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IsaiX & Clarity Advantage Corporation in ABA publication

Winning Every Day: Sustaining Motivation and Generating Consistent Performance – Part Two: Creating the Environment For Success

Nick Miller, President, Clarity Advantage Corporation and Steve Gregory, President, IsaiX

This is the second of two articles about Sustaining Motivation and Generating Consistent Performance. The first installment shared five points on which Commercial Relationship Managers can focus to maintain their motivation, momentum, and sales production. In this article, we tackle “Creating Environments for Success,” the manager’s role.)

“Four More Years,” the battle cry of incumbent presidents running for re-election or Olympic athletes committing to another run for Olympic gold, now describes the state of our economy and the challenge that we, as sales leaders, face in leading our teams.

Many of us as sales leaders and many of our sales people are wearing out after four years in a declining or flat economy and are looking at four more years (possibly) to go. Sales people are wearing thin. Their earnings have declined. Business conditions are making it difficult to earn a living. They are all concerned.

What can we do, as sales leaders, to build and sustain our teams’ momentum, motivation, and energy to ensure sales continuity, avoiding flat spots, starts and stops, or roller coaster ups and downs?

Take Care of Ourselves

Key Point

  • Rest, recharge, and recreate.

Do you remember hearing this …EVERY time we fly? “If you are traveling with children or others who need assistance, put your own oxygen mask on first before you assist others.”

The first step in maintaining our teams’ motivation is to take care of ourselves – to eat, rest, exercise, reconnect with friends, meditate, whatever we do that energizes us. One of the authors recharges by taking silent walks or playing his guitars; the other by throwing himself (sometimes literally) into volunteer work that supports military families and veterans. Their sales manager friends play golf, entertain, shop, read or make their own wines. No right answer, no best way. The point is, we need to take the time to take care of ourselves.

Position Our Teams to Win

Key Points

  • Define our positions
  • Tag targets
  • Choose themes
  • Generate new reasons to talk
  • Innovate, experiment

Closing sales motivates sales people. We sales leaders are responsible for positioning our team members to close sales and win.

Wee Willie Keeler, a Hall of Fame baseball hitter, was famous for his strategy, “Keep your eyes clear and hit ’em where they ain’t.” That’s the idea. Through a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis, figure out where competitors are focusing and make the decision to either hit ‘em where they ain’t or push them off their positions. If they aren’t focusing on health care organizations, figure out how to go there. If they are, figure out how to do it better.

Second, each sales person (and sales teams as a whole) should tag their targets for acquisition, growth, retention and exit. They should also select their top five targets that will enable them to reach their overall sales and profitability goals. Discussion of the tagged names will focus sales team members on their best chances for success.

Third, “defining main themes” and “articulating new reasons to talk,” – something new, something exciting, a new insight – are critical and frequently overlooked components to positioning our teams to win. For example, if a specific list of health care organizations of a certain size are our targets, on which of their most critical challenges will we focus and get smart? For example, we might focus our discussions on major themes like patient collections or (more broadly) payment cycle management, risk manage mentor financing changes associated with new health care regulations.

Then, what is the “snappy chatter” through which we prompt discussion with prospects and clients? If a major theme for the team is “patient collections,” what is our company’s or our team’s approach? What are we bringing to the table? How is that different than what anyone else is bringing? How do we execute on that approach?

Too many sales managers leave this to individual bankers to develop. We believe it’s more powerful and motivating if the bankers feel they have support behind them, thinking through the issues, developing the edge that will help them book appointments.

If corporate resources or strategic support are not available, sales managers at the front line may connect with their product partners to develop the snappy chatter and support to give their teams an edge about which they’re excited.

Plan the Drive

Key Points

  • Define predictive measures of success
  • Develop performance standards
  • Create campaigns

Hitting important milestones on the way to sales results also motivates sales people. One of the authors likes to run in amateur foot races. His experience is, “when I feel tired, I adjust my milestones, sometimes to distances as short as fifty yards, so I feel successful and sustain the feeling of success to overcome thoughts about fatigue.”

Almost all of the banks we work with focus on two types of metrics – activity targets (e.g. call quotas) and closed business. Both are important, yet insufficient for consistently motivating sales team members, particularly if closing sales is challenging or sales cycles are long.

