How to Motivate Your Sales Team

PINK Magazine 
Sales force stuck in a rut?
Top women managers tell how attention to individuals builds a more productive team
By Tiffany Meyers | February 2008

When it comes to motivating talent, there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. But in sales – which teems with naturally driven, highly independent professionals – the value of a customized approach redoubles. “Everything you do in terms of recognition and reinforcement needs to be meaningful to the individual,” says Jill Eichwald, sales effectiveness consultant at Maritz Inc., a sales and marketing services company.

When Maritz conducted a national study on employees’ favorite rewards, results showed that each of six employee types – described and organized according to what they find inspirational, from praise to bonuses – split rather evenly across gender lines. “We were amazed to learn that from a gender standpoint, there’s not a lot of difference,” says Jane Herod, president of Maritz Motivation, a division of Maritz Inc. It’s further proof, she adds, that recognition programs need to be individually customized.

While motivation incentives appear to be gender-neutral, many of the qualities of effective sales managers – who have to light a fire under each seller and cultivate collaboration among competitive types – seem to come more naturally to women. Experts point to the attributes of empathy, consensus-building and intuition more often exhibited by women managers – which are precisely the qualities that result in several best practices in sales motivation.

Jennifer Povlitz, Eastern managing director of Merrill Lynch’s Private Banking and Investment Group, oversees teams managing $83 billion in client assets. “Everyone in this group has a high level of success,” she says. “But beyond success, I try to get to the line of significance. What do they want fromlife? When I connect their passions to the goals of the organization, that’s when we have success.” To foster cooperation among her private wealth advisers, Povlitz implemented “senior partner round table” meetings, where advisers present to the group within their areas of expertise. “Even though it’s work, the chance to show peers what you’re good at is itself a form of recognition,” Povlitz says.

The resulting association “has made all of us more successful,” adds Alyssa Moeder, a private wealth adviser in Povlitz’s group. “And when you’re surrounded by successful people, you feel motivated.” After the first year of round table meetings, the 20 teams involved added $1.3 billion in partnered assets.

At IBM, numerous recognition programs honor individual achievements. But Paula Summa, general manager of IBM.com, whose 4,000 global salespeople connect clients to IBM products and services, recently spiced up the incentives by offering a trip to Sonoma County, Calif. – but with a twist. Summa announced that, beyond quotas, she would reward “people who were identified by their colleagues as having made important team contributions.” The trip cost about $100,000. But well before the wine began to flow, IBM.com saw an up tick in teamwork.

“Each executive on the Americas leadership team could be successful without the others’ success,” says Patricia Falotico, vice president of IBM.com and small and medium business sales, Americas. “But Paula’s announcement drove a heightened sense of working together, as a team, to achieve objectives.”

Family Value
Effective managers realize that family members can either support or thwart the demands of a job in sales, and women managers – many of whom balance family and work life themselves – often bring their personal experiences to the table. At New York Life Insurance Co., a recent reward trip to Walt Disney World for those who met certain objectives generated enthusiasm among agents and their families.

“Because of what this trip means to family members, employees are motivated to take things to the next level,” says Amy Scott, managing partner. One agent, in fact, told her he achieved that trip’s objectives “because he didn’t want to let down his son.”

At the national CareerBuilder.com sales meeting, Mary Delaney, chief sales officer, recognizes top performers publicly. But as a surprise she also flies out family members to attend. This and other family-inclusive strategies help relatives appreciate their loved ones’ sales accomplishments. “I’ve seen our sales teams’ support [at home] grow from all our recognition programs,” she says.

Delaney doesn’t distinguish between men’s and women’s management styles. But, she adds, when an employee has children, she gives the salesperson children’s books and a personal note about treasured moments of parenthood. “I don’t know if that’s something a man wouldn’t do,” she says, “but it’s probably more characteristic of a woman.”

Spreading the Wealth
Reward trips are great for top performers, Herod says, “but we caution not to forget that next tier. By motivating those B and C players, some of whom might be former A players, you can really move that middle part of your sales organization.” To keep that second tier striving, Herod recommends a system with points that can be accumulated for specific rewards.

Shelli Gilbert, district manager for Pfizer Inc. in Minneapolis, also acknowledges that “the reality is that very few people win those sales trips,” but she works to provide recognition in other ways. Gilbert says simple, frequent gestures – such as a written or verbal expression of thanks – are surprisingly effective motivators.

At IBM.com, Falotico shares the glory. After winning the World Cup, a coveted IBM quarterly prize linked to specific objectives, her Americas team received a $10,000 cash – to be used at her discretion. Falotico could have given a few superstar salespeople fat cash bonuses, but instead she decided to take the top 40 percent of the team on a day’s excursion. “I do insist that the recognition focus on objectives people have achieved or exceeded,” she says. “But we believe we’ll get a bigger lift if we spread the wealth.”

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