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Tue, Sep 11, 2012

Talent Strategies

Motivating Sales Teams: It’s Not All about the Benjamins

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Motivating sales teams over the long term is no easy task. Markets fluctuate, your reps brave endless rejection, and buyers are increasingly discriminating. It’s enough to get your best and brightest reps down. No wonder then that total rewards is such a booming industry.

The accepted model for motivating sales teams has long hinged on rewards. When sales numbers flag or senior leadership makes a fourth-quarter push for increased revenue, managers dutifully revise their bonus structure or spearhead a new sales reward campaign. Sometimes this works, but often cash payouts or promises of Caribbean vacations just don’t light the fire needed for the sales team to truly excel.

Forward-thinking leaders understand that there is more to motivating sales teams than cash, weeklong trips, and glitzy prizes. Sales reps need to feel they’re a part of something bigger, part of a team that is functioning as a unit to accomplish important work. In a word, they need to be engaged.

Research conducted by Avatar HR Solutions has shown that for most employees, a combination of rewards/recognition, the organization’s strategy and mission, and managers’ leadership abilities has great impact on productivity and engagement. By adopting a motivation model that targets each of these critical aspects of the employee experience, managers can drive sales results beyond what is possible with monetary rewards alone.

The Power of “Thank You”
Despite the importance of recognition, research by Avatar HR Solutions has shown that only 38 percent of employees feel they receive adequate recognition for a job well done. Sales managers can improve the performance of their teams by bridging this gap between a motivation model focusing solely on rewards and one that takes into account employees’ desire for personal acknowledgment. To begin, make “soft” recognition a critical part of your motivation initiatives. One way to do this is to make the distribution of sales awards conspicuous by handing them out during your companywide meetings. Explain clearly what each award reflects, and how each team member’s achievement has contributed specifically to your company’s mission or goals. Your employees’ feelings of pride and the assurance that their hard work does not go unobserved, but is appreciated by coworkers, managers, and senior leaders alike, will drive them to pursue sales with true alacrity.

Aligning Employees with the Mission
For sales reps to remain highly motivated over the long term, the work performed by their organization must resonate with them. Your core mission is, after all, employees’ workday raison d’etre. Just as reps must believe in the products or services they sell in order to demonstrate authentic enthusiasm for them, they must also believe in the organizational mission as the driving force behind every task they perform. Key practices for aligning employees with the organizational mission include communicating the mission often, through various media, and in a clear, relatable fashion; hiring employees who demonstrably connect with your organization’s purpose and goals; and helping employees to understand how their work advances the mission. This last practice is particularly important. Sales reps love to sell and may sometimes disparage the administrative tasks and miscellany that are a necessary — though less glamorous — aspect of their job. Showing them how these small tasks prepare them to close important accounts, or how they provide management with crucial mission-related information, can increase the vigor employees apply in their jobs each and every day.

Leading by Example
The very nature of management and corporate-style hierarchy implies that managers’ leadership abilities are essential to the success of organization and employee. Still, in the crush to improve our teams’ performance and results, it may seldom occur to us to investigate the ways our own management style may be contributing to or hindering the success of our employees. Leading by example is the simplest and yet most powerful of the tenets of good management, and it can have a profound impact upon the motivation of our sales reps. A manager who leads by example identifies the qualities she wishes to see in her sales reps; analyzes her own behaviors for strengths and gaps, utilizing feedback from her supervisors, peers, and employees; and makes changes in her habits to bring herself into alignment with her own expectations. By sharing this ongoing, cyclical process with employees and demonstrating desirable qualities, managers can inspire their employees to likewise pursue improvement.

At the end of the day, the best approach to employee motivation is one that is realistic and balanced. Sure, your sales reps love money.  But it is far too easy to say money trumps all. In truth, we probably talk less often about the emotional aspects of our work because even positive emotions are capable of causing us some discomfort. But we’re human, and that means we thrive on recognition, meaning, and strong leadership. Our emotional ties with work simply make us feel good. And that is the best selling point there is.

Want to join the conversation?
Send us your questions about engaging sales reps on Twitter via the hashtag #QforKevin. You’ll be automatically entered in a drawing for a free copy of “The Virtual Manager,” and we could answer your question live at The Motivation Show in October!

About the Author

Kevin Sheridan is Senior Vice President – HR Optimization of Avatar HR Solutions. He has extensive experience in the human capital field, having co-founded three successful survey-related organizations. Kevin received a Master’s in Business Administration from the Harvard Business School, concentrating his degree in Managerial Decision-Making and Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior.


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