In the sales race, we can adjust the milestones in several ways:

  • Expand our “milestone metrics” beyond call quotas; for example, to include measures of client engagement, movement of opportunities through the pipeline, coverage of defined prospect lists, development of new COI relationships, whatever is appropriate for teams and their circumstances.
  • Develop performance standards or “benchmarks” that let sales team members know when they’re on track or not. For example, “meet with all A clients and prospects once per quarter,” or “maintain at least five referring COIs,” or “maintain an opportunity pipeline of at least 2 times the number of opportunities and at least 300% of target monthly revenue at stage 4 of the sales process.”
  • Create campaigns of 30 days to 90 days duration to focus team members and help them maintain their feelings of success through achievement within the campaigns.

Campaigns based on results can be powerful motivators as can campaigns based on achievement of steps needed to position team members or initiate conversations. Campaign focus could run the gamut from “book first appointments with five top prospects” to “reach all ‘retain or grow’ customers for a discussion about their goals and the impact of the economy” to “generate X referrals for product partner Y.”

Leaders can also design campaigns to experiment, build excitement and find opportunity by:

  • Bringing together top performers and trouble-shooting a common problem. This small group, for example, could develop a new approach to attract a specific group of target clients. Putting together the teams’ resulting action plan could become the basis for a campaign.
  • Positioning the campaign for learning. Encourage top performers to test it on a few customers. Refine the approach and pass on the results of this learning to the larger team.
  • Communicating the approach and rationale to the larger team. Set expectations for team achievements and establish short-term reporting and communication plans.
  • Evaluating learning knowledge gained and recognizing the contributions of top performers and others who added effort to the achievement of the team.

These short-term, intensive campaigns “change-up” activity and create bursts of energy. They encourage exploration and innovation deep into the ranks creating new opportunities for improved performance.

Train and Prepare

Key Points

  • Conduct formal training sessions
  • Generate individual development plans

Feeling confident and prepared also increases motivation.

Can you imagine a team in any sport heading into competition with no more than a well-rested, fired-up coach, a game plan document, and a list of critical success measures? Probably not.

Almost any professional or serious amateur sports team (or military unit or ballet company or orchestra) invests hours in conditioning and practice for stars, journeyman veterans and rookies to develop the skills, confidence, commitment, alignment and motivation to perform. And yet, many sales teams pick up their cell phones and car keys, quarter after quarter, without training or preparation.

While training, focus and practice, will vary with sales team strategy, team member experience, campaign plans and other factors, “formal” training and practice (compared with informal, ad hoc practice or in-the-moment coaching) sends messages like “we are serious about winning” and “we have a plan, we will execute.” Formal training and practice also helps build team member relationships, communication and trust, all essential elements of maintaining esprit de corps – we’re in this together, we’ll win together.

Second, generate individual development plans. When the authors interview sales team leaders, we routinely ask, “May we see your team members’ individual development plans?” Invariably we receive one of two responses: (1) we don’t have them or (2) that’s part of our annual HR career planning process.

There are four keys to designing impactful individual development plans for sales people:

  • Focus on 2–4 specific changes in their knowledge, skills or ability to execute sales process – changes that will improve their performance within a few weeks or months, increasing their chances of achieving their near-term and longer-term sales production targets.
  • Articulate measures by which “achievement of the development” can be assessed or measured.
  • List specific steps (e.g. joint calls, an on-line training course, individual study and practice) through which sales manager and seller agree the seller can achieve the planned development.
  • Include an accountability with the sales manager’s manager for achievement of the planned development. In other words, the second level manager holds the first level manager accountable for helping the sales person achieve the planned development.

Lead from the Field

Key Points

  • Reconnect with people’s motivations
  • Do it yourself
  • Observe from the front
  • Meet routinely

Understanding our team members’ motivations is also motivating…. to them. Roy E. Moody once wrote, “The greatest motivational act one person can do for another is to listen.”

One of our clients, on an annual basis, meets individually for at least 10 minutes with each of the people in her organization, all several hundred of them! “I want to know why they come to work,” she says. “I want to know why they’re willing to endure the long hours and the strains in their jobs. And then I want to connect what they can achieve through their work to the underlying motivations that bring them here, whether it’s saving for a house, caring for an ill parent or buying something for themselves.”

Second, nothing motivates sales team members more than watching their leaders in the fray. Says one of our senior executive clients, “I don’t ask them to do anything I’m not doing. I bring in significant relationships. I tell my teams about it: ‘See what I just did, this is what I want you to do.’”

