How To Motivate A Sales Staff

What Employees Want

Much research has been done on determining what makes individuals reach higher levels of productivity. The most renowned studies were done by Abraham Maslow and resulted in Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”. This hierarchy explains that individuals first need to satisfy physiological needs (food, water, etc.) before moving to higher levels of the hierarchy. The next levels; Safety, Belonging, Esteem and, finally, Self Actualization were achieved in order and only if the lower levels of the hierarchy were satisfied to some extent.

Frederick Herzberg used a similar approach to explain how individuals could be motivated at work.  His work can be related to Maslow’s research by matching motivating factors in the work place with Maslow’s hierarchy. Basic compensation can be related to the most basic physiological needs. Benefits and job stability can be related to safety needs. Company and employee sense of belonging can be related to belonging needs. Recognition can fulfill esteem needs and employee self-direction can fulfill self-actualization needs.

Research has shown that employers that successfully employ Herzberg’s “Hygiene and Motivation Factors” in the work place can have higher levels of productivity, lower levels of turnover and employees with higher levels of self esteem at work and home.

Assuming the basic survival needs have been addressed by compensation (the employee accepted the job at the offered pay rate), safety and security needs are the next to be addressed. Usually safety needs relate to job security and an individual is more likely to feel secure if they feel they are performing as expected. Here the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the manager to clearly articulate how success on the job is achieved. An employee that has a clear understanding of what is expected will likely perform up to those expectations, which will, in turn, provide the manager with the results wanted and an employee feeling secure in the knowledge that the performance requirements are being met.
Directing a Sales Force

Successful direction of a sales force requires clearly establishing the parameters of success and insuring the sales staff is properly trained. The most difficult part of a sales manager’s job is identifying the tasks that will lead to success and measuring the level at which each sales person is performing those tasks. Identifying sales responsibilities is critical. Those responsibilities include:
1)    Product knowledge – can be determined through questionnaires administered after an indoctrination course.
2)    Industry knowledge – can be determined through questionnaires administered after an indoctrination course
3)    Sales volume – For any business to be successful, a minimum sales volume must be attained and can be broken down to minimum sales volume per sales person per sales period.
4)    Sales Calls – To reach needed sales volumes, sales calls have to be made. Most organizations have statistics on number of calls made per successful sale that can be used as a target for the sales staff.
5)    Account development – To grow new customers added must exceed current customers that become inactive.
6)    Customer satisfaction – This can be measured through customer surveys and customer complaints.

This list can be longer and more complex, but it must be clear and objectively measured. The sales manager and sales person must be able to look at the metrics and arrive at the same conclusions regarding goal attainment. The list of responsibilities should lend themselves to easily being incorporated into a Standards of Performance program.

Motivating a Sales Force

Successfully motivating a sales force requires the recognition that sales people will perform best when they can achieve the needs outlined by Maslow and Herzberg through the sales process.

Basic compensation is important and assures that individuals will be able to meet their basic financial (and physiological) needs. This can be accomplished by providing a base salary or a list of regular customers on which a commission is paid.  Commission programs can provide basic income and incentivize sales people to find new customers as well. Components of the incentive program can focus sales people to increase the number of active customers per period or the revenue per customer per period.  The basic salary and/or commission should provide a living wage with the ability to provide an income equal to successful sales people in other industries in the same market.

Safety needs can be met through providing a reasonable amount of time for a sales person to achieve assigned sales goals. Sales people like a challenge but, as with all jobs, a new sales person will require an amount of time to become productive. Most companies have statistics on the length of time required to acquire sufficient product, company and customer knowledge to be successful. Safety needs can also be met through certain benefit programs such as health insurance and 401 (k) programs.

Belonging needs can be met through sales meetings and company wide meetings that create a camaraderie that is supported throughout the company. Good sales managers will recognize the importance of a sense of belonging and will work hard to insure favoritism and unfair management practices do not impair team building.

Esteem and recognition can be accomplished through setting meaningful goals that are achievable. This can be a part of the commission program that focuses on new accounts, active customers per period, revenue per period per customer, multiple products per customer per period and so on.  Additional recognition programs for certain achievements can be held monthly, quarterly or annually to further build esteem and recognition.

Using job promotions as a form of recognition should be used carefully. A good sales person does not necessarily make a good sales manager. It may be desirable to create several levels of sales positions if promotion is to be used as a form of recognition.

Self-actualization can be accomplished by allowing sales people to help establish sales goals and “stretch goals”, develop new sales approaches and participate in new product design and pricing.

As a manager, it is important to approach staff motivation with a process that keeps a focus on the company and the sales staff.  Programs should be designed within the company’s financial wherewithal and in a staged approach. In other words, identifying responsibilities and standards should be implemented before motivational programs. Salaries and benefits should be within the company’s financial capabilities and should be the first motivational/hygiene factors addressed.

If a company already has a stable sales force but needs to improve productivity, focus might be directed more to upgrading the standards of performance and recognition factors.

Additional motivational/hygiene factors can be implemented at any time but should not disrupt progress being made by the basic programs.  These additional programs should be added when there is a tangible benefit that accrues to the organization and there is minimal disruption due to the implementation.

Creating a successful sales force is critical to the success of most companies.  Screening and choosing qualified individuals and subsequent training is paramount.

Beyond screening and training, creating a successful sales team requires management to spend the time to clearly understand what is needed for the company to be successful and translate that to individual performance requirements. Additionally, management must pay attention to the motivation and hygiene factors that will make sales people want to come to work in the morning and leave at the end of the day feeling good about their accomplishments and their company.

Each company will have a different set of challenges, and the approach to improving sales productivity will be different.

If a company chooses the right people, trains them and manages through a focus on performance standards and hygiene factors, the chances for success are improved dramatically. Additionally, the chances are increased that productivity will continue to be high over the long term and that employee morale will be high and turn over will be low.


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