Canadian Underwriter

3 ways to motivate sales staff without stressing them out

November 26, 2019   by Jason Contant

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If you are a broker producer, principal or customer service representative – or in any other sales job for that matter – you have likely have a sales target to meet.

But instead of just dialing up the pressure on sales to hit the numbers, leaders can maximize performance by focusing on three main areas: exceptional sales experience, the sales process and coaching.

This is usually how it goes: “Achieve your quota, good job. Miss your quota, bad job,” writes Scott Edinger, founder of business management consulting firm Edinger Consulting Group, in a Harvard Business Review blog Thursday. “Miss your quota by a lot or miss it multiple times: no job. This creates stress for individual sellers and the sales organization as a whole.”

While the blog was written for general business audiences, it could apply to the insurance industry. Here are the three ways Edinger recommends engaging with sellers:

  1. Focus on creating an exceptional sales experience – The sales experience is a vital differentiator when customers evaluate their options. This experience includes creating value for customers by helping them to see issues or problems they hadn’t considered, opportunities they weren’t aware of, and solutions they haven’t anticipated. “This requires sales professionals to apply research, strategic thinking, and acumen to the customer’s circumstances so they can create value in the experience, beyond the product or service they are selling. These nuanced elements of the sales cycle suffer when the focus is on closing a deal within a specified period of time (month, quarter, or year-end).”
  2. Focus on the sales process (not the outcome) – In each phase of the sales process, there are a few key actions that influence whether or not an opportunity will progress to the next stage. Edinger recommends working with the sales team to see where they need leadership help. This may include discussing creative approaches to gain access to key decision-makers or planning sales call strategies around critical issues.
  3. Focus on coaching to improve performance – Selling sophisticated solutions, like insurance, requires expertise that is never fully developed in training programs. It requires skill development from practice in real situations, which comes from coaching. When leaders focus on building sales talent, they are investing in a competitive advantage for the business. “Leaders can provide good models of what to do, followed by practice, clear feedback on specific skill improvements, and follow-up to incorporate feedback into performance —not just once, but over and over again as a skill set is honed to proficiency and then mastered,” Edinger said.

“Plenty of jobs are stressful and have objective measures of achievement,” Edinger noted. “But there is a special kind of stress reserved for the sales function. When the numbers are down, the reaction from management is to turn up the heat on the sales organization.”

When sellers are under inordinately high pressure to close deals, they may become overly aggressive and damage – or end – promising sales cycles. “If your team is selling any kind of complex solution, most customers will become non-responsive when pressured.”

Stress does help get the job done – but only to a point. Too little stress, and staff may be in the weak performance zone; too much anxiety, and performance is impaired. In the middle, an optimal level of stress produces peak performance.

Stress can cause entire sales teams to behave as if any business is good business. “Need a discount to make the deal easier? Sure! Wrong kind of prospect or problematic deal? Who cares, we have a number to make this month,” the blog said. “The attitude is ‘any revenue, at any cost.’ Sellers become myopically short-term focused, just as they’ve been directed. This approach has long-term consequences for the business: mounting losses and failure to create a compelling sales experience.”

Leaders in a company have the greatest influence on the stress levels of their team. “Pressure may create diamonds out of coal, but you are working with people. Getting results is the primary objective, but incessantly pushing for sales to hit a number can have diminishing returns,” Edinger wrote. “The downstream effects may also be hazardous to the overall health of your business. Focus your efforts on actually making people better at their jobs, building capability for improved performance, and the numbers will follow.”

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1 Comment » for 3 ways to motivate sales staff without stressing them out
  1. Good points here Jason…thanks for the read!

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