Motivation and Communications in sales management

It is important that good communications exist between each salesperson and his or her superior—unless it does, there is depressed morale and low productivity. The salesperson with pent-up grievances, real or imagined, displays both low morale and unsatisfactory performance. Similarly, the salesperson, like everyone else, comes up against personal problems, such as sickness in the family, inability to pay overdue bills, or marital troubles, all of which adversely affect morale and performance.

Good communications allow for free discussion of problems related to the salesperson’s job and of any personal problems that, left unsolved, hurt job performance. For the salesperson, the existence of good communi­cations means freedom of self-expression—freedom to talk over problems, business and personal, with the superior. For the superior, it means ease in talking with the salesperson, not only to determine what, if anything, is bothering him or her, but to provide assistance in solving any problems that come to light.

1. Interpersonal Contact

Interpersonal contact is an important way to communicate with, and thereby to motivate sales personnel. Management uses contacts to make comprehensive evaluations of individual salespeople’s morale. Interper­sonal contacts provide opportunities for learning of financial, family, or other personal worries that have impacts upon job performance.

Sales executives at all levels have personal contacts with the sales staff. But at higher levels of sales management, contacts with salespeo­ple are confined to conventions and sales meetings. Most of the indi­vidual salesperson’s contact with management is with the immediate supervisor. Although supervisors have other important functions to per­form, such as training, evaluation, and control, they also use their visits with salespersons for detecting personal or business problems, and for motivational purposes. Sales executives at all levels reserve some time for observing and conferring with sales personnel. District managers visit each salesperson on the job in the assigned sales territory. While it is impractical in large sales organization for top sales executives to visit all territories or even all sales districts personally, there are other ways to maintain personal contact with sales personnel. One is to arrange individual conferences between sales personnel and the top sales execu­tive during regional or national meetings—the opportunity to visit with the “big boss” provides strong motivation.

Interpersonal contact is the best way to keep in touch with the sales staff, but other communications media are sometimes used. Not only is close contact with all sales personnel all of the time physically impossible, but the least effective salespeople demand the lion’s share of the personal attention. When this happens, executive contact with the more effective salespeople is largely through written means. Confronted with this situ­ation, many sales executives keep in touch with their better people not through letters, but through regular telephone calls.

On some occasions, sales personnel should be contacted personally, or by telephone, rather than by letter. A drop in performance that the exec­utive suspects traces to family discord is not only difficult but awkward to discuss in writing. When a reprimand is necessary, a face-to-face meeting is better than a letter that could lead to further complications. Personal and disciplinary problems are best handled by interpersonal contact and not through the mail. In exceptional cases, a carefully phrased letter can avoid misinterpretations and misunderstandings, but the executive is still well advised to follow up with personal contacts.

It is difficult to motivate a salesperson whom the sales executive knows only casually. A special effort should be made to know each sales­person well, and to learn what is important to each. Effective sales execu­tives develop empathy with their subordinates.

Motivational interviews. In progressive companies, sales executives set planned “informational” goals for personal visits with sales personnel. The executive attempts to find out about salespeople’s patterns of need fulfill­ment and the order of priority assigned to each need. Insights are gained on individuals’ motivational patterns, and guidance is furnished for choos­ing appropriate incentives. It is unlikely that a single interview can gather all this information, but after many interviews, the executive has the infor­mation to put together a comprehensive picture. Motivational interviews are a way to gather valuable information bit by bit.

2. Written Communications

Supplementing personal contacts, sales personnel are kept informed through emails, announcements, bulletins, and other mailed pieces. Written communications can become routine and deadening—increases in volume and frequency destroy their value. Some sales executives think nothing of spending hours planning a sales meeting but neglect to appraise the motivational impact of their correspondence. No single letter or bulletin has as strong a motivational effect as a sales meeting; yet the total impact of written communication, effectively used, can be much greater.

The effective executive writing personal letters and bulletins to salespeople avoids generalities and concentrates upon specific helpful suggestions. A letter to salesperson Brown, reporting that salesperson Jones wrote a $100,000 order last week, and instructing Brown to go out and do the same is not motivation. Describing how Jones succeeded in promot­ing a new use for the product to a certain kind of customer is motivation. Writing letters, especially those that cheer up and spur on salespeople in the field, is an art effective executives master.

A letter is superior to interpersonal contact to congratulate a sales­person for good work. A letter provides lasting evidence recognizing the salesperson’s performance. Such letters have prolonged beneficial effect on morale, but, of course, they do not substitute for deserved promotions or compensation increases. A commendation letter is supported, whenever possible, by a personal expression that management recognizes, and is pleased with the salesperson’s performance.

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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