Motivation is one of those things that is very difficult to define, mostly because the genuine article is an entirely personal experience. Without motivation, even the most skilled and well-supported people will suffer a continuous decline in performance as this ‘soft’ aspect is probably the most closely linked to effecting the ‘hard’ commercial results.
Motivating sales people could be argued as one of the easier tasks, simply because the job itself requires a strong degree of self-motivation in order for the individual to keep using personal energy, confronting sales targets and pushing open market and prospect opportunities.
This tends to mean that people who are drawn to a sales role have an aspect of their character that is able to motivate itself and is, in fact, made more satisfied in the process of energy self-renewal.
The downside is that this group can often miss out on having an external support and ‘mirror’ as a reference point to help in their development, in fact the sales people themselves may be quite resistant to the input; considering themselves to only require skills or competency input, given the behavioural habits they have built up to survive and succeed in a highly visible job, to date.
As there is often a mutually hesitant approach to engaging with what motivates sales people, managers often try to motivate them through the ‘carrot and stick’ approach – offering or withholding material rewards as a means to an end.
When this happens, the results may show initial positive benefits but any motivational impact is likely to be short lived and in fact can mean an ever-increasing pressure to raise the rewards in order to stimulate these ‘bursts’ of motivation.
What really motivate sales people?
Motivation is linked to the meaning of movement as in ‘motive’ and ‘drive’. The only evidence or proof of increased motivation is in the aspect of increased movement, which is demonstrated in something new happening. In other words, any attempt to motivate people based on a static proposition, e.g. ‘how do I motivate people to keep doing what they do but with increased levels of energy?’, is unlikely to work.
‘Motivation-drives’ that are launched without a clear purpose and without being bought into will be just a form of energy ‘jack up’ and salespeople know this better than anyone, given that they probably use the technique themselves.
The key to sales peoples’ ‘drivers’
There are three main ‘drivers’, which work together to create genuine motivation. Any imbalance or exclusion of the three will not motivate sales people and in fact can de-motivate them or create unhealthy competition and over-attachment to issues of status, earnings and personal recognition.
The three main drivers:
- Personal development
- Personal reward
- Personal contribution
Although this driver can be the hardest of the three to address, it is also the most significant and the most closely linked to the creative and productive energy of the team. To stimulate this driver is to release the true underlying potential of the individual.
Sales people are as motivated by the opportunity to grow their skills and strengths as anybody but they are also generally the least inclined to target self-development for its own sake. In a high-confront activity like Sales, people are constantly exposed to the risk of personal failure, rejection and exposure – not just from external sources but from within the organisation and possibly their own team too.
Consequently, sales people will often build a protective wall around themselves. This allows them to work in an insular way, believing in themselves, overcoming their fears and pushing through their own inertia. In this context, any input that says ‘you need to grow’ is likely to be taken as a criticism and an indication of further possible risk of exposure.
To tap into the personal development driver, without stimulating this negative reaction, simply ensure that you facilitate them doing the work for themselves, based on a positive and affirmative context for building on what they have already done and feel they have achieved to date (even if you don’t fully agree).
Ask the sales people to think back to, say, a year ago and to list the personal movement they feel they have made since then (have them describe it in general and then create a specific list of skills, capabilities and experiences this translates into).
Once this is done, make sure they get to tell you about it – this is essential for the next part and brings them into a less insular frame of mind. Also it creates greater trust in the fact you are listening to them and don’t think you know better than they do about their personal experience.
At that point, you can ask them to also list what aspects they felt they would like to see more personal movement around. If they have communicated affirmed positive movement, they will be more inclined to look at and admit some things that were not so great, without feeling like it is a weakness.
Finally, ask them to use both lists to describe what movement they would like to make between now and a future point of, say a year’s time and to list that as a set of both skills and direct experience that they would like to grow.
When that happens, you have a list of self-development objectives that you can support and which will not feel imposed on them or be disconnected from their personal choice in the matter.
Reward is again a personal issue and it relates to many more things than just money, although that is part of it.
Only go to this area once you have done the above initial exercise as it will help to broaden their understanding of personal reward before getting to that issue.
A short-list of ‘reward areas’ that can be used to stimulate their desire for true personal rewards;
- Access to opportunities
- Training and development
- Career progression
This is a pretty standard issue but the most important thing to ensure is that the financial rewards are based, as much as possible, on real results and outcomes.
Often, sales people are rewarded for activities and this can mean an inequitable distribution of rewards. For example, a junior sales person may well open and define a sales opportunity but a senior sales person will close the deal. In this case, make sure the earnings recognise everyone’s input towards an outcome, wherever possible.
