Using Science to Motivate your Sales Reps

Updated: November 24, 2010

The Science behind Sales

Many sales organizations have turned to data and science to help them avoid making costly hiring mistakes. These organizations - especially in larger companies - are transitioning to more robust, rigorous, scientific approaches to identify and hire sales reps and empowering managers with behavioral insight to motivate their team, especially the A-players.

There are plenty of "I's" in a Team

Sales teams are made up of individuals, each with their own unique motivators and drivers. Successful sales organizations build an environment that takes advantages of these individual differences.

Not everyone is motivated in the same way. An environment that one salesperson finds rewarding and energizing may be completely different than what another salesperson finds energizing and motivating. Sales managers should be aware of what drives individuals on a team.

Don't Rely on Intuition Alone

Through no fault of our own, humans tend to be imperfect appraisers of human nature and information. Sales managers - even the best ones - may not be able to decipher in an objective and non-transparent way what motivates members of a team. The fact that many sales managers are promoted from within, moving from a high performing individual contributor to a coach and mentor, makes the transition that much more challenging, as they often look for sales representatives that are just like them.

Rather than rely solely on intuition, tools such as personality assessments can offer objective data to help sales managers understand how to help their people succeed. For example, a personality assessment may indicate that one salesperson is independent and likes to work alone, where another needs more structure and management support. Having this insight available enables sales managers to manage more effectively.

Assessments such as the Predictive Index® from PI Worldwide® can also help managers avoid putting salespeople in professional situations in which they are destined to fail. For example, if an individual salesperson prefers to build and nurture deep customer relationships over time, asking him or her to focus on generating new business in a transactional manner will likely produce sub-optimal results.

Take Away the Guesswork

Managers can use results of personality assessments to identify specific support mechanisms that need to be put in place to aid a salesperson during a transition to a new role.

Assessments objectively identify individuals' strengths and weaknesses and can be used to predict and avoid common "career de-railers," enabling managers to intervene before a salesperson damages his or her career and reputation.

By making decisions in a data-driven way, managers are able to remove the guesswork and take their "gut instinct" out of the equation.

Behavioral Assessments: A Manager's Secret Weapon

Scientifically-developed personality assessments identify specific traits such as an individual's need for independence and control over their environment or the need for social contact.

Individuals who score high on a "patience" trait, for example, tend to work in a steady, calm and methodical way, whereas those that score lower on this trait tend to work with a higher sense of urgency and are typically more comfortable with change. An individual who scores higher on the "formality" scale tends to be more conscientious and precise, thriving in a disciplined and structured environment, where an individual who scores lower in this dimension tends to prefer a more casual workplace.

Over the past 5-10 years, there has been an explosive use of behavioral assessments across functions and industries. Though many organizations use these assessments at the point of hire, a good assessment provides the flexibility to leverage the information provided by the assessment throughout the entire employee lifecycle.

Information from assessments can play a role in on-boarding, team performance, conflict management and individual career development decisions.

Manager Self-awareness

Managers who complete a behavioral assessment are given a scientific-based view of their own behavior, motivations, and drive. This enables them to better understand their own strengths and weaknesses and how they may impact the needs of individual salespeople. It is the responsibility of the sales manager to adapt his communication style to support his reps-not the other way around. For example, a manager may realize that he rushes salespeople to deliver results, which is driven by his own sense of urgency. That style will be unproductive to someone who is detailed oriented and methodical in their work style.

Improved Communication

Assessments identify what motivates individual salespeople, whether it is public acknowledgement for a job well done or a quiet sense of internal accomplishment. Once managers understand each salesperson's drivers, they can better communicate with team members and more effectively drive success. For example, one salesperson may benefit from mentoring a less experienced sales rep working from home part of the week, while another thrives when asked to multi-task.

Clearly-defined Roles

Before hiring a sales rep, behavioral assessments enable managers - in a very scientific and data-driven way - to understand the key behaviors and competencies necessary for success in a specific role. Organizations that spend time intimately understanding the requirements of the position - and can accurately match individuals' behavioral benchmarks to these positions - make fewer hiring mistakes. Many organizations skip this critically-important step. Remember: before you begin hiring or firing, it is important to understand what the "success target" looks like.

Faster Ramp-up

A common lament and complaint we hear from sales managers is that it takes too long to get new sales reps up and running and productive. Most companies say this on-boarding process can take six months or longer before they begin to see a positive return on their investment. Behavioral assessments can accelerate this time to productivity by customizing an individual's first few months on the job to their individual strengths.

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