A sales manager recently emailed me with a question. He was frustrated and wanted to know what to do. He told me his dilemma: his company sets the sales goals for his department, and it is his job to rally his sales team to meet those goals.
The manager claims that he cannot get his team to care about the sales quotas...he says, "this Gen X sales staff is not concerned about meeting the sales goals because it is too much work for them, and they would rather set lower goals that are easily achieved, than reach higher and try for more."
The Carrot and the Stick
Is he wasting his time? If commissions won't motivate this sales team are they just lazy? As a salesperson you know that commissions, bonuses, and travel incentives are a critical part of what motivates you. But is that really the only thing that keeps you going?
The manager in this example thinks it's the only thing that matters, and he is perplexed that it doesn't seem to be enough. He creates incentives and threatens to punish under-performance. Nothing works. He interprets the apathy of the sales team to mean that they are hopeless-he believes nothing will motivate these employees. But is that the truth?
I'll Motivate Myself Thank You
These salespeople are simply pushing back against what they see as heavy-handed management. Think, Glengarry Glen Ross, that classic movie about cutthroat sales. Do you remember the sales contest? "First prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired!" That's carrot and stick motivation at its most extreme.
Salespeople want to be rewarded for their work, but they don't want to be "motivated." They find it offensive. In an environment where they feel like they are being pushed, they will push back.
Salespeople won't produce just because they are told they have to. They want to know what they get out of it and they want more than financial incentives. GenXers in particular won't be pushed. This is a generation that watched their parents pour their hearts and souls into their work and then be laid off when it was economically expedient for the employers. The enticement of the "carrot" (a bonus) and the threat of the "stick" (losing their jobs) just doesn't cut it.
Creating a Motivating Environment
So does that mean there is nothing the sales manager can do to help motivate the sales team? Of course not! For sales people to be most productive, they need to work in a motivating work environment. The manager in this example needs to discover what his people already care about and cultivate that. He needs to remove obstacles and create an environment that makes it easy for employees to motivate themselves.
Productive individuals are all motivated by pretty much the same things. They want access to the resources they need to do their job, they want to know that they are a contributor to the success of the organization, they want to like the people they work with, and they want an opportunity to grow.
If, instead of using a carrot and stick approach, the sales manager asks for the opinions of team members on how to improve sales, asks them what they would like as incentives, shows them respect, and trusts them to do the right thing, he will have far better results. He needs to become part of their team.
If you are a sales manager, focus on building relationships with employees. Help them motivate themselves. You'll be far more effective than if you rely on the carrot and the stick.
SalesPeople Work Best When...
- They have good, updated information. A salesperson's most important resource is information. Competitive comparisons, statistics, pricing structures the more they know the better they will be. Knowledge is power. In companies with a motivated sales force, people have the information they need.
- They don't have to deal with office politics. Favoritism, back-stabbing, and kissing-up are exhausting! In companies where politics reign supreme, salespeople are too exhausted to be productive! What can you do? If you are a manger, explain the rationale behind decision-making and make sure decisions are made objectively. Don't leave room for speculation.
- They feel appreciated. Adequate compensation and incentives are an important component of whether or not a salesperson feels appreciated, but they are not everything. Salespeople love praise. They also like to be thanked occasionally. There are lots of ways to show someone that they are a valued part of your sales organization.
- They can trust management to do what it says. Nothing damages morale like dealing with managers who go back on their word. It's like trying to build a house on a sandy foundation. It's shifting underneath you all the time. How can you focus on reaching your goal when you're afraid to take your eyes off your feet?