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Greta Schulz has worked with a lot of sales managers since she founded Schulz Business SELLutions, her West Palm Beach, Florida-based consulting and training company, 12 years ago.
In that time, she says, one of the most common questions she's fielded from clients has been some variation of "I need to get my salespeople motivated. How can I do that?"
Answering that query isn't easy. "My belief is that you can't motivate anyone to do anything. But you can give them an opportunity to motivate themselves."
Daniel Pink, author of To Sell Is Human, seconds that assertion, saying, "motivation isn't something that one person does to another. It's something that people do for themselves." (See more recommended sales books.)
So how can you help your sales staffers motivate themselves? Here are a few of the suggestions shared by Schulz, Pink, and M. Jeffrey Hoffman of the Boson-based consultancy MJ Hoffman and Associates LLC.
No, really. Hire self-directed people, says Pink, who adds that this is "in many ways the most important step" in the entire process. (Although paying your salespeople well and providing them an environment where they can do their best work are pretty important, too.)
Specifically, says Schulz, help them set goals based on the activities that typically fill their workdays. "Some of [your salespeople] are going to be really good at knocking on doors, because they feel confident in that position. Some feel really good about making phone calls and setting up appointments. (See 8 Etiquette Tips for Small Business Sales Calls) Others are really good about going back to past or existing clients and asking for referrals to other businesses, while others are good at going out and networking in the community. You can and should do all of those things, of course, but you want to do more of the tactics that you're good at and less of the ones that you're not as confident in or good at." The point, Schulz says, is to come up with a set of achievable goals "so they can feel good at the end of the day or the end of the week, so they can say to themselves, 'You know what? I did everything I said I was going to do. I had a great week.'"
"There's ample research showing that one of the best ways to boost performance is to talk about why people are doing something in the first place," Pink shares. "For instance, one study [has shown] that college fundraisers who'd read letters from people who'd benefited from their fundraising efforts outperformed their counterparts by a factor of two." One way sales managers can translate this advice to their particular line of work would be to share testimonials from customers with salespeople. "Not to entice new prospects, but to show the sales force that their work is having an impact," Pink explains. Another option that achieves a similar result: Take your sales team to see clients actually using the products or services they're trying to sell.
"Money is only one of many ways to inspire a sales rep to make courageous decisions," Hoffman says in an article that appeared in one of his newsletters earlier this year. Another way you can inspire them: Come up with fun ways of rewarding them that don't involve cold, hard cash--such as by giving them direct access (during a special lunch or dinner, perhaps) to your company's owner or by working for them for an afternoon.
If you want to help the members of your sales team motivate themselves, Schulz advises against telling them what to do to achieve their goals. "In many cases, a business owner or a sales manager will say, 'Here's what you do.' Because that's what they did, and that's what made them successful. But it doesn't matter what they did, as that may or may not work for someone else." Plus, if your salesperson tries your method and it doesn’t work for them, it's likely to prompt you to say (or at least think) the employee in question isn't very good at his or her job. "It doesn't necessarily actually mean that, though," Schulz says. "It just means that their strengths are in a different area than yours."
A number of small businesses have abandoned individual sales commissions in recent years, according to Pink. Instead, they offer their salespeople base salaries and profit-sharing based on total company performance. "That's not the right move for every operation," he says, but it could be for some. After all, "we know that commissions produce unintended consequences that can hurt a company's bottom line" — such as when salespeople "game the system" to work for themselves rather than for the company. The key takeaway here, Pink suggests: "It's time to challenge the orthodoxy that commissions are the only way to motivate salespeople."
Whichever route you take, Hoffman suggests the methods you employ should feed into the optimism and energy of your sales staffers. Selling requires tremendous levels of both, he says, and you really need to "celebrate the small victories so you can keep momentum high."
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