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Managing Slumping Sales Stars
Business Journal

Managing Slumping Sales Stars

What's the recipe for motivational rewards? (part 2)

by Mick Zangari and Benson Smith

What drives the best salespeople? What makes them yearn for success? Some may be driven by a need for recognition -- to be heard, to stand out in their company and in their community. Others may have a strong faith in their own judgement and in their ability to find just the right solutions for their customers.

The best sales managers know how to provide their star performers with just the right rewards to feed that drive for success. In fact, finding the perfect "fit" between motivation and rewards may be the key to focusing great sales reps toward even greater achievements -- or sending them into a slump.

Motivation is one of the five key areas that determine if there's a good fit between a salesperson and his job. Actually, it's often the most important characteristic you need to understand about a salesperson.

At The Gallup Organization, we have studied talents -- recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior -- for more than 30 years, and we have grouped those talents into themes. The themes that most directly drive motivation -- striving themes -- best describe how strong someone's motivational drive is and what makes up that drive. In a previous column, we looked at two striving themes -- Significance and Self-Assurance -- and how they motivated two salespeople. Let's look at two more of the striving themes we commonly find in exceptional salespeople.


Mary's drive to succeed comes from her strong belief system. She has a strong sense of altruism and a well-developed ethical framework. She went into medical sales because she wanted to sell a product that really benefited her customers. To her, success is much more than money and prestige. When her company developed a new product that significantly improved the treatment rates for a childhood disease, Mary worked tirelessly to advance the sales of that product. She easily made it into the top 10% of her company's sales force. But being on stage at the end of the year meant much less to her than the feeling of satisfaction she experienced from truly helping her customers.

Over time, the company developed several other products. In some cases, Mary was not convinced these were the best products for her customers. But there was increasing management pressure to sell "the whole product line." When Mary was no longer able to feel good about the product she was selling, she felt as if the wind had been taken out of her sails. No amount of pep talks or increased incentives could re-invigorate Mary's enthusiasm.


Franco's motivation comes from his Achiever theme. He feels as if each and every day starts at zero, and by the end of each day, he needs to feel that he has accomplished something tangible. Even on weekends and holidays, he feels a need to get at least one thing done. Every evening, he makes out his "to do" list for the next day, and he loves it when he can cross out each and every item.

Franco is one of those individuals who loves to be busy and to get things done. However, the tasks he busied himself with were not always well focused. Franco did not always make the best decisions about how he should spend his time. But if he was pointed in the right direction, he could sell like nobody else.

His manager took the time to go over Franco's "to do" list with him every week. In this way, he was not only able to get the most out of Franco's incredible need to get things done, he also could make sure they were the right things. Not every salesperson deserves this kind of extra attention. But in Franco's case, he did. The results he produced when well directed more than justified the time invested by his manager.

Fill the need

First, not everyone has the motivation to be successful in sales. Even in the best sales forces we have studied, we find that up to 35% of the sales force may be "under-motivated." A bigger carrot or even a better carrot will not make a substantial difference. You cannot put motivation into someone. You have to find salespeople who already have it present in their make up.

Other members of your sales force will have plenty of motivation. But, as the examples above illustrate, motivational drives can become out of sync. In other words, a person's striving themes may no longer be a good "fit" with their sales role. When this happens, the company loses substantial productivity from its sales representatives. Good performers are much more likely to leave an organization when their motivational needs are not met than average or poor performers. But frequently the situation can be remedied, and it's almost always worth the effort.

Think about how hard it is to find someone who is more motivated than 99% of the rest the population! These highly talented sales reps are hard to replace, and when their motivational needs are met, they often produce at three to four times the rate of an average performer. And a manager can make a substantial difference by recognizing and responding to the problem.

Remember Mary, the salesperson whose sales were driven by her need to help her customers? After the product line changed, Mary found it hard to sell the new products because she wasn't convinced they would benefit her customers. Her manager was ready to give up on her. As he explained to us, he needed salespeople who could sell the entire product line. If Mary was not willing to do that, then she had lost her value to the organization.

We recommended that he send Mary to visit some customers outside her territory who were using the new products and were quite enthusiastic about them. Mary was able to see for herself that the new products could be quite useful. She quickly began to identify which of her customers could benefit from the new products. When her belief was restored, she returned to being a highly productive salesperson.

We would like to tell you it's always this easy. We won't. It's not. And you wouldn't believe us if we tried to tell you it was. It would be easy if we could just give you a formula: mix a pat on the back with a contest, add good direction, and -- poof! -- a highly motivated salesperson will emerge. The fact is that human beings are complicated, and their motivational requirements are often complex. Many of the best reps have two or more striving themes that drive them.

But we can tell you that a good "fit" between a salesperson's role and her striving talents is an essential building block of exceptional performance. As one sales manager put it, "it doesn't matter what they can do, what matters is what they will do."

Of course, our research shows that what they can do is equally important. In the next columns, we will continue our discussion on "fit," and show how those "can do" talents contribute to a salesperson's performance.


Benson Smith is coauthor of Discover Your Sales Strengths.
Mick Zangari is a former consultant of Gallup.

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