Grady Tire Company: Tire Manufacturer – Motivating Sales Personnel

James Bruce, sales vice-president of the Grady Tire Company, wanted to improve personnel attitudes to increase productive sales efforts. The Grady Tire Company was a manufacturer of auto, truck, and other tires, plus a number of other rubber products. Executive offices were in New York City, with manufacturing plants in Cleveland, Newark, and Los Angeles. The sales force of 295 persons was divided into four geographic divisions, each under a division sales vice-president.

Bruce was well aware that personnel attitudes influenced sales efforts since the way personnel felt about the company and the job affected enthu­siasm in tackling selling. In the tire industry, where product differentiation was small, attitude constituted one of the strongest competitive differences between companies. It was only after reading an article on the effects of negative attitudes that Bruce thought seriously about the attitudes of his own sales staff. (An extract from this article is presented in Exhibit 1) His conviction that such conditions existed within his own company was strengthened when he found that sales policies had sometimes undergone considerable alteration by the time they filtered down to the customers. This represented either a failure in communication or resistance on the part of the sales force to management direction; Bruce was inclined toward the latter explanation.

In a meeting with John Rogers, vice-president of marketing, Bruce sug­gested that a firm of outside specialists be hired to conduct an attitude sur­vey among the sales force. In justifying his request, he explained, “Every sales executive recognizes the existence of situations and conditions that prevent salespersons from doing their best work, but many do not care enough to try to find out what these conditions are; Most assume, I think, that adequate compensation cures all ills. They raise salaries or commissions every so often and let it go at that. The fact is that salespeople are just as concerned, if not more so, with other aspects of their job.” He pointed out that members of the field force, because of their physical separation from the home office, are in an excellent position to evaluate the company—compensation, management, sales training, the products they sell, their territories, and customers. Once Bruce knew how salespeople viewed these conditions, he could eliminate areas of weakness and improve attitudes an d hence motivation.

Bruce believed there was a need for a formal study of salespeople’s attitudes. Informal impressions based on personal meetings with the sales staff were not objective and were influenced by the fact that management was ask­ing the questions. A research firm specializing in attitude studies would have two things his staff lacked—the time and the know-how to develop a survey. Such a firm would not have preconceived opinions and could make an objec­tive, meaningful analysis of results. Rogers approved the proposed survey.

Field management and sales personnel were informed of the impending arrival of a questionnaire a week ahead of time in a letter from Bruce. He wrote: “Your thinking and opinions will be considered with those of your fellow salespeople to give us a clear and broad picture of how our sales staff views the things we are doing and ways in which we might improve our total sales effort and field support. No one in the company will ever see the individual questionnaires, so express yourself freely and honestly.” The questionnaire, consisting of one hundred questions in nineteen attitude areas, was mailed to the homes of sales personnel. Each question could be answered “yes,” “no,” or “don’t know.” A stamped envelope was provided, and thirty days after mailing (the cutoff date), 87 percent of the questionnaires had been returned.

The survey firm compared the results with a national average curve based on previous responses to the same questions from over 8,000 salespeople. The results provided the Grady management were as follows:

  1. Attitudes toward sales work, home and job, sales helps, sales training, and communications were substantially more favorable than the national average. Satisfaction with territory and custom­ers was high.
  2. Attitude toward the company was slightly under the national average.
  3. Sales personnel manifested a stronger fear of competition than did respondents in other companies.
  4. The general attitude toward middle and top management was much less favorable than the national average. Salespeople felt that middle management often failed to provide sales ideas, did not go to bat for them with top management, and did not give credit where it was due. Top management, they indicated, was less progressive than in competitive companies. Eight percent said that the home office was not fully aware of their problems.
  5. Suggestions drew greater-than-average negative reaction. Sales­persons complained that they never knew whether their sugges­tions reached the home office or what happened when they did: that management gave no recognition to the people who submit­ted them.
  6. Many salespeople were dissatisfied with their salaries and felt that other companies paid their field forces better.
  7. The attitude toward job stability and opportunity for personal progress was more unfavorable than the average. Almost half the sales force felt that who you knew in the company was more im­portant than what you knew, and that the real producers did not move ahead. Only 68 percent felt there was a better than average future for them within the company.
  8. The opinion of other departments was low. Most of the sales staff felt that other department heads were uncooperative, failing to meet their requests and needs promptly.
  9. Salespeople were not sold on company products. More than half saw no more customer benefit than those offered by competition.

Results were also broken down into regions to help management pinpoint the trouble areas and direct corrective action with the greatest efficiency. Another breakdown compared the opinions of salespeople with those of the field management staff. In presenting the report, the survey company noted that honest answers might not reflect reality. A salesperson who thought his or her company paid lower salaries would act in certain ways; it did not matter what ‘he truth of the matter was—his or her attitude was based on what he or she thought.

One week after the survey results were in, Bruce held a meeting with the four division sales vice-presidents and the corporate industrial rela­tions manager to determine what action to take.

Source: Richard R. Still, Edward W. Cundliff, Normal A. P Govoni, Sandeep Puri (2017), Sales and Distribution Management: Decisions, Strategies, and Cases, Pearson; Sixth edition.

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