Keep Sales Staff Engaged During Hard Times


There is no denying times are tough. Consumers and businesses are less likely to open their wallets as freely as in the past. For salespeople, this reality comes with the added stress of more clients saying "no" even as quotas remain constant. How do you keep a sales force motivated and positive in such challenging times?

It's not easy, but it can be done. Just as experts tell B2C companies to buckle down and strengthen ties with current customers, the same holds true for salespeople and their current clients. In fact, slow times give salespeople an opportunity to refocus efforts on relationship-building, which sometimes get thrown aside during busier times.

Peter Stark, author of the upcoming book, "Engaged: How Leaders Build Organizations Where Employees Love to Come to Work," says that the best approach leaders and salespeople can take right now is to have a compelling, positive vision of the future. To do that, it's important to figure out what you can do and control, then take action on that. In many cases, that means staying in touch with current clients and prospects, and listening and learning about their changing needs.

"How quickly I can learn, adapt to the market, and change is absolutely critical to an organization and a salesperson's success," Stark says. "To stay rigid and hope that the world changes back to you, it's not going to happen."

"In my opinion, what can keep sales reps motivated is to give them the freedom to adapt their company's services according to the client's needs," adds André de Almeida F. Silva, senior business analyst at Peppers & Rogers Group Latin America. "The worst thing for a sales rep is the obligation to sell something he considers irrelevant for the client."

Flexibility on the part of the organization allows sales reps to focus on what works. Andrew Boyd, chief research officer at Aberdeen Group, says that leaders need to reflect on the types of messaging and approaches that will resonate with clients. "The sales manager needs to look for ways to articulate the value proposition for the buyer's unique situation -- then educate the team on the new approach," he says. "...Helping the salesperson find a way to be successful in this environment is going to be the ultimate motivator."

The rules are changing, and so should the incentives and recognition. Paul Rickett, sales and marketing strategy consultant, says that leadership should incent salespeople to make calls, update contacts, and conduct other relationship-building activities with current clients. "It's about rewarding the right activity," he says.

Stark agrees. "You need to recognize great performance," he says. "Salespeople have big egos. They used to feel recognized and rewarded from clients in the form of sales. Now it's up to the organization and leaders to fill that gap."

Employee engagement expert Tim Wright believes that all these motivating factors really are about good communication on the part of sales leaders. "The more a manager stays visible, the more confidence his or her staff will have that they are not being deserted," he says. "Especially in a bad economy, managers can't over-communicate. Employees need to see that the manager is engaged, and that they are all in this together."

Motivation in action
Chris Baggott, CEO of Compendium Blogware, initiated two programs to keep salespeople motivated. One is a team-based program called Dial Set Run. It breaks the sales process into sprints of specific activity with prizes and rewards awarded daily and weekly for the right activity.

"Salespeople need frequent feedback and rewards," Baggott says. "In a good environment this comes from sales. When sales slow down it needs to come from successful activity."

Baggott has also empowered all of his employees to blog. "This is a great outlet and most of our salespeople love it," he says. "Their frequent blog posts give them a sense that they are contributing, but more important, becomes a great lead source through organic traffic....another opportunity to get engaged in more competition."

It's a tough environment, especially for those who work in sales. But there are buyers out there, and a prepared and motivated sales staff could make the difference when it comes to landing the deal.