“How have you helped a sales rep today?” Jenny pondered the question written on the plaque in front of her as she considered everything that had gone wrong with the change initiative she had just launched. Jenny was the head of strategy for a major pharmaceutical company that we will call Trevlian, and she was struggling to move her reps from the traditional pharma model of being compensated purely on sales volume to a more holistic set of customer satisfaction criteria. In formal company meetings, reps seemed to agree with the changes, but they privately resisted and complained bitterly to each other. Some left the company while revenue flagged for those that remained.
We interviewed Jenny through our own research on collaboration at the Wharton School of Business. Through this work, we have gained fundamental insights on what separates high-performing teams from the rest. Sales teams in particular tend to be made up of big personalities that deliver great results, but can also go rogue easily, especially during a time of change. So, what can you do to keep sales teams integrated and energised? There are three key lessons we can learn from Jenny’s turnaround:
1. Answer the WIIFM Question
Jenny first realised that in explaining the change, she had not properly answered the all important question her reps would be asking: “What’s In It For Me?” High-performing reps were losing their bonuses because they were not completely clear on what behaviors they needed to modify. Jenny’s response was to beef up internal trainings showing reps exactly how to engage customers under the new set of criteria, helping them meet the new standards and become top performers again.
If you sense your own sales staff disengaging, ask yourself whether you have made the connection between your team strategy and the individual interests of each of your people. Connecting collective to individual goals is a powerful way to energise team members around a common purpose.
2. Answer the WIIFMO Question
Jenny also realised her reps were wondering: “What’s In It For My Organisation?” They were demotivated because they did not understand why this change was vital to Trevlian’s survival, not just another meaningless initiative from the top. She started sharing stories about hospitals that had locked Trevlian out under the old system of pushing product. She brought in physicians to talk about how much they appreciated the company’s new patient-centric approach.
With your own team, consider whether individuals understand how they fit into your company’s mission. Story-telling is a proven, high-impact method for motivating your people by communicating how they support the organisation’s goals.
3. Build a network of internal support
Finally, Jenny realised that the reps had felt lost and needed more informal support to help them make the transition. She asked account managers to join reps on sales ride-alongs to provide coaching on how to have conversations with customers under the new guidelines.
For your team, remember that sales people can easily become disconnected from the rest of the company as they tend to spend most of their time working externally. By helping them build support networks internally, you grow their sense of loyalty and shared purpose, making them less likely to deviate from company strategy.
Jenny’s efforts eventually made the new incentive initiative a success as revenue grew again and internal surveys showed a jump in employee morale. What our research tells us is that the steps Jenny took can work for getting the most out of any sales team. Salespeople can be an organisation’s top talent, but also run the risk of going rogue. By translating collective vision into individual goals and building relationship networks, you can channel their high-energy personalities toward achieving peak performance, just as Jenny did.
By Dr. Mario Moussa, Dr. Derek Newberry and Madeline Boyer, authors of Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance. Dr. Moussa teaches in the Executive Programs at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Executive Education. Dr. Newberry and Boyer are lecturers at the Wharton School of Business. Boyer is also a senior consultant at Percipient Partners. For more information connect with the authors on Twitter.