Sales managers frequently approach me for advice on how to keep salespeople
motivated, especially when sales reps get into a rut - and seem to keep slipping
deeper into it. Telling managers what not to do usually solves the problem. Most
managers do things to de-motivate salespeople without even knowing it.
Let's take the idea of funnels and forecasts, for instance. Funnels and forecasts are
important aspects of running any sales operation. Both salespeople and managers
need to know where they stand in terms of potential opportunities, and funnels
serve to track those opportunities. No successful business can operate and properly
plan for the future without accurate forecasting. In theory, these are absolutely
essential to the success of any operation. In reality, however, few words strike terror
in the hearts of salespeople like "funnel" and "forecast."
For most salespeople, the term "funnel review" equates to micromanagement,
probation and performance improvement plans. Just hearing the term is enough to
shift a sales rep's frame of mind from positive to negative. He or she suddenly loses
enthusiasm and doesn't know why. Many managers increase funnel reviews as
performance slips, which causes performance to slip further, and in the end nobody
wins. Endless funnel reviews, especially if they're not positive, only serve to
reinforce salespeople's self-doubts and limiting beliefs.
Forecasts are a similar problem, but in different ways. Few salespeople forecast
accurately. Nobody wants to fall short on their forecast, so they embellish,
exaggerate and make sure the numbers add up to where they should be rather than
where they really are. This results in managers who expect those numbers, and
salespeople who dodge managers because they know they aren't going to perform
as forecasted. Then there are salespeople like myself who do the exact opposite -
since I hated nothing more than having a manager constantly ask me, "When is this
one going to close? When is that one going to close?," I intentionally left good deals
off my forecast. While it eliminated the problem of constantly being asked when all
those deals would sign, it created another form of stress in having to deal with the
consequences of a funnel that fell short of expectations.
Another word that instantly de-motivates salespeople is "activity." Unfortunately, in
the absence of any other viable advice, most managers simply blurt out, "You need
to increase your activity" to anyone who isn't at quota. This accomplishes nothing
other than setting up the rep to believe that a series of funnel reviews and
performance improvement plans are soon to follow.
Finally, I see entirely too many managers pushing too hard to spend extra time with
salespeople who are falling short. While it's necessary to spend time with these
people, it's not a good idea to keep asking them what they need help with and to
insist on riding along with them. This only turns up the heat another notch on an
already stressed-out rep. Nobody who is having trouble likes to be singled out,
especially when the extra attention easily can be mistaken for micromanagement.
To keep a struggling salesperson motivated:
1. Keep the talk of funnels, forecasts and activity to a minimum.
2. Offer help without being overbearing.
3. Put your trust and confidence in that salesperson.
Stick with these guidelines and you'll not only do a better job of helping those who
are having difficulties, but you'll see an overall increase in your sales team's
motivation and enthusiasm.
Frank Rumbauskas is the author of Cold Calling Is a Waste of Time: Sales Success in
the Information Age. He is the founder of FJR Advisors LLC, which publishes
training materials on generating business without cold calling. He also owns a
nationwide insurance agency. For more information, please visit