Techniques and tools for influencing sales behaviour and following sales best practices. Use these ideas to optimise sales performance management and maximise sales performance.
Sales leadership rests on mastery of several skills and a range of management tools. Charisma and a bold vision alone are not enough to motivate sales personalities. Leaders have to lead where people want to follow. People do things for their own reasons. There are at least ten distinct management tools that influence sales behaviour and work regardless of a leader's personal power.
Effective use of these tools has a significant effect on the actions of salespeople and the results they achieve. These powerful means of engineering success for the most part have familiar labels – change agents, appraisals, coaching, incentives, sales process, training, providing content, providing intelligence, assignment alignment, and inspiring vision.
Personality, character, experience, and circumstances vary significantly amongst customer facing staff. Some individuals are predisposed to embrace change or even actively seek it. The behaviours and practices of the more influential members of this group have a considerable affect on the behaviours and practices of those around them. Such people might be labelled ‘change agents’. They can be identified and their proclivity harnessed in pursuit of desired change. Leaders sometimes leverage this means of effecting change informally, through a well developed internal network. Formal use of change agents in sales management is less common.
Almost everyone uses some sort of appraisal system. Most systems were put in place to underpin the process of firing people which in most European countries relies on documented evidence of performance issues. Failure to prove non performance can allow disgruntled employees to challenge dismissal decisions. A successful challenge results in penalties or even enforced reinstatement. Poor handling of these human resource issues can be very expensive. In the light of this connection between the appraisal process and discipline, it seems unsurprising that appraisals are widely disliked by managers and employees alike. Yet appraisals that are used as a means to motivate and support development can make a significant contribution to an organisation’s effectiveness. Equally, appraisals can be a means of changing behaviour. People pay attention to whatever is measured.
Senior executives expect managers to coach their people. Usually a prerequisite of getting a management position is ability to do the job that is to be done by direct reports. So why don’t most managers spend more time coaching there people to adopt the right behaviours?
First and foremost, managers must ensure that targets are met. The numbers always come first. Coaching focuses on developing capability first. For coaching, the numbers come later so coaching interferes with the achievement of a manager’s primary objective. Sales managers who are ahead of target have the luxury of being able to focus on secondary priorities. Those who have yet to secure the necessary figures, inevitably focus on the operational issues associated with opportunities that have yet to be closed. The numbers come first and this is as it should be. In any one on one exchange with staff, the operational issues are dealt with first and any intended coaching is squeezed to the end of the exchange, which means it most often never happens.
Coaching, as opposed to teaching, is about helping students find answers for themselves. People’s own ideas are always more likely to be acted upon than anyone else’s. Coaching success depends on taking the time an trouble to understand the person being coached, and the patience to coax out the right thoughts, ideas, and commitments.
Those whose income has a significant performance based element tend to follow the direction of their compensation plan more than the instructions or guidance of their manager. As the proportion of performance based compensation goes up, the more accentuated the behaviour. Commission only salespeople have no choice but to make very polarised decisions about their use of time. Those on a high base salary with only a small element of performance based pay, tend to behave according to what’s best for the team and maintaining their position in it.
Sales compensation planning and plan complexity tends to relate to the size of the organisation and the number of departments or product interests vying for the mindshare. The behavioural consequences on performance based compensation can have unintended results even in small organisations with simple measurements criteria.
It is in the nature of those who sell for a living to resist structure or anything that curtails freedom to operate their own way, yet having a clear framework of connected processes that reflect the course of a customers buying process and facilitat progress measurement, is an underutilised means of influencing sales behaviour.
Product training together with testing is generally given significant attention in organisations selling complex solutions. By comparison, training in sales skills and methods gets sporadic and infrequent attention. The reason for this discrepancy relates to proof. Those who lack a thorough knowledge of their products or solutions make the organisation seem incompetent or inadequate. The threat to status is blatant and difficult to ignore.
Apart from the obvious need for good interpersonal communication skills, the possession of sales skills and use of methods is much more difficult to measure. Proof that sales training has a positive effect on sales results is expensive to obtain. For sales training to have a certain effect, much time and money needs to be spent establishing what to train and how.
As for coaching, senior executives expect their sales director and sales managers to take care of training through interaction on the job or through direction. This expectation suffers from the same priority conflict described for coaching. As a result investment in developing sales skills and methods is often squeezed between a managers responsibility for short term results and a corresponding lack of adequate budgeting.
Sales training receives attention when a team or business is ahead of their sales target, when executives are confident that fiscal objectives are being met, and that there is time to draw breath and think of the future. So sales training is often put off until it is least needed.
Pathosm ethos, logos, and are the keys to persuasion claimed Aristotle. Ethos refers to credibility of the information source. Few salespeople are considered thought leaders in their industry or market however, this personal authority isn’t necessary if the salesperson can quote those who have it. Those organisations that consistently provide fresh authoritative and credible content can raise the status of the people who propagate it. Providing content steers behaviour and impacts results.
It’s important to distinguish between propaganda and intelligence. When sellers come to believe their organisation’s propaganda they repeat it. This tends to damage credibility. Accurate intelligence, both negative and positive, equips people to enhance their credibility with customers and prospects. The degree of propaganda and intelligence disseminated affects sales behaviour and results.
Intrinsic motivator assessments reveal wide variation amongst salespeople. From an intrinsic standpoint, money is seldom what drives sellers. In our own research we have labelled eleven distinct motivational factors and used them to assess the intrinsic motivational profile of sales peoplestaff. The labels are Promotion, Achievement, Money, Relationships, Autonomy, Life Balance, Safety, Challenge, Duty, Recognition, and Interest. People are better at doing things they like doing.
Understanding intrinsic motivators offers the opportunity of distributing account, territory, and role assignments intelligently. For instance, Safety/Duty led sales people make better account managers than Autonomy/Challenge led sales people. Compensation plans can be tuned to motivate individuals rather than treating all sales people as if they were motivated by the same things and to the same extent.
Perhaps universal impact is beyond mortals, yet those who can communicate a vision that chimes with people, a view of the future that transcends mere survival and instils listeners with a stronger sense of purpose, at least for a time, can inspire people to greater and more coordinated effort. At the heart of such inspiration is perceived worthwhile purpose. Many seek and few create such inspiring visions. Is it the vision that chimes or the delivery? More likely it is some combination of both. Perception and belief rule the heart, no matter how they are stirred.
It’s time to take the blinkers off and realize that sales behaviour and the resulting performance is a factor of management and an organisations ability to create the right environment. Sales leaders need to make the most of these ten opportunities to influence a sales person’s actions and sales team results.
Article by Clive Miller
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