Sales managers frequently approach me for advice on how to keep salespeople motivated, especially when sales reps get into a rut - and seem to keep slipping deeper into it. Telling managers what not to do usually solves the problem. Most managers do things to de-motivate salespeople without even knowing it.
Let's take the idea of funnels and forecasts, for instance. Funnels and forecasts are important aspects of running any sales operation. Both salespeople and managers need to know where they stand in terms of potential opportunities, and funnels serve to track those opportunities. No successful business can operate and properly plan for the future without accurate forecasting. In theory, these are absolutely essential to the success of any operation. In reality, however, few words strike terror in the hearts of salespeople like "funnel" and "forecast."
For most salespeople, the term "funnel review" equates to micro-management, probation and performance improvement plans. Just hearing the term is enough to shift a sales rep's frame of mind from positive to negative. He or she suddenly loses enthusiasm and doesn't know why. Many managers increase funnel reviews as performance slips, which causes performance to slip further, and in the end nobody wins. Endless funnel reviews, especially if they're not positive, only serve to reinforce salespeople's self-doubts and limiting beliefs.
Forecasts are a similar problem, but in different ways. Few salespeople forecast accurately. Nobody wants to fall short on their forecast, so they embellish, exaggerate and make sure the numbers add up to where they should be rather than where they really are. This results in managers who expect those numbers, and salespeople who dodge managers because they know they aren't going to perform as forecasted. Then there are salespeople like myself who do the exact opposite - since I hated nothing more than having a manager constantly ask me, "When is this one going to close? When is that one going to close?," I intentionally left good deals off my forecast. While it eliminated the problem of constantly being asked when all those deals would sign, it created another form of stress in having to deal with the consequences of a funnel that fell short of expectations.
Another word that instantly de-motivates salespeople is "activity." Unfortunately, in the absence of any other viable advice, most managers simply blurt out, "You need to increase your activity" to anyone who isn't at quota. This accomplishes nothing other than setting up the rep to believe that a series of funnel reviews and performance improvement plans are soon to follow.
Finally, I see entirely too many managers pushing too hard to spend extra time with salespeople who are falling short. While it's necessary to spend time with these people, it's not a good idea to keep asking them what they need help with and to insist on riding along with them. This only turns up the heat another notch on an already stressed-out rep. Nobody who is having trouble likes to be singled out, especially when the extra attention easily can be mistaken for micro-management.
To keep a struggling salesperson motivated:
1. Keep the talk of funnels, forecasts and activity to a minimum.
2. Offer help without being overbearing.
3. Put your trust and confidence in that salesperson.
Stick with these guidelines and you'll not only do a better job of helping those who are having difficulties, but you'll see an overall increase in your sales team's motivation and enthusiasm.
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