Good job demotivating your sales teams

Managers may have the right intentions, but their tactics to improve performance sometimes demotivate their sales teams, when based on speculation and assumption, rather than being backed by science and data

Updated: Nov 11, 2019 03:45:01 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

With the market growing more competitive, organisations are increasingly turning the spotlight onto their sales team, expecting high performance and even higher results. To facilitate high performance, managers often devise motivation strategies to help sales teams meet organisational goals. However, even though most leaders have the right intentions, their tactics to improve performance sometimes demotivate their sales teams, contributing to mass dissatisfaction and high attrition rates. This happens when their tactics are based on speculation and assumption, rather than being backed by science and data.

Behavioural science places people and their irrationalities at its core, which is crucial for devising impactful strategies that motivate people to change their behaviours and actions in a way that helps drive sustainable and measurable results for organisations. As 77 percent of human behaviour is driven by emotions, with only 23 percent driven by reason, leaders must recognise that inspiring employees to work harder requires the additional insight that comes from behavioural science.

Let’s take a look at a few common thoughts that end up hampering the teams’ performances unintentionally and how managers can harness the same philosophy in a more positive and effective manner.

"One sales team, one goal"
Leaders labour under the misconception that simply setting one main goal for the whole team will motivate employees to work harder to meet their targets; however, often, goals that seem unreasonable to the team only serve to demotivate them further. This is because what may seem like a reasonable goal to your top performers may be an unattainable one to the middle performers, causing them to switch off from the task even before they start. Instead of setting one common goal, set goals relevant to their performance and abilities can help you increase their sense of motivation towards achieving those goals. Based on study by BI WORLDWIDE, such systems could yield results as high as over 57 percent salespeople exceeding their average performance. The philosophy is simple: Allowing employees to choose their own goals helps them believe they have an advantage when it comes to achieving them. In behavioural economics, this is called the idiosyncratic fit and it serves to be a powerful motivator.

"Top performers are the most committed”
The common belief that the top performers are the most committed leads to managers using this set of people as a crutch for the rest of the team’s performance. However, managers relying more on their top performers are likely to find that they’re placing all their eggs in the smallest albeit sturdy basket. This is because top performers generally make for around 15-20 percent of a team. The middle performers drive the largest amount of business, and helping them set reasonable goals within defined boundaries that align with the organisation’s objectives can help boost their performance, transforming them into top performers too. If motivated well, middle performers are capable of showing double digit sales improvements.

“Cannot go wrong with cash rewards”
The better performance an employee delivers, the most cash he/she should get as a reward or bonus, right? Not always! Our research at BI WORLDWIDE shows that while 67 percent of people said they would be happy to receive cash rewards, we saw engagement rise by over 80 percent when employees were presented with non-cash, experiential rewards. This is known as preference reversal, where the brain tells sales personnel that they prefer cash, when in reality, they gain far more value from a non-cash reward. While it is not entirely wrong to assume that cash motivates sales personnel, the research on the matter shows quite clearly that non-cash rewards have a deeper impact. Of course, you may still continue to use cash in your sales incentive programs – one cannot deny that many sales people are motivated by commissions (especially when there are no caps placed on them). However, adding non-cash rewards into the mix can boost engagement and performance significantly.

“Communication is a one-time effort”
Many organisations establish performance and loyalty programmes within teams and sales channels, and these often work as great motivators. However, when managers do not communicate often providing key insights into the performance progress, tweaks to the sales strategy and so on, the contests and incentive programs die on the vine and end up demotivating the participants. When employees have no way of knowing the quality of their performance and how they compare with the rest of the team, it hampers their sense of goal attainment and competitive spirit. The Goal Gradient theory illustrates why: When we are closer to achieving our goals, we are more likely to work harder to complete the tasks at hand. Furthermore, studies conducted by BI WORLDWIDE show that regular communication can drive participation in the programme by 80 percent, with most employees reporting an average satisfaction score with the program of 8.6.

“Invest time in selling, learn in your free time”
As the common adage goes, time is money. Many managers misinterpret this to believe that time spent doing anything other than the task at hand is a waste. However, the point of the adage is that time is an investment, and as we all know, the right investments often yield high ROIs.

It is crucial for sales personnel to invest their time in learning. Most decisions come from the fast brain, or what most people call their gut feeling. Consumers rarely engage with their slow brain (or rational mind) while making purchase decisions, which means that they must be inspired to buy your product. Sales teams and channel partners that are offered learning programs change what they know, feel and do. They know more about the product they are selling; they feel more connected to the organisation (or even the reason for the product’s existence), and are therefore able to do better in terms of selling the product to other consumers. By helping consumers take decisions with their fast brain, they can improve their own sales and targets significantly. Additionally, by establishing effective learning programmes, organisations stand to see a 16 percent increase in performance, 32 percent increase in commitment, and 46 percent increase in employee satisfaction.

“Annual Recognition is just enough”
Recognition functions as a powerful tool for extrinsic motivation, and is known to help increase revenue by 20 percent (along with 87 percent of your sales team being less likely to leave). Managers must play an active role in recognition programs and must offer public acknowledgement of top performers in order to create role models within teams. While annual recognition events do have their place in organisations, the truth is that they are simply not enough. This is because effective recognition is a continuous process and should be treated like one, with leaders offering recognition as regularly as possible. The science behind this is quite simple: People crave attention. When leaders recognise positive behaviour or work outcomes, employees are more likely to reinforce those behaviours, simply for another chance to be recognised in the future.

“Stress brings out the best in them”
Unattainable targets and high-pressure environments function as whips—they may drive performance to a certain extent; however, they are more likely to burn out employees and cause stress. Nothing functions as a bigger demotivator than stress, which is why leaders must strive to create a stress-free work culture.

Going back to an earlier point that 77 percent of behaviours being emotionally driven, an employee’s decision to work harder to continue their employment with a company comes from a sense of belonging. By treating your team members right and letting them know their concerns about stress and emotional well-being are valuable to you, you end up offering them something that very few organisations cana sense of being a part of the organisation as a whole.

Leaders within an organisation must work together to add these simple tweaks to their sales motivations strategies to establish a more human-centric approach to motivation. It is only through this can will they see higher performance, high talent retention and, of course, a well-motivated team.

The author is CEO & MD of BI Worldwide India.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

Check out our end of season subscription discounts with a Moneycontrol pro subscription absolutely free. Use code EOSO2021. Click here for details.