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Putting The Motivation Back Into Goal Development

Furniture World Magazine


How a sales manager's perceived motives can ruin sales people

Several months ago I wrote an article entitled "Are You Driven By Goals Or Drifting On Hopes?" which discussed the mechanics of goal development. Since that time I have received considerable feedback that, despite doing everything right mechanically, many sales managers still find themselves unsuccessful at motivating sales people to reach those goals. In most cases this failure stems from the sales manager's personal motives rather than the mechanical aspects of the goal development process. The exact same behavior with the wrong motivation can have very different results.

To be highly effective, at the goal development process and at their jobs in general, sales managers must be genuinely interested in their staff and show real concern that each sales person reach his or her own personal goals. You can do this if your actions communicate and illustrate that your only objective is to help sales people reach their personal goals. If they reach their goals, they will also help the company achieve its goals.

Many sales people do everything right mechanically on the sales floor, but give their customers the impression that they're only interested in their commission. As a result, they never do as well as those who do the same things mechanically, but come across as truly caring about their customers' needs (see Peter Marino's article on page 4). A sales person can be successful by being very pushy and demanding only if customers believe that this attitude is part of an effort to ensure that the customer gets exactly what she wants and needs. However, equally demanding sales people who are unable to communicate their concern for the customer's satisfaction are rarely as effective. They typically only succeed at pushing customers out of the store. It all comes down to perceived motives. Likewise, perceived motives impact the relationship between the sales manager and sales staff.

Sales managers can succeed at being extremely pushy and demanding if their sales people are convinced that this behavior results from a true concern for the staff's best interests and personal goals. On the other hand, sales people will respond in a negative way if they believe the sales manager is pushing only to elevate his or her own success.

This can be particularly evident in cases where sales managers are promoted from the ranks of sales people. As sales people they were basically dependent upon their own devices for success. This is especially true for those who were not properly supervised themselves. Their success is now determined by their ability to achieve goals through the efforts of others. Their promotion to management should have shifted their point of view. Many top writing sales people who make this career move do, however, bring an "I can do it all myself" ego with them. These individuals tend to:

  • Believe that they are responsible for all sales increases.
  • Take the lion's share of the glory.
  • Blame sales people who don't perform when sales don't increase.

If managers want to succeed, it is imperative that these individuals learn their roles as facilitators.

Finally, many managers view goal development as a purely administrative function. They know goal development forms need to be filled out and they do so only to fulfill that function. Again, this is the wrong attitude. Instead, they should embrace the true purpose of goals - to improve the productivity of sales people through caring and motivation. As facilitators, even seemingly administrative functions have a huge impact on performance-- the sales manager's and the staff's. So what are the less mechanical features of proper goal development?

The motivational goal development process starts with finding out what the employee wants to earn or achieve. Those personal goals are then translated into behavior relative to closing rates and average ticket achievements. Once that is done, the sales manager and the sales person must agree that the goal is in fact achievable. Those are the mechanics. This is the less tangible, but equally important part of the process. If the discussion comes from the sales manager's perspective (what I need from you) rather than the sales person's perspective (I understand what you want to achieve, and here's how you can do it), the manager is putting his needs ahead of the employees'. The goal development process will be viewed as management driven and not sales person driven, and the effectiveness of the process will be undermined by the sales manager's misguided attitude. This process is not motivational and the resulting goals will be little more than numbers on paper.

Instead, when managers know what income their sales people desire, they must also know why each sales person is motivated to earn that specific income (e.g. a new car, a new home, sending kids to college, etc.). This information is critical when managers are forced to remind low performing sales people about the importance of doing those things that would lead them to their goal. By using this technique, the sales manager is generally viewed not as a nagging burden, but as a positive driving force.

Things that happen in sales people's lives can change how they view sales goals relative to their own personal goals. It is also important to know why a sales person is aiming for a specific income level so that, when circumstances change, the sales manager will understand and adjust that sales person's goal accordingly. This communicates the sales manager's genuine concern for his or her staff and it ensures an accurate sales forecast. For example, if a sales person has a life changing event like a divorce or a marriage it can cause additional financial pressure and, potentially, cause an upward or downward adjustment in that individual's financial goal. Sales managers must know about these changes and be able act accordingly.

Yet another important element of the goal development process is to provide individual training and advice about what sales people need to do behaviorally to achieve their goals. This should be done on an individual basis with a manager who understands each sales person's specific problems or challenges. During these one-on-one meetings an ineffective sales manager and an effective sales manager often sound exactly the same. For example, both will ask a sales person what she, the sales person, could do to improve her performance and her chances of reaching her goal. The only difference between the two managers is that the effective one already knows the answer--the ineffective one does not. I always tell my clients that, unless their managers already know the answer, they should never ask an employee a self-evaluation question. So, how do effective managers already know the answers? By regularly observing sales people on the floor.

