Incentives: The Fool’s Gold Of Sales Management

4 min read · 8 years ago


As I was reading through a pile of sales magazines recently, it struck me how much emphasis is placed on motivating salespeople. In one popular magazine, over 25 percent of the content and 40 percent of the advertisements were dedicated to motivational strategies and incentive programs. From gift certificates to cruises, it appears that increased sales performance is no more than a quarterly contest away.

The reason I find this odd is that of all the sales forces my colleagues and I have observed over the years, we’ve encountered very few unmotivated salespeople. Most salespeople work hard.

However, we do see a lot of salespeople who are frustrated with the results they’re getting from their effort, and they don’t know what to do about it. Will trying even harder really be the breakthrough change to take them to the next level of success? Doubtful.

Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” If this is true, then my definition of sales insanity is “selling the same way, just a lot harder, and expecting a lot more revenue.”

While it is appealing to believe that working more will produce more, this idea is the fool’s gold of sales management. The reality is that most salespeople are working near their capacity. What they really need is help finding new ways to sell better. Sales managers must recognize this fact and spend more time coaching than motivating.

A fundamental assumption of the ‘work harder’ mindset is that poor sales performance results from a lack of effort. Interestingly, we often find that the poor performers in a sales force are working at least as hard as the top performers. They’re simply doing the wrong things.

We recently worked with a low-performing salesperson who called on an epic number of prospects and customers across a widely dispersed geographic territory. From the sheer volume on his call reports and mileage logs, one might have expected him to be a superstar producer. However, after riding with him for only 45 minutes, it became very apparent why he was one of the lowest performers in the company.

He took every (and I mean every) opportunity to engage any prospective customer, indiscriminately approaching all creatures that walked and talked in his territory. This salesperson’s problem was not a lack of effort – it was a lack of focus on high-potential prospects. He actually needed to narrow his client roster and dig deeper into a handful of larger accounts.

I’m sure that a lavish sales contest would have nevertheless kept him on the road an extra hour a day, calling on more and more prospects further and further down the food chain. And his sales probably would have shown a blip, unfortunately reinforcing the ‘work harder’ red herring. Yet the diminishing returns on his effort would have eventually landed him in our ‘frustrated salesperson’ category. Time for another sales contest and another blip.

The truth is that poor sales performance rarely derives from lack of effort. The culprit is usually poor selling skill or lack of a good strategy – neither of which can be overcome through longer hours in the field, and neither of which is readily apparent to a salesperson. Correcting skill and strategy issues rests squarely on the shoulders of the sales manager, not on a bigger call log.

I’m not suggesting that motivation is unimportant. In fact, in a highly transactional sales force, greater effort usually will result in increased sales. Even for a consultative sales force, motivation is a necessary component of a manager’s job. But it should be applied judiciously to either bolster a languishing salesperson’s attitude or to stimulate a specific, short-term behavior (e.g., introducing a new product).

The only way to improve and sustain sales performance is to develop the selling capabilities of your salespeople. Ultimately, this can only be done one salesperson at a time, addressing the unique strengths and weaknesses of each individual. Motivational programs are not a stand-in for good sales management. You simply can’t motivate your way to a better sales force.

Try this exercise as a reality check. Write down the names of a few poor performers on your team and ask yourself these two questions about each:

  1. Why does the salesperson lose sales?
  2. What could they do differently to win the business?

If your answers don’t contain the words ‘unmotivated’ or ‘work harder’ (and I bet they won’t), then it’s time to stop motivating and to start a journey down the road less traveled.

Get more sales tips in the RingLead ebook, Sphere of Influence Selling: An Inside Sales Approach to Crushing Your Quota.

This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: Incentives: The Fool’s Gold Of Sales Management

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