The collective behavior and attitude of your sales force can make or break your reputation with customers, so revenue is often a reflection of employee engagement. In 2012, Harvard Business Review reported that American companies annually spend $800 billion on sales force incentives, which is three times greater than yearly advertising costs. Employee motivation should be an ongoing priority, but avoid alienating your workers by hounding them with criticism, ultimatums and competition. Evaluate the skills, obstacles and relationship dynamics of your sales force to help individual workers achieve success.
Understand What Hinders Performance
Be prepared to hit one dead end after the next when you develop incentives without knowing why workers aren't reaching their sales goals. Communicate with your sales force to find out what obstacles they face and whether they feel adequately equipped to meet your expectations. Use employee feedback to categorize different types of problems:
1. Operational: Are you enforcing counterproductive policies or failing to provide effective guidance, training and resources? Do your methods promote individualism over teamwork?
2. Service/Product-Based: Is your sales force fighting a losing battle because you're targeting the wrong audience or ignoring product flaws?
3. Cultural: Are your incentives diversified enough to suit different personalities? Do you reward or punish workers for trying new methods?
4. Behavioral: Do your workers cope well with rejection? Do they respond to coaching or continually follow negative patterns?
Once you identify productivity barriers, you can separate real and perceived problems, says Dr. John Sullivan, professor of management at San Francisco State University. Perceived barriers stem from an employee's personal insecurities or resistant mindset, and breaking through these limitations can improve your sales force.
Match Rewards to Personalities
Individual salespeople have different degrees of ability and drive, so use motivational techniques that address multiple levels of employee engagement. Focusing solely on top earners creates an unbalanced environment in which the small minority of star performers always reaps the benefits. Meanwhile, the rest of the sales force is accustomed to losing and has little incentive to aim higher. Another factor is personal stake. Some of your most hardworking salespeople may not be motivated by bonuses or competitions, so find out what makes them feel valued.
Experiment with different types of performance and compensation models. Try implementing a tiered achievement system for workers who are discouraged by high sales goals. Make the employee's average sales total the starting tier. When workers pass the first tier, higher goals are less intimidating, and they are inspired to keep going.
Balance monetary compensation with other benefits by offering cost-efficient, high-value prizes at lower performance tiers. The ambitious rising star may covet the big bonus, while other workers are perfectly satisfied with a vacation day, gift certificate or public praise. By offering a wider range of success markers and prizes, you encourage workers of all achievement levels to stay motivated and participate.
Leverage Employee Strengths
As an employer, it is your job to put talent in the right places, so don't assume that poor performance is caused by a bad work ethic. According to Gallup, workers who use their strengths on a daily basis are 8 percent more productive and six times more likely to be engaged in their jobs.
Assign salespeople to roles that emphasize their strengths. Your observational skills as a manager are essential, as employees can easily overlook their own talents. Pay attention to which employees thrive in a specific retail department or perform best at phone sales, floor sales or online support. Pair teammates who feed off each other's energy to promote constructive, upbeat competition, rather than all-out war.
Focusing on weaknesses kills motivation, while providing training and on-the-job coaching shows your interest in employee growth. In a Gallup survey, respondents rated the statement, "My manager maintains a coaching relationship with me that emphasizes my strengths" on a scale of 1 to 5. Approximately 93 percent of participants who rated it "5," or "strongly agree," are engaged at work, compared to 11 percent of people who chose ratings between 1 and 3.
Instead of criticizing employees for weaknesses, motivate them by setting good examples. Show employees you understand the hurdles they face in sales by demonstrating how to assist or persuade customers. Provide a clear model of what you expect salespeople to accomplish and how you want them to treat clients. Teach your workers to better interpret customer responses and body language, so they know when to back off and how to adapt their sales strategies.
Eliminate Unnecessary Pressure
Employees who believe they are doomed to fail are more likely to give up when customers challenge or reject them. You can relieve some of that pressure by making it clear that rejection doesn't equal failure. Tom Hopkins, an expert sales strategist, suggests using a sales ratio to remind your team that the next win is a few rejections away. Let your sales force know your company's average number of attempts before a successful sale, so they remember five or 10 rejections is normal, for example.
Salespeople hold the fate of your company in their hands, and while anyone is replaceable, you can build a stronger business by strengthening the talents of your existing sales force. Look at your business from every angle to determine where you can improve workflow or motivate others to take responsibility for their own success.
Photo Courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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