Category Archives: Leadership

Motivating Sales Professionals during Uncertain Economic Times

This week’s guest blogger is Jennifer C. Loftus, national director for Astron Solutions, a New York-based consulting firm dedicated to the delivery of sales compensation consulting services.

For years, cash has been king.  Who doesn’t know a sales professional who regularly earns six-figure commissions?  That high performer might even be you!  Incentive compensation and sales commissions historically have been the primary tools used to recognize and reward sales success.

However, with today’s economic climate, most sales professionals will not enjoy the large pay gains for performance compensation they did in previous years.  The Alexander Group, Inc., a well-known sales growth consulting firm, predicts sales compensation pay will increase just 4% this year. With escalating food and gas prices whittling away at that increase, a sales commission plan quickly loses its desired motivational impact.

What can we do to ensure organization success and continued motivation during these uncertain economic times?

Adopt a total rewards perspective that focuses on more than just base pay and commission for sales representatives.

The concept of total rewards is simple.  Sales managers have many tools at their disposal for employee reward and recognition, and they aren’t all about base pay, bonuses, and benefits.  Today’s proactive managers use all five elements of total rewards – pay; benefits; work/life balance; performance and recognition; and development and career opportunities – to attract, retain, and motivate their teams.  When combined, these five elements provide many non-cash opportunities to motivate and retain great employees.

Non-cash total rewards can effectively recognize specific behaviors necessary for success, while avoiding a negative effect on the department’s bottom line.  By using non-cash rewards, managers can also avoid possible negative impacts on cash flow and increases to departmental fixed costs, and enjoy greater flexibility for customizing a package to reach each team member’s motivational sweet spot.

Moving beyond formal cash compensation programs also allows managers to recognize success faster.  Many sales pros like this quick response time. To Generation X and Y team members in particular, waiting six months for a commission can seem like a lifetime.

Lastly, depending on the type of non-cash award provided, there may also be little or no income tax implication; music to everyone’s ears.

When developing a total rewards program, it’s important to consider these key principles:

  1. Link program elements to the organization’s strategic plan, mission, and values.  Individual achievement shouldn’t be rewarded if teamwork is a valued behavior. Likewise, using meaningful objectives such as reducing excess inventory, selling higher-margin products, or increasing customer retention will result in the greatest return on investment (ROI) from the program.
  2. Include short- and long-term goals.  Both play an important role in ensuring sustainable organizational success, particularly in a challenging economic climate.
  3. Tailor the program to the team’s specific needs and wants.  For example, while pre-paid gas cards may possess high motivational power for someone in Texas, a New York City resident may instead appreciate a four-day workweek. At the same time, someone in Chicago may prefer cross-training opportunities.  Build a variety of rewards into the toolkit for maximum ROI.
  4. Ensure that line of sight exists between the team’s job duties, goals, and rewards. A sales professional must be able to influence and achieve his/her goals through regular work activities.

What worked in the past isn’t necessarily what will work moving forward.  Cutting edge sales professionals go beyond the traditional base + bonus + benefits mindset to be successful in today’s economy.

By considering all possible compensation elements – total rewards – sales managers open up a world of compensation opportunities that are better tailored to their team’s personal and professional needs, while also attracting, retaining, and motivating the most talented professionals.

Using a total rewards approach ensures a win-win work environment for everyone, even in the most challenging of times.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

If every motivational strategy in the book fails to turn your team around, it’s time to look in the mirror. The problem may be you.

As a sales leader, you may honestly believe that you’ve created an environment that fosters success and encourages innovative approaches to achieving sales goals. But if the numbers aren’t backing that up, or if your team members are rapidly deserting you for greener pastures, it’s time for a reality check.

When it comes to leadership, behavior carries far more weight than words. It doesn’t matter how often you encourage your team to find creative new approaches to the sales process if you dismiss their ideas with little or no consideration.

You can tell them that your door is always open until you’re blue in the face, they aren’t going to believe it if you put them off every time they come to you for advice.

If you preach the importance of everyone pulling their weight, but let under-performers slide because you don’t have time to deal with them, your top performers will become frustrated and resentful.

Whether you mean to or not, your behaviors are probably creating a performance-sapping environment of fear and uncertainty if:

  • You’ve become so preoccupied with what is going wrong that you fail to see or acknowledge what is going right
  • Stress has made you short-tempered or prone to abrupt responses when approached for help
  • You avoid unscheduled interactions with your team by cloistering yourself in your office

Effective sales leadership means leading by example and following through on promises made. If you can’t put your team ahead of yourself, it may be time to find a new career.

Complacent Sales Leaders Need to Throw in the Towel

An unmotivated team is an under-performing team. That creates a domino effect leading to loss of top sales professionals, difficulty recruiting their replacements and, eventually, the poor financial performance of the company itself.

The stakes are too high for you to put off finding ways to keep your sales team motivated until the problems are obvious.

No two teams – or sales pros – are alike when it comes to what really revs them up. But the following motivational techniques are good starting points:

  1. Provide positive feedback daily: Top sales pros are motivated by recognition for their accomplishment. Feed that by providing positive reinforcement on a daily basis. It could be a congratulatory call or email, monthly team lunches, or even a formal awards program. The point is to recognize at least one member of your team every single day.
  2. Give them what they need to succeed:  Success is a powerful motivator, but it requires the right tools. Whether it’s providing laptop computers with wireless cards or regular sales training, make sure your team is armed for success.
  3. Keep the lines of communication open:  Make it a point to communicate regularly through meetings, phone calls, emails. Schedule regular one-on-one and group time with your team. Talk with them about their performance and tell them how the business is doing. Encourage them to air concerns, ask questions and share their ideas for filling the pipeline and improving operations.
  4. Set the right goals:  If your team isn’t challenged by the goals you’ve set, raise your expectations and you’ll raise their results. Conversely, if the goals are unrealistically high, it leads to frustration. Strike the right balance and your team will rise to the challenge.
  5. Be a role model: Lead your team by example. Treat them as you expect them to treat each other. Behave as you expect them to behave.

Beyond these basics, take the time to talk with your team about what really motivates them to succeed. Use that information to tailor a motivational strategy that will get and keep your team performing at its peak.