Most of us who are sales managers earned our stripes through our achievements in the field. We were successful lenders or account managers in our own right. Particularly in tough times, we are needed at the front – working our relationships to generate new business, leading by example in the field and observing and supporting our team members when they’re with customers and prospects. We set the pace. The speed of the leader is the speed of the pack. They will become emboldened watching us fearless in the fight.

When we are leading from the front, we can also observe from the front – we can see the wisdom in targeting our team members’ calling efforts, effectively positioning the organization and our team members’ solutions to address client problems, leading sales conversations and asking for customer commitment.

Joint field visits provide:

  • A chance to reinforce effective client development skills/li>
  • Critical insights that shape new, refined performance/li>
  • An opportunity to demonstrate or observe an approach or work together as a team to execute a sales strategy designed to win

Either during field visits or in the office, meet with every team member at LEAST monthly (more frequently for those who tend to drift) to review their activity levels, pipeline reports and credit quality to ensure that they’re “within the standards” established for performance leading to the promised land.

Say Thank You

Key Points

  • Recognize performance
  • Appreciate performance

Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, one of the largest direct sales forces in the world, once said, “Every person you meet has a sign around their neck that says, ‘make me feel important.’ “From our lowest performers to our highest performers, we need to recognize performance and accomplishment with a smile, a word, a note, or other attention. “

Motivation is also supported by frequent, well-earned recognition. Particularly in sales forces, motivation comes from a sense of accomplishment, hitting significant milestones, the realization, “I did it!”

This implies that someone took the time to make the realization. Leaders do this. Leaders plan incremental opportunities for accomplishment and recognize these incremental achievements while relentlessly working their plans. Successes, even small successes, build confidence and motivation!

Saying “thank you” is also important. We recall one of our clients, a senior sales leader, standing on the sunny mid-day deck of a water-side restaurant in Wilmington, North Carolina, watching his commercial banking team members hungrily chow down on hamburgers, french fries and cold drinks and gently tease each other about their successes and mistakes. “I bring them here or other places a couple of times a quarter,” he said, “just to remind them I’m grateful for their work and that I care.”


Key Points

  • Identify success predictors
  • Develop a pipeline

Finally, recruiting team members increases motivation. First, recruiting sends the message, “We’re a serious team, we want the best talent, and we want to win.” It builds pride and swagger. Second, recruiting sends the motivational message, “Keep up, don’t fall behind if you want to continue to wear the team colors.” In our experience, effective, on-going recruiting solves 90% of the “poor attitude” performance problems on a team.

First, determine your success predictors, “who is a good match for this job?” We encourage development and use of standardized or custom-built competency models and assessment instruments based on high performers’ practices and attributes to identify reliable predictors of success.

Second, develop a pipeline. Recruiting means attracting people to our company and stimulating their interest in working with us, with our clients and with our teams – not just hiring them because they are available. We recruit to develop a ready supply of talent to fill vacancies as they come up. We say, “Pat, we don’t have an opening precisely at this time but I really want to meet you. We want to recruit the very best to our team and I have heard great things about you. Let’s just have coffee and get to know each other.”

Scarcity – not having an immediate opening — is a source of motivation for potential recruits as well. They see that “not having an opening” means our openings are scarce and the openings are perceived as more valuable when they come along.


Dennis Waitley used to say, “Motivation is an inside job.” We agree. Our role, as sales leaders, is to create environments that stimulate, support, and sustain that motivation for our team members. Maintaining our own “fire in the belly” is the first step; without that, we cannot help others. Then, our role is to:

  • Position our teams to win, developing competitive strategies and the value positioning and snappy chatter that support them.
  • Plan our drive to results, defining predictive measures of success, developing performance standards to guide the way and creating campaigns that focus our sales teams and boost their energy.
  • Formally train and prepare our teams so they are completely ready for the challenges they’ll face.
  • Lead from the field, connecting with our team members’ motivations and demonstrating through example what we are asking of them.
  • Say thank you and remind our team members that we’re grateful for their work.
  • Recruit new, strong members to the team: winners want to work with other winners.

Commercial Insights | Sales and Marketing – October 2012 | ABA Center for Commercial Lending & Business Banking | aba.com | Copyright 2012 – American Bankers Association, All Rights Reserved




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