Motivation or manipulation?
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How Your Procurement Practices Affect Your Sales and Brand - By Sue Barrett
What is the line between motivating sales staff and manipulating sales staff? How do you make sure you don't go over the line and place people under extreme pressure to achieve?
Research both here and overseas shows that high performing sales people identified how important it was to their performance that they remain motivated, which they recognised can be influenced by both internal and external factors, with a sense of self satisfaction found to be the most important contributor to their motivation.
The recent 4 Corners program on Telstra staff and a bullying culture that is supposed to be being cultivated in its call centres (transcript in full at abc.net.au/4corners) was very disturbing indeed.
It highlighted that once top performing sales people where now highly stressed, frightened of not meeting (changing) targets and felt unable to control their own destiny.
Research shows that the ability to control their emotions (ie self regulation) was seen as important in keeping sales people focused on key objectives, issues and working to resolve customers' problems.
Having clear tangible goals, performance targets, customer segmentation, competitor awareness, a sound USP (unique selling proposition) and transparent pricing model segmented into individual and team sales plans as part of a sound sales and business strategy is what good sales people need and expect to be able to control their own destiny and achieve their personal and professional goals. This autonomy and control is highly motivating for good sales people.
However the 4 Corners program told a different story. It focused on call centre staff having their targets changed and increased to what some people say are unachievable levels with no reason or link to strategy.
This was compounded by a new management culture that encouraged team leaders to use phrases like dragons, savages and submarines to describe their team members if they missed performance targets and encouraging team leaders to "‘shoot ‘em' if they don't work out". This left some team leaders hating and bullying their staff, with some of them hating themselves for becoming this way.
Selling is a relentless job at the best of times. It's like being an athlete - you set clear goals and workout in rain hail or shine. You are committed to overcoming obstacles and challenges and stepping up when it counts.
Beating the competition is hard enough, but if your coach then starts adding to your load by bullying you, putting you down, changing the rules, setting unrealistic goals and training regimes and even, in some cases, completely changing the game or sport you are playing, then all hell breaks loose.
Locus of control is so important for anyone in times of stress, but especially for sales people, who want to earn bonuses or commissions, to be their best and manage themselves to succeed within the given rules. Changing the goal posts and game rules after people committed to a game plan leaves hard working, dedicated sales people feeling cheated at best. And stressed, disengaged and burnt-out at worst.
Fact or not, the 4 Corners story set back the perception of the sales profession to the draconian days of Henry Ford who said "work is for work". He had a policy that if anyone smiled, whistled, laughed or showed any signs of enjoyment at work they should be sacked.
Having every keystroke and toilet break monitored implies that no one can be trusted. This is not an example of a healthy sustainable sales culture.
If you are a dedicated hard working person who prides themselves on being able to be trusted to do a good job and management wants to manage you this way, it is very demotivating indeed. I had hoped we had come further than that, given current thinking and research into performance and motivation, but obviously not if this story has any truth to it.
The story was discussed at great length in my circles and many people were troubled by the implication of intense sweat-shop type call centre sales environments. Sadly, it's not new and many other stories about these draconian call centre practices are in circulation.
One of my colleagues who has worked in telco sales, in both call centre and field sales, for many years had this to say: "My experience in these environments is that the word ‘manipulation' comes into effect when management have moving targets. In saying this I mean that half way through the game, someone changes the rules.
"The rules usually alter when companies feel that the targets are too easy and they are increased, new products appear, thus the commission plan alters, the compulsory amount of outbound calls doubles. You may achieve your results, however in the 11th hour management decide that commission will only be paid to those that completed their calls in a certain time frame etc."
So how do we create a climate of motivation? To motivate sales staff is through honesty, loyalty and clear direction; really no different to how you would want your sales staff to treat your customers. To achieve consistent results from your sales staff and have good morale, you need to provide a very clear achievable bonus or commission structure, with no moving goal posts.
The criteria that bounds this bonus or commission (that is, amount of calls made per day/visits, markets penetrated, sales made, profits achieved etc) also needs to be achievable, structured and based on sound strategy and facts. Provide further incentives if you must, to focus on certain products throughout the year, but do not alter the bonus or commission structure.
Research has identified some key motivating factors. While these can vary from person to person, they give a good indication; money, competition, achievement, pace, social contact, recognition, growth and autonomy.
Management need to act as true mentors and motivators for their staff, especially in sales call centres as this is, or can be, a very mundane job, and staff need to feel comfortable to bounce ideas or frustrations off their manager without feeling like they are being judged or readied for execution.
So if sales targets are continually changing and sales people are finding it increasingly difficult to get bonuses or commissions, ask yourself:
- What is motivating senior management to do this?
- Is the sales strategy wrong? Did management make a mistake?
- Who will benefit financially or career wise from these changing targets
- Are management's actions self-serving at the cost of their people?
Remember everybody lives by selling something.
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How Your Procurement Practices Affect Your Sales and Brand - By Sue Barrett
About the Author: Sue Barrett
RSS for Sue's articles - Visit Sue's website
'Selling is everybody's business and everybody lives by selling something' so says Sue Barrett, sales expert, writer, business speaker and adviser, facilitator, sales coach, training provider and entrepreneur. Sue founded Barrett in 1995 to positively transform the culture, capability and continuous learning of leaders, teams and businesses by developing sales driven organisations that are equipped for the 21st Century. Since inception, Barrett has worked with hundreds of Australian companies challenging thinking to create compelling reasons and continuous learning pathways for people and organisations to develop their skills, knowledge and mindsets to create the shifts they want and ensure they are well informed and equipped for the sales journey ahead.
Sue is one of the leading voices commenting on sales today. Sue has a unique way of getting to the heart of the matter - she combines extensive knowledge, research, insight, and practical experience with a deep sense of compassion to bring forth a more enlightened way of thinking and participating in the world. This makes her stand out from the usual crowd of existing business commentators.
Her ability to distill complex ideas and relate them to life's everyday challenges and opportunities has audience members and readers leaving with a stronger understanding of "self" and how they can begin to achieve excellence through purposeful action. Presenting and writing on a wide range of topics about the world of 21st Century selling Sue's presentations and articles include sales philosophy and culture, sales leadership and coaching, sales training, selling skills, resilience, neuroscience in selling and more. Sue's articles are some of the most widely read in Australia and she is gaining a following overseas as well. Besides publishing on Barrett Sales Blog site, Sue has been the lead sales writer for www.smartcompany.com.au since 2007, and is also regularly published on other highly regarded publications such as Australian Anthill Magazine, Niche Magazine, Marketing Mag, Business Chicks, and Business Deals.
Click here to visit Sue's website.
More from Sue Barrett
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