The workplace is littered with sales managers who demotivate their teams without realising and fail to inspire performance when it most needed.
These are the managers who think when it comes to motivation, what works for them - or even what they learnt from a past tyrant boss - should work for others: frequently the default in sales teams seems to involve the racheting up of pressure in the hope that people will then what it takes to make that big sales target.
Two bits of research out this month find empirically this approach is not only wrong but quite possibly the worse way to get what you want from your team.
The first comes from Scarlett Associates whose study of managers in BAE Systems, Lloyds Bank, a government department and Orbit Housing Group found setting staff short term as opposed to placing pressure around big targets was the best way of motivating employees. In fact, the pressure cooker approach was seen to put people into an undesirable state of stress which undermined thinking, planning and productivity. The key to motivation, according to the authors, is to make employees feel like they are being treated with respect by managers who are calm and focused rather than reactive and emotional.
The second comes from a joint study from the University of Bath and York St John University. This suggests that the performance-based reward which is so common in sales teams may be counter-productive. When applied to perfectionists, people with high standards or those who are afraid of letting others down the mechanism which is supposed to drive performance actually undermines it.
For sales managers who want to their team to achieve their targets, this has important implications.
The first is the importance of understanding the differences between the individuals in your team and tailoring your management approach for each person to reflect their approach to work – if you have managers who report into you, they need to do this too.
The second is to think about the targets you set. Every big sales target can be broken down in many different ways: calls made, emails sent, pitches attended, ex-clients contacted, number of contracts needed per team member. Think about how you can best break down your targets for your team so they best respond to them
The third is not to leave people out in the cold. Sure, it’s their job to hit the target but its your job to help them on the way. Better for you to monitor regularly, problem solve and come up with new ways of reaching – or bettering - the target than to come to the end of sales period and realise the numbers don’t add up.
The final thing is that while bonuses and spot reward still have a place in motivating teams, this should never come instead of personal recognition and praise. Money may be important but people and peers are what motivate your team each day and this is what you should rely on to deliver great performance.