Sales people typically tell me they hate to be observed. This is because they believe their manager is looking for critical ammunition. However, I've never met a sales person who was uncomfortable being observed by a manager interested in helping them improve their behavior and, in doing so, reach their goals. Whenever sales people are uncomfortable being observed on the floor, there is a dissonance between the sales people's beliefs and the sales manager's behavior. The two must be reconciled before any real headway can be made.

Once we've observed sales people on the floor, we're in a position to provide feedback. Feedback is based on information derived from both operating results and behavior on the floor. Many sales managers provide sales performance figures on a daily or weekly basis and believe they are providing adequate feedback. It's a start, but it is by no means adequate. Feedback is perceived as constructive and positive (even if the numbers are not good) most often when:

  • Sales people acknowledge that it would be helpful to know how they are progressing toward their goals.
  • Managers provide the data in a caring way to help them improve.

Numbers should NEVER be used to beat up sales people, it only hurts the relationship.

The second component of feedback is behavior on the floor. During observation, sales managers often find individuals failing to do certain things that would improve their productivity. If the managers have not developed goals properly, they generally pull sales people into their offices for disciplinary meetings regarding behavior. However if they have properly developed goals, they simply pull out the individual's goal development report. The manager uses this to remind the sales person of her goal, and asks if she has lost sight of that goal because her behavior is not going to get her where she said she wanted to go. This tact is enormously different from disciplining sales people for behavior problems.

Although managers must generally push sales people to get back on track, the enlightened manager is perceived as trying to help sales people reach their goals. Sales managers who push because they are absolutely concerned with their staffs reaching their personal goals can push ten times harder than sales managers who are simply looking for sales people to conform to the behavior he or she has imposed upon them.

The difference between management-driven goals and sales person-driven goals is that the former were set by management when the company decided it needed to do X% more this year. The latter were set by the individual and have real, intrinsic value to that person. When sales people achieve goals they laid out for themselves, there is a real cause for real celebration and recognition.

When sales people reach their individual goals, Managers should go out of their way to recognize those achievements by announcing it to the team. This can happen at any time of the day or month. It can and should also be done on a one-on-one basis. This activity both rewards individuals for their achievements and encourages others to really strive to reach their own goals.

When working with sales people that have not achieved their goals, a sales manager can again take two different tacks. He can callously indicate that those sales people did not sell enough for the company and demand improvement. This obviously puts the company's needs ahead of the sales person's and always results in negative feelings. The "squeezing more blood out of a stone" syndrome.

On the other hand, if the sales manager is genuinely disappointed for those individuals because they didn't reach their personal goals, the manager's response to that failure will be viewed as highly constructive, perhaps even bonding. It is at this point in time when sales managers often have to remind staff that his or her only goals are to:

  • Find out what it is the sales people want to do.
  • Show them how to achieve that goal.
  • Remind them or assist them on the days or weeks they forget or lose sight of their goals.
Even firing can come from a caring manager. When sales people commonly do not achieve their goals it can actually be helpful to assist them in choosing another career or another profession. If the goals have been developed in the proper sales person-driven way, and the sales manager has done everything possible to facilitate the achievement of those goals, then the sales manager can honestly and without guilt indicate that it would be best for that individual to find another career. In all likelihood the sales person will agree and had probably already been considering a new job.

It is when sales managers fire people because they haven't achieved management-driven goals that sales people will consider the termination as entirely unjust and negative. These individuals may even consider some sort of retaliation, often in the form of a lawsuit.

The things that make sales managers successful in developing and achieving sales person goals are often the very same things that make sales managers unsuccessful. The difference is caring and concern for staff members. Sales managers must always remember that, if each one of their employees achieves his or her individual financial goal, the company will also achieve its financial goal. It is when managers put their own needs or the needs of the company ahead of the needs of sales people, that the goal development process becomes a very negative influence.

Goal development is an important sales management activity. Without accurate goals and sales forecasts, it is difficult to run a business. It is, therefore, in everyone's best interest to pursue a sales person-driven goal development process. Although it takes more work, the end result is far more pleasant: a happy workforce, accurate forecasts, and a more successful sales manager.

Ted Shepherd is the founder and CEO of Shepherd Management Group. The company specializes in changing the selling culture of furniture stores from merchandise-driven to customer-driven using an intensive hands-on process of consulting, training, and mentoring. For more information on the topics in this article contact tshepherd@furninfo.com.