If your company was a ship, the sales team would be in the engine room shovelling coal into the furnace. The more they shovel, the faster the ship goes. If they stop, the ship stalls and is at the mercy of the waves. As the CEO or manager, it’s your job to keep your team pumping more coal into the furnace at an increasing, but sustainable rate. In order to accomplish this, great leaders find ways to incorporate a healthy level of competition within their sales force.
The idea of developing a competitive sales team is nothing new. Since most sales professionals are inherently ambitious and driven by incentives, it’s natural to implement a competitive element to fuel their performance. However, there’s a limit to the effectiveness in an overly competitive sales environment. If the sales team becomes too cutthroat, the lowest performing team members and recent hires can quickly become discouraged, rather than positively inspired to produce.
Develop An Culture for “Positive Friction”
A 2014 study by Technology Advice found that only 29% of US employees are “emotionally engaged with their work.” A recent estimate found that US business lost €500 billion per year due to employee disengagement. If we assume that these numbers carry over to Western Europe and most modern workforces, we have a multi-trillion dollar problem on our hands.
There are dozens of gimmicks to increase employee engagement such as gamification, engagement software, team building activities, fitness programs, and so on. However, we’ve found that developing a sales culture where team members are allowed to overtly push each other to perform at their best is the most sustainable and effective strategy for longterm success.
This may require some serious changes for your company.
1. Make the sales floor transparent.
We are strong advocates for a sales “pit” and not individual offices, even (especially) for top performers. This layout creates a buzz in the office and let’s the whole company see exactly how the sales team operates. Most non-sales employees are completely in the dark about what the sales team does all day. Who are these overpaid, well-dressed, smooth talkers that are barely in the office? Keeping a sales pit means keeping it all out in the open for everyone to see. Plus, the high performers will stand out and become a beacon of desired behavior for the rest of the sales team, especially the FNGs (new hires). It will quickly become clear who’s hitting the phones the hardest, setting the most meetings and ringing the bell the most when they close a new sale.
2. Buy a bell. See above.
3. Incorporate a commission structure that has a team-driven element.
This is much easier said than done and we won’t even go down the path of commission structure possibilities. They are far too sensitive to the needs of each specific company and cannot be summed up in a blog article. If you’ve been in business a while and don’t have this team element in your commission structure yet, you will face some serious headwind to implement one. Your top performers will complain that they are carrying the rest of the team and, if done incorrectly, your worst performers will coast to higher commissions without closing any sales.
Depending on your industry, market and pricing model there are endless possibilities of commission structures. What we suggest is simply making a minority percentage of take home commissions tied to the sales team’s performance as a unit. This creates team unity and is the glue that binds the rest of these suggestions together. Plus, everyone will cheer louder when the bell rings if they have a stake in the new sale.
4. Encourage peer-to-peer feedback within the sales team.
Because there’s now a team mentality due to step #3, the peer-to-peer feedback will begin to happen naturally, however this tactic can quickly get messy so it’s important to install some best practices here. Most importantly, enforce the following rule:
Praise in public, criticize in private.
Always keep an area of refuge for the sales team. A place where they can take an important phone call or Skype meeting, have a moment of reflection or down time, and most importantly, pull another team member aside for a private feedback session. As a manager, it’s your job to encourage your veterans to train your newcomers and show them the ropes of how things work around here. If a sales rep is slacking, a veteran top performer should be free to rip into him or her a little bit. Tell them in plain words that they’re not pulling their weight and find out why. They don’t need to hang them by their ankles out the window or anything, but a little friction goes a long way. This should be done privately.
Conversely, good behaviour should be publicly cheered. If a new rep closed their first contract, cut off their tie. If someone saved a disgruntled client from leaving, make an announcement. If the team hits an all time high, pop the champagne! Make sure you have a weekly forum that these types of mini victories can be celebrated. I know they sound cliché, but they’re cliché for a reason – they make people feel good about themselves and what they do for a living. That’s a powerful drug.
5. Avoid “Winner Take All” contests
First of all, your top performers don’t need a sales contest to motivate higher performance. Second, as soon as other team members realize they can’t win first place, they’ll quickly lose the motivation to compete. Lastly, savvy sales reps will “sandbag” their sales pipeline to delay closing new deals until they count for the contest results. You definitely don’t want that.
Instead, your sales contests should have appealing prizes for top performers in several categories. For example, set prizes for the person that sets the most meetings with new prospects, the one who brings in the biggest deal, and the rep who pulls off the biggest turnaround or upsells an existing client. This strategy will keep the entire team motivated even if they find themselves falling back on the most new revenue category.
We don’t pretend to know everything about optimal sales performance and we certainly know there are more improvements to be made on our strategy. We’re firm believers that there’s always room for improvement, so please, share what works for your sales team and maybe we can learn a thing or two about creating a unstoppable squad of rainmakers.