When most sales managers and business owners think of improving results from their sales team they usually jump to ideas based on the ‘carrot or stick’ approach. But there are two other supportive behaviours that have much more potential to increase sales than either carrots or sticks.
The beauty of carrots
Within the sales profession ‘carrots’ usually take the form of monetary rewards or recognition (emotional reward) for individuals on the sales team. Carrots can be easy to identify and use. Sales contests, sales commissions, bonuses, awards and prizes (of goods or experiences) are often introduced on the basis that the rewards will motivate the sellers to bring in more new business.
Crucially these carrots assume that the individuals on the team are all motivated by the same bonus, prize or offer of recognition. However, this is rarely the case. And assuming sellers will be motivated by extra monetary incentive may be a fundamental mistake.
Sure, money is often seen as attractive; for sellers money can be considered a proxy for success, in that the more you earn via incentives the more successful you have been. However the law of diminishing returns usually applies to monetary compensation for sales teams. Once the individuals reach a certain level of earnings – a comfort zone – the extra money doesn’t really motivate them like it did before. And in some situations the intra-team competitiveness driven by sales commissions can be counter productive.
Additionally, for businesses in a technical or professional sector the motivating factor for the sales team (which may called a ‘technical’ or ‘support’ team rather than a ‘sales’ team) is often about solving the next technical challenge. It’s about professional stimulation, achievement and client satisfaction, not earning bonuses.
So, maybe the stick is better?
For sellers, ‘sticks’ usually refer to punitive measures that apply if the individual hasn’t met sales outcomes. The desired outcome could be based on one or more sales metrics such as sales value (a common measure), the number of sales calls/visits being made, or the number of proposal submitted.
Punitive measures range from those with mild impacts such as commissions not being earned, to those with a major personal impact such as removing the individual seller from the sales team. Or the consequence may be that the individual misses out of certain activities or perks such as attending industry events.
From a sales management perspective sticks are often harder to apply, and of course are focused on negative consequences that may have a detrimental flow-on effect to other aspects of individual and team performance.
Introducing… the twin sisters for killer sales performance improvement
Sales managers – and those with sales management responsibilities such as business owners or General Managers – often get consumed by the numbers, sales reports, forecasts, and handling customer problems, and lose sight of the individual behaviours that actually drive performance improvement.
Sales coaching and self-reflection are two under-used techniques for improving sales outcomes.
They are twin sisters in the way they represent two facets of the same thing – self-discovery.
1) Sales coaching
Sales coaching is not new. But it is an activity that is underutilised, with many studies finding that that Sales Managers spend little time on coaching their team.
The process of coaching is fundamentally different to that of managing. For a coach the goal is to help the coachee learn how to improve their own performance by asking questions that stimulate thinking and self-discovery by the coachee. This process of development can be quite subtle yet has a profound impact as the coachee ‘discovers’ the solutions for themselves.
In contrast, the process of management usually revolves around the sales manager ‘telling’ the team member what to do, or how to resolve a situation. Understandably when people are under time pressures the tendency is usually to just ‘get the job done’ and the manager dictates tasks for others. But this doesn’t create the powerful and self-sustaining learning that coaching can achieve.
Why don’t more companies use sales coaching?
Studies have shown that more sales managers aren’t using coaching as part of their team development strategy because:
- They are too busy
- They don’t know how to coach
- They aren’t held accountable for coaching
- They are concerned about hurting the feelings of the coachee
- They don’t understand the benefits of coaching
In a curious twist, the benefits of sales coaching are most easily seen between comparisons of companies that do provide coaching versus those that don’t within the same industry. Research such as this has shown there can be a 15% to 40% increase in sales results by those companies that do provide coaching.
Other studies have clearly shown that the best results from sales coaching are likely to come from the middle majority of the sales team. Why? Poor performers (the tail end of the team) are often a bad fit for the role, and coaching will do little to address that issue of ‘fit’. The top performers are already near their peak, so less improvement is possible (although the feeling of being supported by the coaching process should not be under-estimated as a factor in retaining high performing staff).
The other twin sister of sales performance improvement is self-reflection. Research has backed up the common view that by regularly reflecting on what you have done you can improve what you achieve in the future.
Reflecting for as little as 15 minutes a day, including taking notes of how to do things differently next time, has been shown to create powerful improvements in workplace performance.
Sellers are ideally positioned to benefit from reflection as they face a variety of situations every day and will benefit from taking time to consider how they handled the various scenarios, what they achieved, and how they could approach that situation next time.
From a sales management perspective sales coaching and self-reflection can be a killer combination.
By having your team members regularly reflect on their own performance, encouraging individuals to adapt their sales activities based on those reflections (that is, learn from their actions), and supporting the process with frequent coaching opportunities you can develop a sales performance improvement culture that works for the whole team.
No carrots or sticks required.
If you would like to arrange a complimentary, no-pressure discussion about how to introduce effective sales coaching or reflection activities for your sales team please get in touch.
For sales coaching tips and sales coach self-assessment download our free guide Being a Great Sales Coach.