Access to opportunities
The trick here is to ensure that people are given the opportunity to do something over and beyond what they have done to date or do generally on a day-to-day basis.
Invite sales people to input into areas and activities that will genuinely support the success of the endeavour, even if it’s not strictly in their current job brief.
At all costs, avoid this being used as a distraction or avoidance of their real responsibilities and tasks and also make sure they are not put in a position they can’t meet, at least not on their own.
If you build this aspect as an invitation, in keeping with them getting exposure to new learning and experience opportunities, they will respond with choice and do it outside of their job commitments, even if it’s a small research job or simply being allowed to be present in, say, large negotiations (obviously, where appropriate).
This area does not relate to the obvious issues of titles, territories, cars, bonuses and salaries. It relates to the experience of respect that they feel the organisation, their bosses and their peers give them.
The best way to satisfy the ‘status-driver’ is to increase the level of responsibility and independent decision-making this person has and it ultimately motivates far more than cosmetic new job-titles or any other placatory tactics.
This is particularly important for breaking the mould around senior sales people ‘sitting on the heads’ of the less experienced ones. It is not a ‘carte blanche’ it is a solid mandate that gives the sales person more freedom to create their own successful way of working and supporting the prospect’s needs, without endangering the company or client relationship.
Training and development
The only items to ensure here are that:
The training and development input is directly linked to the personal development targets they have defined in the first instance (above).
That they understand they are being invested in through and with training and development, rather than it being imposed upon them as a party-line approach.
The great thing about sales is that a person can have an amazing and highly successful career within the game of sales itself. In other words, you don’t have to create succession-paths into other areas of the business, unless you want to.
The activity of sales itself is one of the best platforms there is to develop managerial, entrepreneurial and top-level business development skills and an unlimited career path based on growing ‘like for like’ in new ways.
Sales people are generally interested in ‘personal power’ because they are drawn towards growing the effects they can have.
Nothing turns them on more than ‘making something happen’ and if you can make that a thread or continuity it can drive a highly motivated career development approach.
Sales people have a strong ‘hero’ driver which at its worst means they try to take credit for all successes and at best means that they have a deep desire to make a difference on behalf of the team and the organisation as a whole.
Anyone who has been in sales knows the excitement and satisfaction of bringing the bison back to the cave after a tough day of hunting. This is actually a positive intent and the reverse of self-interest.
Given the usual disconnection and even conflict that happens between sales and other parts of the business, there is usually a withhold towards sales people; at a collective or cultural level and on some level they know it.
Like Father Christmas, sales people will get disheartened and de-motivated if everyone subtly relates to them as too egotistical and important for their own good. They like to fight and be at the front-end of the business and they really like to receive acknowledgement for it and for their innate good will – but their style and behaviour can make that difficult for people to stomach, let alone do.
Think about the times you have heard things like ‘Sales have over-sold again and it’s up to us as usual to make it work in delivery’ or ‘I don’t think I can sell that because I don’t believe the project managers will look after my client properly’.
What everyone from both sides is really saying is ‘you don’t value me or rate my work’.
All of the so-called integration programmes between, marketing and sales or sales and customer services rarely work and that’s because of this issue.
To unlock this positive intent driver, help position them to genuinely support others in the company – either as team-mates of other departments or as mentors within their own.
Use the initial work on the strengths, skills and experience they have developed over the last period of ‘personal movement’ (see above) to locate the things they could pass onto junior or apprentice sales people and then help to structure it so they can give the right level of input as well as get their own job done.
For other areas of the organisation, show them how to invite involvement at a peer level based on letting customer services or operations know how valuable their input is in helping to grow sales. They will experience any discussion based on ‘how can we improve sales?’ with non-sales people as a wonderful way of linking in with the company and they will make a powerful contribution in the process, without raising the usual barriers.
As much as they might deny it, sales people love to take care of the whole and any feedback around positive consequences they have helped to bring about will really ramp-up the level of motivation.
Too often, the feedback to the sales department is only around what didn’t work, given the nature and measurability of the results they produce, or it is non-specific ‘flattery’ that does nothing except keep them ‘quiet’ for a while.
If you can balance negative feedback with feedback that shows what did work in an underlying sense, then the willingness to drive through the problems and limitations will be immediate and profound. For example, find a great proposal or pricing solution that they worked on which did not result in a sale and see how motivated they become to improve it and use it in their next challenge when you recognise the work they did.
Finally, the three motivation-drivers discussed here are just guidelines. The real challenge is to facilitate sales people to motivate themselves and, in so doing, to become available to all of the support and influences you want to bring to bear; to help them do their job better.
The most important aspect is in knowing that sales people appear to act insular but are actually motivated by being a valuable and growing team-member, whatever their act says differently.