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How Not to Incentivize a Sales Force
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October 2009


Introduction         top


Ritz Camera

I personally buy from Adorama, Amazon, Ritz, B&H, Calumet and J&R. I can't vouch for ads below.


I've worked in very technical sales for decades back when I had a job.

My friends worked in it for decades before I came to it.

My wife still does it.

We all see these same things happening everywhere. If some of these seem all too familiar to you, I'm not picking fun of any particular organization; I'm picking fun of every large sales organization.

All of us have seen the same stupid things happen.

This is what happens in large, professional sales organizations with a distributed national field sales force. This is not about retail.


How Not to Incentivize a Sales Force

Monday morning conference call.

Make people feel guilty about taking the vacation time they've earned.

Another conference call.

Require vacation plans for the entire year to be submitted at the beginning of the year.

When a salesman is on vacation, expect him to check his email and voicemail, and reply to customers and other employees just as if he was working. Worse, expect that your man will check in with the office every single day.

When a salesman is on vacation, hold him responsible for pointless reports requested while he was out on vacation.

If a manager loses your work, usually blaming it on a windows computer failure, he expects everyone to redo another waste-of-time assignment because he screwed-up.

Play a stupid voicemail-tag game wherein everyone has to listen to a boring pitch, at the end of which another salesman is tagged to have to deliver his pitch again to the group, naming another victim at the end. Each member of the team has to maintain his own list of who's already been called so that he isn't called out again. Reps have things to do; they don't need this baloney.

Conference call.

Use windows computers, which wastes half the time of the sales force.

Give out assignments Friday afternoon and expect them on Monday morning.

Make long phone calls to your reps on Friday afternoon.

Try to keep tabs on your reps location, especially on Monday morning or Friday afternoon. Reps are reps because they have important things to do all week, so don't bother them by trying to see if they're working every second. If they were dullards, they'd be working an office job like you.

Emphasize the process over the results.

Mandatory conference call.

Expect sales reps to be taxi services for visiting waste-of-time employees from headquarters.

Presume reps are sitting by their computers during the day — or ever.

Calling reps for hours during the sales day — or ever. The rep has better things to do than talk with his manager, unless the rep initiated the call or it is something genuinely unusual.

Demanding minute-by-minute call Itineraries for future ride-alongs. This stuff changes by the hour as the calls are made; so don't ask a rep for details before it happens — unless the rep volunteers it.

Reps hate ride-alongs: they get nothing done and it bothers the customers. Don't ask to go on a ride-along unless the rep invites you.

Too many reports.

Another conference call.

Asking for too many detailed numbers to try to explain the obvious.

Have more than one manager or person asking reps for anything, especially reports.

Have one internal department tell reps to do one thing, like hand out samples, and then have a different internal department yell at the rep for handing out too many samples because they cost too much! The rep answers only to his manager, and no one else. If anyone wants anything, it comes from the manager only. It is the manager's job to manage all communications from headquarters.

Have different internal people ask for the same information in different forms, which is asking for duplicate reports. The organization is responsible for maintaining just one database, from which anyone who wants that data shall draw it. Never ask a rep to reformat sales or customer contact data.

Have too many internal people asking for too much detail about sales and customers and trends which simply doesn't exist.

Have lots of meetings, whose only purpose to justify the jobs of unneeded middle managers.

Never pester the rep about when a deal is going to close. The rep is doing the best that's warranted; asking too much bothers the rep, and if it causes the rep to pester the customer, loses the sale.

Never ask for call reports unless the rep volunteers them.

Mandatory after-5PM conference call.

Never consider reps stupid. Don't tell them at a sales meeting to look under their chair to see who won a prize, and then have that prize as having to recite the sales pitch for the new product to the audience.

Never expect reps to write reports on their own time. If you want a report, know that it will cost you whatever sales would have been made while that report is written.

Call a meeting, but don't tell anyone the dress code, the end time, or if you need computers.

Salesmen are not secretaries. Don't ask them to do secretarial work like enter call reports, and don't ask them to work with computers.

Salesmen aren't office workers. Salesmen are out with your customers — not sitting indoors in front of a computer. Any time you expect your rep to be in front of a computer, he's not in front of your customer.

Don't lay-off useless employees, and then have them sitting around in headquarters or sales offices so that they can call waste-of-time conference calls so these useless people can waste the time of the sales force.

The salesman knows the territory better than any manager — or anyone.

Have too many conference calls.

Business plans aren't. In sales, all they are is writing down how to be a salesman. Call them action plans, unless you really are in business for yourself.

Urgent pre-9AM conference call.

Putting low performers on busywork plans ensures that they both remain low performers because they can't get out to sell, and also ensures that they stay demotivated.

Have too many conference calls.

Expect too many reports.

Try to budget items that can't be budgeted. For instance, put the group on a budget for how many car accidents they can have, and worse, attempt to instill group responsibility for the actions of individuals in having those crashes. In other words, a great way to keep people looking for jobs elsewhere is to punish everyone because one of them crashed their Taurus.

Give reps the same crappy commuter car you have. A rep lives in his car all day; he doesn't just use it to commute. Give the rep the best car you can — the best reps often choose for what company they want to work based on the car or car plan you give them. The best reps are winners; they don't want a Taurus or a Prius just because it costs the company less money or you think it's an "acceptable" car. If a rep was satisfied with a low salary or crummy car, they'd be working in an office like you. All the reps I know park their Taurus a block away since they are so embarrassed about it.

Don't pay your reps the commissions they earned. Make up some excuse or redraw the territories or commission plans before you have to pay them.

Have different people call conference calls about the same stupid thing. It's a great sales motivator to be distracted by six stupid conference calls about the same thing from six different people at headquarters trying to get their own performance goals met internally at the end of the period.

Friday afternoon conference call.


Recommendations         top

Leave your reps alone.

Reps are driven by money; they will make sales so long as you don't distract them with conference calls or ask for reports instead. You get one or the other, never both.

Pay them what they earn.

Don't ask for reports. Don't have conference calls unless there is something genuinely new. No rep wants to spend his time listening to people at headquarters pretend they are in radio.

Reps have better things to do. Anything which doesn't directly involve touching an end customer is probably a waste of the rep's time, especially conference calls among other employees.

Train your reps on the new products, but don't try to train your reps on how to sell. Salespeople are born; if your reps can't sell, you hired the wrong ones. The last thing a real rep wants to do is hear your foolish "success to win plans" or whatever it's called at this year's sales meeting.

A manager's job is to insulate reps from internal BS so they can get out and sell, not to draw the reps into internal politics, conference calls and report writing.

The best managers get the team what it needs to get out and get the job done. The worst managers try to tell the salesforce how to do their job and waste their time with contact with internal employees, conference calls and reports.


PLUG         top

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If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

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The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, B&H, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

Thanks for reading!


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