Lessons From A “Motivation Master”

By Malcolm Fleschner

In a recent article in Incentive Magazine, Ralph Breslauer, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Concerto Software, said “To motivate salespeople, you need something different.” Putting his money – or more precisely, his mane – where his mouth is, Breslauer agreed to let his salespeople shave his head if the company’s four worldwide regions met 2003 fourth-quarter quotas. In the past, the company typically hit its overall sales goals because reps in individual regions sold enough to compensate for their lower-performing colleagues.

Incentive Magazine refers to Breslauer as a motivation master, not just because of his innovative razor-based approach to motivating sales performance, but also for the way he took over a solid, but stagnant sales force and in just two years increased annual sales from $95 million to $150 million.

Some of the key changes Breslauer spearheaded include the following.

Open up lines of communication
When Breslauer arrived, salespeople typically knew little about such key issues as company earnings, profit margins and annual revenue. Management kept tight control over such information and salespeople responded by refusing to share concerns with senior-level management. Breslauer came in and created a more open management style that undercut the traditional risk-averse approach that had been prevalent.

Value ideas
Previously, employees often felt intimidated about approaching anyone but an immediate supervisor with an idea for change. Soon after joining Concerto, Breslauer made it clear he wanted people to do more than simply what they were told to do. As a result, one sales manager, Mary Monat, took the initiative and changed her team’s approach to leads by reducing the required number of monthly leads generated per rep from 20 to 14. Reps previously had padded their lists with unqualified leads just to make quota. Now they tightened their lead criteria and focused on quality, not quantity. The result? According to Breslauer, quarterly sales rose 10%, or $1.5 million, based on the improved leads.

Empower individuals
When Monat approached Breslauer about a talented but underperforming inside sales rep she felt was in danger of burning out, he gave her permission to create a new account executive position specifically for this rep. Rather than simply generating new leads, the rep now manages others within his department.

Monat was impressed with how much leverage she was given, considering that most companies wouldn’t consider allowing a manager to create a position for a single individual. “This guy’s a born performer who before might have left the company,” she said. “You risk losing people who can make a difference when management has an unresponsive, rigid attitude.”

So what happened to Breslauer and his beloved hair? Thanks perhaps to additional motivational boosts, all four regions achieved their sales goals. To collect their prize and help their boss get in touch with his inner Kojak, the reps assembled at the company’s Boston headquarters last January with electric razors in hand. They even bid on the opportunity to shear off strips of Breslauer’s hair, in the process raising $4,000 for a local charity.

Reflecting on his management approach, Breslauer utters what could be a mantra for all motivation-minded managers. “All good salespeople make money,” he says. The difference lies in finding ways to push them to take steps in new and unexplored areas. “It’s as much about pride and honor as money. Salespeople want to be recognized.”