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Driving a sales process is a relentless and vigorous art form for a sales manager. As weeks, months, and quarters pass by, quotas and goals are continually reset. For the sales professional, his or her job can feel like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up that hill, only to watch it reset with no end in sight. What may appear to be a sure thing can quickly dissolve into a lost sale. The continual failures can be highly discouraging for the sales team with high expectations on their performance. New deals have to be found and closed to keep the revenue stream flowing.
The seasoned sales manager understands that providing leadership and motivation for a team fuels revenue results. Hiring talent, managing a process, and coaching sales professionals towards sales goals are focal points that a top sales manager masters. However, the art of motivation can have a large impact on retaining talent, growing revenue and creating momentum for future sales.
People are motivated in different ways. Many sales management approaches use extrinsic motivation with cash rewards. Commission and bonus structures can become elaborate with highly technical calculations to achieve a desired focus and behavior. The nature of extrinsic motivators makes the goal the focal point. Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, points out the following:
Like all extrinsic motivators, goals narrow our focus. That’s one reason they can be effective; they concentrate the mind.1
However, there is a side effect which may not be beneficial. Extrinsic motivators have a short half-life and should be used sparingly and discriminately. Short-term performance can be greatly enhanced rather quickly with a lucrative sales spiff, but if you use it too often, the motivation wears off, and performance can wane. Extrinsic motivators are effective for temporary and short-term goals.
If your team is involved with long sales cycles or will be working the next five years on the same kind of pipeline activities, then using other motivation approaches helps ensure a continuous level of performance.
Here are 5 approaches which can be used to broaden the focus and increase motivation:
1. Provide Personal Growth.
A sales manager is in the best position to coach a team. Each team member has strengths and weaknesses that can be identified and developed for higher levels of success. Have group seminars with talks from both outside speakers and your own personal reading. Share new insights and become an evangelist around new topics that can help them grow both personally and professionally, whether around persuasion or productivity. You are feeding a need for a person to grow. This can be sustained perpetually as part of your team culture.
2. Create Meaning.
If everyone is working for a cheque, the work can become meaningless or obscure over time. How does your team change the world and make a difference through the work they do? Perhaps selling medical supplies ensures clean and efficient health care. Your software may be used to educate kids in poverty. Customer stories should frequently make their way into your team’s conversations. You can create a special sales team blog or internal intranet that captures and communicates these stories. Tie the stories back to specific team members that help create the fit in the first place.
3. Develop Personal Relationships.
Your team’s job may be to develop relationships with prospective customers. Your job is indirect. While you may have limited contact with customers, your job is to support and build connections with your team. With compensation being equal, a large part of why your team members will stay will stem from whether they like you. Loyalty is a powerful force which can help you push against the grind of sales day in and day out. Take individuals out for breakfast or lunch and tell them things you appreciate about them personally. Sporting events are also a relaxed time to get to know your sales people. Treat your team like a sales prospect. Learn what they care about on a personal level and do something that is meaningful and shows kindness. It goes a long way to building a connection.
4. Share The Credit.
Great leaders obtain loyalty because they have learned to share the credit and absorb the blame. The opposite is true as well. You can undermine a team’s confidence or motivation if you absorb the glory and make team members feel blamed. Find ways to recognize hard work and your team’s values reflected in the everyday work. If a person went out of their way to make a deal work at their own cost, let them and their peers know. Find people doing things right and market this. It will help reinforce your core values as well as communicate that great behavior is recognized and rewarded.
5. Make The Work Easier.
Carly Fiorina said, “A leader’s greatest obligation is to make possible an environment where people can aspire to change the world.” Such an environment comes from continual optimization of the systems and aesthetics of the work environment. You can create a collaborative and fun work environment like Google that keeps spirits high. Mundane tasks can be continually automated with software systems that provide personalized and timely follow-up or engagement. If the work has a lot of friction, then it can be demotivating. Look for ways to remove the friction points.
Managing a sales team is both a great privilege and opportunity. Cash may be a quick and easy way to motivate, but it lacks the staying power that people cherish long-term. Motivating on a human level meets needs that we all have – being appreciated, respected, loved, and encouraged.
It may be challenging to implement all of these strategies at once. A great starting point is to pick one and work on it for the next 30 days. Put in place systems and habits that make it easy to provide a motivation channel on a daily basis for your sales team. Observe how each person is reacting and continue to refine your approach until you have a lasting part of your team culture.
In the end, we are all people that want to do our best and achieve success. Be that resource for your team and watch motivation rise to new levels.
1Pink, Daniel H. (2011-04-05). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Kindle Locations 692-693). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
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