By Mary Ruth Austin, The Omnia Group
To paraphrase the old saying, "a good producer is hard to find." That's why today's smart agency owner/operator does everything he can to keep talented salespeople. But what really works?
The most important thing to realize is that all successful salespeople have one thing in common: they are all competitive, proactive, assertive, aggressive and play only to win. They love the risk of commission and asking for the sale and are committed, conscientious scorekeepers, seeing huge commission checks as the ideal scorecard. So one thing the smart agency owner can do quickly and easily to make sure he doesn't lose any top performers is to take a long, hard look at the compensation package the company offers salespeople to make sure it motivates, not turns off, top producers.
The greater the salesperson's need to win, the more comfortable he is with risk and commission. So, as hard as it is for less assertive people to believe, a big salary with a chance to earn another 10 percent by selling x number of widgets doesn't come close to being the Holy Grail that a small base plus 50 percent commission or 100 percent commission are.
The point here is that not only do salespeople like to win, they want the game to be challenging and the "prize" to be worth their time and effort. If the game is too easy or the prize too small, they may very well head down the street, to a competitor's, where the stakes are higher and the rewards for winning richer.
But money isn't everything and for your more experienced or less driven producers, it may not be what they want or need at this point in their life. Advancement is another way to win and can be a powerful incentive for a salesperson looking for a new challenge.
But before you make your top producer sales manager, to keep him from defecting to one of your competitors, think about just how competitive he is. Does he HAVE to win every point? Although every boss needs to be assertive enough to handle more confrontational tasks like hiring, firing, and disciplining, the best bosses help subordinates succeed, not compete with them. Do you think your top producer can do that long term? Or will the temptation to win be too much?
If he's too competitive to be the boss, another way to motivate this goal-driven individual is to give him more ways to keep score. That's where a "policies sold " board and sales contests come in. The "policies sold" board not only lets each producer know where they stand in comparison to their co-workers, it also makes who's winning and who's losing public. Whatever type of sales contests you opt for, make sure the prizes are substantial and impressive because the bigger the prize, the greater its motivational power.
Another thing the smart agency owner/manager can do to keep good producers is to determine what level and type of management each needs and provide it. Your more autonomous, confident and thick skinned salespeople want and need to do their job their way and a hands off boss who is more of a resource than commanding officer. They hate being micro-managed or told how to do their job and generally start reading the want ads the second they feel stifled or "run" by their boss, detail, paperwork or the firm's rules and regulations. They also resent having goals and quotas imposed on them, having someone else make decisions that affect them without their input, and a process or policy driven workplace. Results-oriented and self-assured, they figure it doesn't matter how they make the sale as long as they make it. A hovering or hands on boss who emphasizes accurate paperwork, establishes elaborate reporting or control mechanisms or insists that everyone sell a "certain" way causes sales turnover.
Rewarding producers with additional autonomy and independence for a job well done can prove an excellent incentive, especially for inexperienced salespeople who require a great deal of your attention initially. Another thing a smart agency owner/manager can do to keep his salespeople plugged in and motivated is to let them make their own minor decisions and to make any major decisions with them. The more room you give your autonomous salespeople to do their job their way, the longer they will stay and the more successful they will be.
Making sure you provide each salesperson with the type of feedback they need and understand is another thing you need to do to retain top performers. Your more verbal, social, friendly and outgoing Life and Health producers, who generally sell via persuasion want and need praise, the more public and enthusiastic, the better. People who need to be liked and impress others, they love and are highly motivated by prestigious perks or status symbols.
Publicly praising your more reserved, practical, and no nonsense producers who sell using logic and superior product knowledge not only will not motivate them, it could mortify them or strike them as insincere and hollow. The more analytical and fact-based the salesperson, the more they need specific, concrete feedback. Telling these salespeople that they are doing great is not enough. They want to know EXACTLY what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong in as great detail as possible. Just as your fact-based salespeople are turned off by the praise that motivates your more social salespeople, more outgoing salespeople find the factual feedback they crave uninspiring and lacking and might think the boss' lack of praise really means he really doesn't like them.
Both types of producers also have different needs in terms of the workplace. The more enthusiastic and people based the salesperson, the more they need a fun, upbeat, classy workplace while more quiet, pragmatic salespeople prefer a professional, no nonsense sales environment. If your agency is like most, you probably already have both types of salespeople already on staff, so here the answer seems to be to do what you can to make the workplace classy but all business.
What you may be thinking right now is that's all very nice in theory but how do I know who's what? The quickest, easiest and most accurate way to determine exactly what motivates each existing employee is to have them complete a personality profile but there are some clues you can use to "ballpark" your salespeople's personalities without the benefit of profiling.
If they can close, even in hard sell situations, you can safely assume they are competitive and motivated by winning. If they just don't ask for the order, even in soft sell situations, they are probably not aggressive or goal-driven enough to ever succeed in sales. And if they don't take rejection personally, looking at it as an inevitable part of sales, care more about getting the job done than how they do it, resist being managed, and have lousy attention to detail, they are independent and motivated by autonomy and calling their own shots.
And although clothes don't make the man, they do tell you an awful lot about someone's personality. The salesperson in the Armani suit, wearing a Rolex, with perfect hair, who is funny, charming and can talk to anyone about anything is people-oriented and motivated by public praise and prestigious perks. The salesperson who always wears practical, timeless tailored suits, a sensible Seiko and shoes, and easy to care for hair, who seems a little shy and quiet is an analytical salesperson who will respond best to specific, factual feedback.
The more you know about who your salespeople are and what turns them on and off, the better you will be able to manage and motivate them.
The Omnia Group is based in Tampa.