man had originally been a math teacher, then an accountant.His last job was selling retail at an office supply store. When he applied,he told Jack that he really wanted outside sales work so that he would notbe cooped up in an office every day. Jack’s training consisted of two weeksworking various jobs in the company facilities to learn the product andalso the language of the trade. After that, a week in the field with one ofthe better salespeople.
It appeared that the employee simply wasn’t used to outside selling.Nothing in his background provided an opportunity to learn basic salesskills. I suspected he was in over his head. No matter what he said in aninterview about wanting to get out of an office environment, every previousjob that he had held had been inside. I suggested the excellent salarymotivated the employee to fudge a little.
So do you fire such an employee? Not necessarily. I suggested the employerhave a talk with the salesman. If he didn’t have basic sales skills butwanted to keep his job, then the company could provide training. Thesalesman had a lot of his own effort and time invested in this job, whichindicated that he wanted to succeed.
Several weeks later, I spoke to the employer, who acknowledged that thesalesman was still a little shaky, but he showed signs of being a goodsalesperson once he learned the basics. This situation taught the manageran important lesson: He needed to spend a little more time with salespeopleon basic selling skills.
True motivationTruly motivating meetings are held often and have a real agenda ofimprovement rather than just a lot of empty flag-waving. One of the bestbenefits of motivational meetings is simply knowing what’s going on withyour salespeople. That was the experience of one vice president and salesmanager of a wholesale electronics distributor. This manager telephoned meone afternoon for some advice just after having a big blow-up with one ofhis salespeople.
The manager had started a new program in which salespeople were asked tofill out report forms and have regular sales meetings, which the companyhad been lax about in the past. One salesperson who had been disagreeablewhen the plan was announced exploded during the first meeting; when themanager pointed out that her sales report was incomplete and started askingquestions relating to the missing information, the salesperson becameangry, started yelling and walked out of the meeting.
The manager was in an uncomfortable position. Because this employee almostalways met her monthly quota, the manager didn’t want to lose her, yet heworried about the other salespeople’s impression of him if he caved in thefirst time someone yelled. When I inquired whether he was abrasive, he saidno; in fact, he thought sometimes he was a little too easy.
The salesperson had complained that her selling time was being wasted bymeetings and reports, and some of the other salespeople then indicated theywanted to go back to the old ways. The problem was, if the manager allowedsomeone to back him down, then he would lose control over his salespeople.
To be honest, he shouldn’t have had that discussion in front of anyone. Itshould have been a private conversation. Chances are she was covering upsomething and the manager had put her in such a difficult position in frontof the others that she panicked and decided to scream her way out.
It turned out that although the salesperson was selling at an average pace,she was rarely seen in the office. None of the salespeople were thrilledwith regular sales meetings and reports, but this employee was the only onewho responded with such vehement behavior. I gave the manager somesuggestions about speaking to her when she came in the next day, this timein a calm, private atmosphere.
A few days later, the manager called to tell me that, once he got past herdefensive attitude, it came out that the salesperson was working a secondjob in her husband’s business. The manager was paying her for a full day’swork, yet she was only putting in four or five hours a day. The managertold her that she had to choose between the jobs and pointed out that ifher sales were that good part time, she’d make more putting in full time.He explained she had to fill out all sales reports properly and be at allsales meetings if she wanted to stay. Unfortunately, after the manager gaveher several chances and was disappointed each time, he finally let her go.He found several situations where she hadn’t been where she was supposed tobe and discovered that her customers had many more complaints than anyoneelse’s. Her sales volume remained what it always had been.
Were the new methods worth the effort? Yes, according to the manager. “Thenew person I hired is really putting in a full-time effort. Sales volume inthat territory is up 62%. Our new reporting system and sales meetings havebeen extremely productive. I just wish I’d have started them sooner!” Thisis the most important point of any motivational efforts you make -motivating your salespeople to increase sales.
Offering training, fostering a feeling of belonging, helping salespeople tofeel like an important part of the company, and providing frequent forumsfor discussing problems and delivering praise are motivating on aday-to-day basis. And that is a lot more cost-effective than expensive,flashy sales meetings that ultimately have no effect on sales.
The following list of practical workplace solutions are just a few of manythat I’ve found to be effective in consulting with numerous organizations.How many apply to you?
Specify the results you expect in terms of measurable objectives. Put it inwriting. Does the salesperson understand what constitutes acceptableresults? Do you have a written set of measurable objectives for your staffto follow?
Help the salesperson identify performances that lead to a successfulconclusion. Every business has a series of performances that lead to sales.Make sure you have a sales performance plan so that your salespeople have aroad map to follow for success.
Have a clear understanding with salespeople as to what their specific jobresponsibilities are. Do you have a written sales job description? When Iconsult with firms to recruit new sales or sales management people, Ialways work with them to prepare a detailed written job description. Thenewly hired person reads and discusses with management what the jobconsists of, and questions or problems are dealt with on the spot. Bothparties sign the description, and each keeps a copy.
Reward good behavior, punish negative behavior consistently. Ignoringpromotes negative behaviors. As a sales consultant, I frequently see thisoverlooked. Don’t forget the word “consistently.” I was grocery shopping afew weeks ago. A lady with two young boys was making her way down theaisles. The boys were into everything – running, yelling, knocking overthings. Every so often she’d yell at them, “You stop that or you’ll get aspanking.” She would then ignore them and continue shopping. It was obviousto me and everyone in the store that she was just talking and was not goingto spank anyone. Her kids knew that also and continued to run wild.Suddenly her husband appeared, took one look at the boys and said calmly,”You know the shopping rules. Obey them, starting this very second.” Thosekids quit immediately. It was clear that his words carried consequences.
When you manage people, your words must be taken seriously. Don’t allowpeople to break rules and get away with it. Even worse, don’t enforce therules inconsistently, then pretend you don’t see infractions the next timebecause you may be tired or you worry that someone won’t like you. Thisreally confuses employees. Remember, you are not their buddy or parent. Youare their boss, and their success on the job depends upon how well youcoach them. Be fair, but be firm and consistent. They will respect you forthat.
Follow up on delegated duties to make sure they are being done. Do you havea formalized follow-up plan in place? This is another area whereconsistency is a must. Remember the old management axiom, “It’s not whatyou expect; it’s what you inspect.”
Have sales meetings on a regular basis. Do you have a sales meeting plan inplace that includes opportunities to explain new ideas, products orservices, group discussions of problems (and solutions) in the field,participation by all salespeople, constructive criticism and, above all,praise for jobs well done? Are you lax about attendance? Are the meetingsregular or whenever the fancy strikes? Are the meetings so boring thatnobody wants to attend?
Sales reports. Do you have a sales report designed for your business needs?(Forget the generic ones sold at office supply stores.) I am a firmbeliever in sales reports. As an employer, you have to know what outsidesalespeople are doing, particularly if they are doing it in your goodbusiness name. There are some effective ways for a sales manager to usesales reports, not only to keep track ofsales staff, but also to detectbusiness trends.
Remember who you are when you are dealing with salespeople. You are not aparent. You are not an army drill sergeant. You are not even a schoolteacher. You are a coach. Your job is to show them how to do a job and thencoach them from the sidelines to success as they go out and apply theskills you’ve shown.
Don’t waste time (and money) on quick fixes. They don’t work for any periodof time, and when the sales staff realizes it, they will just become alittle more unmotivated than before. Most answers to difficult problems arefairly simple, but they usually require hard work. That’s why some peoplepass them by and continue to seek the “miracles.” They either want to avoidthe hard work, or they don’t have the time to implement a program properly.