It’s not all about the money

I wrote recently about the need to adapt remuneration and incentive plans to the circumstances of individuals within your sales team, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

I also mentioned that remuneration is only one aspect of keeping people motivated. I think that’s an important subject for small-business owners to get their heads around.

For years, remuneration for salespeople has been very much “if-then” (if you achieve A, then I’ll pay you B), but the world of B2B sales is increasingly complex. Consider the rise of social selling, increase of centralised procurement teams, and higher numbers of influencers and decision-makers within customer organisations, for starters. As a result, the role of the B2B salesperson has become more complex, too, requiring them to engage on social media platforms, hold compelling conversations with buyers at different levels within customer organisations, harness the support of internal resources, and work to increasingly longer sales cycles. This complexity can make the traditional method of rewarding performance less effective.

In addition, research over 30+ years shows people are increasingly motivated by more intrinsic factors than purely money, so perhaps it’s time you reconsider your approach to rewarding and retaining sales staff.

Intrinsic factors?

Dan Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us talks about people working in complex roles being driven by three factors:

  • Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives.
  • Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
  • Purpose – the desire to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.

In his book, and writings since, Pink details examples of companies successfully moving away from commission-based reward structures. Money will always matter and it’s important people are paid at a level that “takes money off the table” in terms of a competitive base salary package. There is still a place, too, for commissions or incentives. In my experience, though, money alone is not enough to attract, or retain, high performers. Other issues will have people wanting to join you, and wanting to stay.

What does this mean in practice?

When it comes to autonomy, encourage salespeople to take ownership of their jobs by giving them the control to make their own decisions in delivering the outcomes you require. That might mean them having freedom to develop strategies to pursue new markets, or build their personal brand via social media, for instance.

Enabling people to achieve mastery may involve formal training, but could perhaps include ongoing coaching or mentoring. Ensuring they have the tools necessary for high performance (e.g. CRM system, smart devices) is crucial, as is having them attend industry conferences to stay abreast of developments.

When it comes to purpose, you’re encouraging people to see that they are part of something bigger than themselves, to see their contribution to a broader vision they are excited about being part of. To do so, you need to effectively communicate your vision for the business and show people how they are an integral part of achieving it.

The more people tell me what they seek from their careers, the more I hear them discuss non-monetary issues as key factors. Ensuring you pitch and deliver on those issues will go a long way toward successfully hiring, and keeping, top talent.

Michael Simonyi, Senior Consultant, Davidson Corporate

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