Sales Management Digest

A Self-test for Sales Leadership
Dorothy Leeds
The universal question all sales managers ask is: How can I motivate my people? Through hundreds of research reports, one message rings loud and clear: to increase motivation, create an atmosphere where the salespeople motivate themselves. When a salesperson feels personally involved in a plan, he or she works to make it happen. To create a self-motivating atmosphere, as a manager, ask yourself the following seven questions. Notice that each one involves improving communications with your staff.

1. Do your people know your plans?

The best way to motivate people is to let them know your plans so they can participate in them. Also, make known your goals and the goals of the company. Let them see the big picture and get a sense of the importance of their contribution to it.

2. Do you give feedback?

Feedback is essential even to seemingly well-motivated salespeople. Every salesperson wants to be encouraged if he or she is doing well. If they are not doing well, they want to know why. By giving feedback, you keep the communications channels open. If your salespeople know you're willing to discuss performance with them, they'll be more likely to bring you their problems and questions to keep you better informed. Create an atmosphere where people are not afraid to tell you when something is wrong and you will have fewer surprises.

3. Do you build on strengths?

Many managers have been programmed to focus on weaknesses – as though any imperfection would negate or detract from any strength. This is not so. All success comes from strengths. An intelligent and persistent person succeeds because of intelligence and persistence, and in spite of any other handicap.

4. Do you give constructive praise?

Perhaps the most golden rule for sales management is, "Never be too tough on a person when he's down." When an individual is upset over failure, harping on the negative can hurt him or her and squelch any incentive to improve. Even when giving criticism, you can create a positive framework: "I don't think this is up to your usual standard. How can we improve this situation?"

5. Do you give rewards?

If your salespeople meet their agreed-upon objectives, it is a good idea not to limit their rewards to kind words. Money, bonuses and incentives are key motivators for salespeople. But another reward you can give a high achiever is your time. Most managers spend the bulk of their time with the poor performers and let the best ones fend for themselves. When someone does a good job, recognize his or her efforts and set aside time to develop ways to motivate that salesperson to do even more.

6. Do you listen and learn?

It's reported that after finding himself at a dead end, out of money, and out of prospects, Thomas Edison once asked his janitor this question: "I'd like to ask your advice. What do you think I should do in this situation?"

The janitor was stunned. "Nobody ever asked for my advice before," he replied.

"Well," said Edison, "then you should have a lot of good ideas stored up."

No matter what other techniques you employ in a quest to motivate your people, you have to be prepared to ask questions and to listen at least as much as you talk. No one's ideas should be missed. You don't have to seize on every suggestion, but always give proper recognition for every valid suggestion.

7. Do you set an example?

The best sales manager is a good role model – not once in a while, but every day. Your salespeople pay 90 percent more attention to what you do than what you say. A good manager knows how to say no, to be tough but fair. In other words, if you don't handle the responsibilities of your own leadership position, you can't expect your salespeople to live up to their job responsibilities either. Successful sales managers are motivating all the time, not just when performance is down. A manager should always strive for maximum people potential. The objective is always to let the other person determine the means to growth and to take the responsibility for his or her own development.

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