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A staggering 87% of employees are disengaged at work. That translates into real costs for organizations – low morale, high turnover, and poor performance. The traditional response would be to offer monetary incentives – do this, get this much money, car, trip, etc. The problem with this approach is that it only works for a short period and it motivates a small and wrong segment of your team.

Get core performers in the game

According to HBR’s study “Motivating Salespeople: What Really Works”, sales leaders need to focus on core performers. These are the solid performers that make up much of the sales team and have the greatest potential in shifting the organizational performance upward. One reason they are overlooked is that sales managers don’t identify with them. At many companies, the managers are former stars, so they pay the current stars an undue amount of attention. As a result, the incentives are often targeted at the salespeople who are already self-motivated and need the least pushing. Here are some proven strategies to get core performers in the game.

1.   Get creative with prizes

The problem with traditional contests is that stars usually run away with the prize. Knowing this, core performers don’t push themselves. The HBR study encourages leaders to design contests so that both stars and core performers go home satisfied. This takes a bit of creativity and thought, but one proven way is to offer prizes that are seen as equal, at least on some dimension. For example, award the top performer with prestigious golf vacation, but award core performers a local weekend family getaway. Even though the family getaway has a lower value than the golf vacation, people quickly rationalize and focus on the positives of the awards they do receive. The researchers found that core performers work harder and perform better in contests structured like this than they do in contests with cash prizes. What’s even better is that their increased effort does not come at the cost of decreased effort from stars or laggards.

2.   Don’t be stingy when it comes to the number of prizes

The HBR study finds that contests with multiple winners boost sales effort and performance better than contests with winner-take-all prize structures. Additional studies by one of the authors demonstrates that more (rather than fewer) prizes should be awarded as the proportion of stars increases. This finding suggests that sales leaders should offer at least as many prizes as there are stars on the sales team. The reason is that increasing the number of prizes in a contest increases the chances that a core performer or laggard will win a prize in place of a star. The fires up the competitive spirit across the board.

3.   Give recognition generously and publicly

While star performers are likely to be more self-motivated, core performers and laggards do respond to extrinsic motivation such as recognition, appreciation, and praise for their contributions. In fact, they often value recognition over money. In the digital age, highly visible forms of recognition and celebrations are common, which has the positive side effect of exciting and energizing other people on the team, as long as the spotlight is perceived to be fair and equitable.

4.   Promote camaraderie

Traditionally, sales incentives were based on individual performance. But studies comparing team with individual competitions find considerably higher levels of collaboration, productivity, creativity, and performance. When organized into teams, salespeople must rely on each other, pulling and pushing on each other. Higher performing salespeople motivate and coach lower performing team members. And team members feel accountable to each other – no one wants to let their teammates down.  

5.   Reward winning behaviors

In the past, sales incentives only focused on increasing the obvious – the end results. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that doesn’t help your core performers or laggards improve their performance over the long-term. What does contribute to sustained improvement is the adoption of behaviors that star performers engage in. When core performers and laggards focus on the winning behaviors they can emulate and control, they stay motivated longer. This strategy also re-shapes the culture of the sales organization, leading to lasting change.

 

To motivate salespeople and improve sales performance, put these 5 proven strategies to work for your sales organization. Find out how Microsoft Dynamics 365 Gamification app can help you operationalize these strategies and energize your entire sales team now and into the future.