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Sales Motivation in a Down Economy

October 19th, 2009 by Amanda Musto, Marketing Manager at Treeline, Inc

I was recently invited to attend the annual President’s Forum by The Entrepreneurship Institute in Boston.  Although originally skeptical, I found the one day event to be extremely informative and enjoyable.  Attending the event were roughly 100 CEO’s from many successful organizations throughout New England and three guest lecturers that have experienced a significant amount of accomplishment in their careers.  The format of the event was open forum and allowed the attendees to discuss challenges and seek advice amongst peers from all industries.

During one of the forums, a very common and concerning question was brought in front of the panel, “How do I motivate my sales team when their compensation will decrease by at least 25% this year?” 

Although discouraging, I am sorry to say that this is a typical concern for CEO’s in today’s economic hardship.  When profit margins are low and in some cases nonexistent, how do you respond to the consistent salesman mantra and famous Jerry Maguire quote “Show me the money”?? In many cases there is no money due to increased taxes, cobra benefits and skyrocketing healthcare costs.  This recession is wide, deep and indeed long.  Each CEO in the forum could relate to this concern because they too are facing the reality that their sales people are beat up and burnt out.  Everyone is fighting hard to close business and increase cash flow but the constant fight seems to be taking its toll.  Every CEO fears that their employees may be conducting salary comparisons and searches for new employment opportunities. 

This topic of discussion proved to be a hot topic for the CEOs in attendance and the question fielded a plethora of responses, many of which we’ve already heard before.  The most common suggestion was to find additional cut backs to support the sales team, however the problem is that there really is no financial solution to line the pockets of sales professionals unless they sell more.  It’s that simple. 

In this market, almost every industry has seen a decline in new business.  Less new business means less revenue and less revenue means less compensation which then in turn leads to less employees.  You can drop quota, you can create flexible spending accounts or other incentive awards, but at the end of the year a sales person’s income will still be significantly lower than it was the year before.  Therefore, in some cases, sales professionals may be seeking alternative opportunities that will afford them more money.  Unfortunately, the majority of companies cannot afford to give candidates additional compensation, thus leaving them with no choice.  So if there is no choice in the matter, how do you motivate a sales team?

In life as well as in sales, time is money.  So if you can’t give your sales team the money, then give them the time they need.  Sales people are hungry for the sale and are addicted to the close.  They are motivated by commission and money and tend to focus all their time on exceeding their quota and strive to be #1.  In a good economy that means sacrifice.  It’s all about 80 hour work weeks, hustling to get as much business in the door as possible.  Typically speaking, there is no time for sleep and they get the job done at all cost.  Therefore, in a strong economy there is no time.  No time for your family, your spouse, your kids, your significant other, your co-workers or yourself; it is incredibly difficult to peel yourself away from your job.  So in bad times, (and in this recession in particular) when there is no money, why not give more time?   Right now, deals are fewer and farther between.  Why not promote time off with your sales representatives’ family.  Promote time with co-workers and even yourself, the CEO.  By allowing your employees to take time, it also allows an opportunity for the entire company to rally together and to reinvest emotionally in the company.  Now is the time to rise above the ashes to win.  And there is no excuse not to – this is a time to bond and reconnect with your company and each other.  A team that collaborates together stays together. 

In conclusion, if you want to motivate your team you can hang motivational pictures on the wall or email motivational quotes and motivational stories till you’re blue in the face, but my recommendation is try to motivate with time.  Create spiffs that are awarded with time off based on key performance indicators.  For example, a spiff we are doing this month will be awarded to the sales person with the most outbound calls.  The winner will receive lunch at the Capital Grille for them and one of their co-worker.  The spiff is incentivizing them to make more calls while awarding them with time. 

In these tumultuous times, people need a break more than ever.  Try a spiff that gives days off or a long weekend.  Help your team recharge their batteries.  Most people have made less money this year, but now your employees will find themselves happier and more well rounded because they have become reintroduced to their family, their friends, their co-workers, themselves, the company and you.  Employees will realize how sweet life really is and how important it is to keep a balanced lifestyle.  At the end of the day, things can always be worse.  Time helps people redefine what is most important in life. 

Someday in the near future you and your team will be incredibly busy and will look back on these challenging times and say we all made less money but found a way to be happier and more content with our lives.  There will be plenty of time to make back the money lost in this recession, but what you can never get back is time.  Allow your team the time they need to become reoriented and one day soon, you’ll be able to respond to “show me the money” with an accurate sales model of success.   For now, consider giving your team some time.   

 

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