How to motivate your sales force

In the continual drive to increase sales, millions are invested in marketing activities to attract more customers. But so much of this is wasted if a sales team is not totally motivated to achieve their best.

Incentive programmes that offer rewards can play a major part in reducing this wastage and improving sales performance. But how? Here are the issues and factors that need to be considered in designing a potentially successful motivation programme, drawing on examples from a utility provider, whose ‘Italian job’ programme produced the holy grail of sales increases of 25 per cent whilst also creating improvements in customer service levels….

The key is understanding the emotion that drives motivation and working out how to tap into this by helping to fulfil individuals’ needs and desires. To achieve this it is necessary to look at the individuals in the organisation  – identify what  captures their imagination – and how to fulfil it efficiently.

Good communication is an essential element. This is, perhaps, far more important than the reward itself. In a simple scenario, giving employees the chance to win an Round the World holiday would not get much of a result if how to achieve it is not communicated clearly!

Let’s look at the steps in the process;

Set clear, precise objectives and define the timescale.

The best motivation programmes operate over a longer term. They become part of a positive working culture that underpins training participation, long service and idea generation.

But tactical campaigns, alongside a longer-term strategy, can make a valuable contribution.

A utilities provider set a clear objective for an eight-month tactical incentive; for sales teams the target was to increase sales on three new, core products by 20 per cent year on year. For support functions an increase of 10% on the right first time performance.

Profile your target audience and offer rewards to match their tastes

To discover what stirs the emotion to focus more on work, to be more engaged with the sales target, it is vital to understand the audience whose behaviour you are trying to influence, and to understand clearly how you want them to behave differently. This may often mean looking at the age range and their income to understand their tastes. Do not make the mistake of presuming.

Evidence has shown that recognising people with gift vouchers, merchandise or holidays can generate a greater increase in sales and service levels compared to being rewarded with cash. These non-cash reward systems are more flexible, produce a stronger emotional response, cost less and deliver more.

It is also important to define a strategy; are you motivating all the individuals or particularly the high achievers – the 20 per cent who often accounts for 80 per cent of the sales? And how far are you targeting individual sales people directly or through their management?

The utility provider aimed different elements of the programme at different audiences: the Sales team, Support Functions and the appropriate managers across 3 different sites.  The company wanted to encourage this audience to change their sales tactics to concentrate their efforts on the three new specific products. This was, in effect, asking them to veer away from selling products within their ‘comfort zone’. At the same time the support functions needed to be geared up to deliver them and handle queries quickly and on first call.

The audience had a tiered incentive programme:

• Race to Rome – Annual top achievers travel incentive to Rome, which the top 20% of the audience attended
• The Getaway – Quarterly team awards with top performance leagues earning an exciting group activity such as go-karting, helicopter rides etc
• The Heist – Monthly personal awards based on individual performance, ranging from vouchers, experiences and must have gadgets.
• Managers of top performing teams enjoyed the same rewards.

The mix of team based, travel and personal awards ensured that there was something that appealed to everyone.

Plan your incentive communications

Good motivation programmes can work without powerful rewards but, without effective communications, they will die.

To be effective, the content and the delivery must be on target.

The words must answer these questions for each of the audience segments:

• What do you want me to do?
• Why do you want me to do it?
• How do I do it?
• What’s in it for me?
• How do I know how I am doing?

The choice of delivery route is wide, from personal letters in the post to e-mail and manager presentations and must allow for the individuals’ access to e-mail and websites.

The Utility provider launched with a bespoke programme brochure sent to all participants together with launch events including an Italian themed day and casino games. In addition, participants were updated of their performance on a monthly performance basis via a programme website, which showed their performance in each competition.

The programme in operation – extra opportunities for sales staff

When sales staff had achieved a sale they had the opportunity to win a further reward with the Vault. Participants logged their sale online and could choose from Vault A, B or C. Although not all the vaults contained a reward, it was extremely popular.

Adrian Duncan, Account Director for the campaign says: “The integrated nature of the incentive across sales and support staff increased the effectiveness of the scheme as teams worked closely together the mix of team and individual awards. The different nature of these awards appealed to different audiences, keeping everyone engaged.

Two added benefits of asking sales staff to register their sales online in order to qualify for the additional rewards, are that we asked the sales person to name the support person who helped them deliver the sale. This person received a personal thank you and additional points for their league position. These were extremely rewarding and gained great feedback.”

Overall, it is results that count. This programme easily met its target and was so successful that it was extended for a second year.

A programme such as this can be designed to raise any sales team cost effectively, provided it is well researched, well targeted and well communicated.

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