A Flawed Approach

Most of you have probably heard this line before:

"First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired."

It's from the 1992 classic film about sales, Glengarry Glen Ross. As a refresher, the film details the plight of a small sales office and the inner motivations and struggles of the different men in it. The two main protagonists are hotshot number one seller Ricky Roma (the suave Al Pacino) and good intentioned but down-on-his-luck Shelly Levene (a hapless Jack Lemmon). Pressed to "always be closing," in the end both the star salesman Roma and the past his prime Levene – as well as everyone in between – fail miserably, destroying the entire office. 

The story makes for more than just great drama, it delivers a message any sales organization should heed: a winner-takes-it-all approach is seriously flawed. One of the most common examples of this is when companies create one-size-fits-all competitions or gamification programs among their sales teams where the top performers inevitably win.

By creating tailored programs for salespeople at all performance levels in your organization, you can help motivate your team as a whole and enhance sales for your business. I've identified some efficient ways to motivate teams – at various levels – other than the simple "winner-take-all" approach.

Why the Middle Performers Matter More

Statistically speaking, a sales force is made up of three groups: the top performers (our Ricky Roma’s), the lowest performers (our Shelley Levene’s), and a middle group – the nameless majority. Or, as it is explained by the 20-60-20 theory, 20% of your sales force are top performers and 20% are struggling, but 60% are somewhere in the middle.

Too many sales organizations operate under the common misconception that everyone is motivated by the same goal: to be the #1 salesperson. In reality, individuals in a sales organization all have varied skill sets, motivations, and ultimately levels of potential. Motivating and incentivizing only the best in your organization is flawed for two reasons: those at the top are not only a small group, they are already performing at or close to a peak level. Similarly, those at the very bottom have a lot of room to improve, but again they are only a small part of your overall sales team.

And according to research from Maritz, since the 60% core group is so large, by just driving a 5% performance boost from the middle you can yield over 70% more revenue than through a 5% performance shift among top performers.

How to Motivate the Middle to Perform at Full Potential

In the words of Harvard professor Thomas J. Delong, the "middle" is the "heart and soul" of any organization. These "B-Players" are loyal, trustworthy, diligent, and are often not recognized for their commitment to the larger team. As talent shortages and salary inflation permeate the job market, focusing on the often overlooked middle becomes even more of a priority.

To motivate and realize the potential of your "middle" sales people you have to forget the Glenngarry Glen Ross "winner-take-it-all approach." Instead, focus on these four actionable tips to push your sales team to its full potential:

1. Run different gamification programs simultaneously for each tier of your sales organization. With three separate competitions tailored to each peer group, performance will be better across the board - because each individual is matched up against those with similar skill levels. It gets your top performers really motivated against each other, gets your middle performers duking it out with their peers, etc. This way each group spikes performance independent of each other.

2. Use sales contests that are customizable to the behaviors you want to incentivize. One of the grand visions of any company who purchases Salesforce is to be able to measure actions throughout the sales process - because if you can measure it you can motivate it, and any good sales manager knows that sales is a lagging indicator. It's doing the activities that lead to those sales where the magic really happens. For example, trigger contest points for converting leads, or making calls, having face-to-face meetings, or advancing to key sales stages. Be careful to reward too many things at once - the simpler the better.

3. Display standings in real time and reinforce them. Managers can display results on big screen monitors, in daily email newsletters, and team members' personal screens. All of this drives employees’ competitive side, encouraging engagement in competition. Plus as a manager, you’re always looking for new things to talk about. Instead of hammering on people every day to "make more calls" or "close more business", putting that message into a competition with a live leaderboard you can share results constantly, and in a context that your team will embrace.

4. Focus on more than just the end result; the prize is NOT what motivates. Spend more time on things like reminding your team of the contest and where they stand than focusing on the prize itself. Yes, an interesting incentive can spark interest. But, as you read, it’s just one of many tools to utilize in sparking interest - and frankly, the least important. Team members’ love exciting and unique perks, but the competition and the buzz in the office is what truly energizes the team.

6a00e54ee3905b8833017ee7fabbc3970dBob Marsh is CEO of LevelEleven, a sales gamification and CRM solutions company that has one of the most popular apps on the Salesforce AppExhange: Contest Builder. LevelEleven was incubated by ePrize, where Bob managed sales teams for 13 years. Follow Bob on Twitter @BobMarsh5.