Much emphasis in motivating sales teams is given to goal-setting. There’s no doubt that having clear aspirations about tangible achievements (a new car, a house) can inspire us to deliver a great performance. However, this approach rests on the age-old assumption that sales people are entirely coin-operated. Incentives and goals work up to a point but when times are tough and we face adversity – as is inevitable in the business of selling – the moment that thesegoals seem remote and unachievable, then they lose their power. This is where a motivation dip can occur and where the science of psychology offers some evidence that having a set of values is a powerful way of sustaining it. This works on both an individual and team level and has had a noticeable impact on the teams we have worked with.
For individual sales people, having a set of values can act as a sort of inner compass, providing a sense of direction and touchstone of what really matters. In our experience, sales people have rarely given this a great deal of thought nor been encouraged to do so. So we invite them to take part in an exercise in order to facilitate the creation of a value-set. “Imagine it’s five years from now,” we say to them, “and you are looking back on a period of consistently fantastic performance in your job. Now you’re moving to pastures new and your company is throwing a lavish leaving party for you. What five things would you like people to say about you as a professional?”
For some, this is a tough exercise in introspection but many of the same sentiments emerge: people want to be seen as consistent performers who delivered their numbers, were resilient in the face of adversity and were an inspiration to other team members. We encourage delegates of our programmes to hone and develop these statements to the point where they can act as a touchstone and guide for their everyday behaviour. In a different age, Benjamin Franklin developed the discipline of checking his behaviour each day against the values he held most dear.
The second dimension of this exercise is to get teams to compare notes and draw together a combined team value set. While a corporate set of values may already exist. (“We put the customer at the heart of our business...”) these are often imposed top-down and feel rather distant from the day-to-day reality of the sales team. By compiling a bottom-up set of values, the team is being given the opportunity to say how they would like to behave. In other words, “this is how we do things around here.” The output is often developed into a memorable acronym and displayed in the office on a banner.
Managers of sales teams that have been through this facilitated process with us tell us that the outcome is a team that polices itself in order to prevent behaviours that are not consistent with the values that they have agreed. Having an explicit set of team values becomes very powerful when new recruits join the team as it becomes clear very quickly what sort of behaviour is expected of them.
While so much effort in motivation goes into external drivers such as payplan design and incentives, the science suggests that the most powerful – and often untapped – source of motivation can be found somewhere quite suprising: inside the sales person’s own mind.