News : Are you in tune with motivation?

Is there a winning formula to motivate a sales team - Mike Le Put explains

I’m often asked what the winning formula is for motivating a sales team and helping them achieve their targets. Many sales managers mistakenly believe it’s all down to raw sales talent, but an innate ability to sell proverbial coals to Newcastle is rare.

However, there is a winning formula for sales success and it is: M = R x E (Motivation = Reward x Expectation).

To explain how this formula works in practice, we need to examine the shortcomings of a traditional carrot and stick approach to motivation.

Let’s imagine that it’s the office Christmas party and there is a piano in the room. The boss decides that it would liven up the party if someone were to play a few tunes and offers a bottle of wine as an incentive. Yet, no-one volunteers to tickle the ivories despite the potential reward.

As a result, the boss threatens to end the party if no-one volunteers to play the piano but still the piano stool remains unoccupied. Why? Because the boss has failed to ask a very important question – does anyone at the party actually know how to play the piano?

The same principles apply to motivating and rewarding sales teams. Most companies offer their salespeople some form of incentive to meet their targets and assume that the offer of a reward alone is enough to motivate each salesperson.

Often the ‘carrot’ of a reward is balanced by the ‘stick’ of a consequence if targets are not met, which can range from being publicly named and shamed for under performance in sales meetings to facing disciplinary procedures.

This black and white approach to reward or punishment fails to consider an important element of motivation - expectation. Put simply, no matter how attractive the reward may be, if the salesperson has no expectation of achieving it because the target is too high or in some other way un-achievable it will not motivate them to sell more. In fact, it may do just the opposite.

To counter this anti-motivation issue with carrot and stick reward structures, companies must nurture a no blame culture that enables sales people to communicate openly the hurdles that are preventing them from achieving their targets and access the help they need to overcome these. This should be a two-way process, with sales managers also taking the initiative to help members of their team that are struggling to meet their targets rather than berating them for under performance.

To go back to the piano at the party, if the boss had just asked the team whether they could play the piano before offering a reward or threatening a punishment he would have seen that the reward alone would not motivate anyone to volunteer. Musical ability, like sales talent, needs to be developed, which takes both coaching and practice.

By Mike Le Put, Director, MLP Training.