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Super sales Featured

9:52am EDT July 22, 2002

You have a veteran sales staff. A group that’s been through the trenches. They’ve battled competitors and what might be even more of a challenge — difficult economic conditions. They struggle each month, meet their goals, so you offer a hardy pat on the back when you run the numbers.

And then there are those times when one sales rep drops into a slump, forcing the entire team to miss its quota. You offer them a rousing pep talk — get ’em next time. But even your best Knute Rockne may not be enough.

There’s another way, however, to keep a sales staff motivated, both individually and as a group — offer ongoing incentives through contests and competitions, says Phillip S. Cunningham, regional vice president of ADP for the Cleveland and Columbus region.

“We’ve had some very successful years here at ADP,” Cunningham says. “I think a big part of it is that it gives them that little extra motivation, that little extra something to make the next call or try and close the next deal.”

The contests Cunningham uses come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They vary in length and complexity. But at every turn, each sales rep is able to track his or her progress.

“Any time we run a contest, the most important thing is letting people know where they stand,” explains Cunningham. “If it’s a three-month contest, you’d better be putting out standings at least every other week, or at no less than once a month. We do it weekly.”

It’s important, Cunningham says, to keep the contests fresh, in terms of the prizes and in the manner in which progress is tracked.

“I try to think of something that they wouldn’t think of,” he says. Quite often, rewards come in the form of a check, but not always. Cunningham has taken his team on golf outings, lunches and overnight trips.

“Most people think the sales person wants money first, recognition second and career advancement third,” he says. “That may not be it. I have a lot of people say money and recognition are almost a toss up.”

And sometimes it’s not money or recognition that is the best motivator. In fact, Cunningham has a hard time classifying it as compensation at all. It’s those easy afternoons off.

“If the team hits a goal for that month, maybe we’ll take an afternoon and we’ll just go out and do something on the company. It gives them a free afternoon out of the office without taking a vacation day, and it gives them the ability to go out and do something fun.”

Other contests have included pitting sales reps in one-on-one competition in a round-robin tournament, earning poker chips for a mock Las Vegas night, or something as simple as indexing figures on a grid — with the individual’s sales figures measured across one axis and the team’s across the other — wherever they meet is the bonus.

Whenever he puts together a contest, Cunningham likes to include individual and team goals. “You need to try to put it together so that no one is ever out of it,” he says. If you’re 30 days into a 90-day contest and a couple of sales reps have a bad month, “they may shut down. But if you’ve got multiple goals, both team and individual, that allow them to achieve the contest, you’ll keep people in the game.”

The wrong kind of test can be very debilitating. Explains Cunningham, “We had a contest here once that did just that. A few of the people just realized they weren’t going to make it and it demotivated them. It was kind of a bad thing for them individually.”

Normally, the competitive juices start flowing and his sales people kick it into high gear. “You don’t want to be the one person who’s going to miss it,” he says. “So you’re going to drive and push as hard as you can.”

Cunningham himself creates contests for his sales team. The company also has a national competition, the President’s Club, which rewards winners with a trip to places such as Hawaii, Vail, Bermuda and Switzerland. This year, the destination is Disneyland.

“I’ve only missed one,” says Cunningham, who’s been eligible for nine trips. “You just feel terrible. You’re here in the office and the entire organization is out for a week. You have mixed feelings. Maybe I’ll take vacation just so I can be out of the office, or maybe I better stay here and bust my hump a little bit more so I don’t miss it next year.”

Contests can also have an unintended benefit. It’s a way to keep talented sales people, Cunningham says. “(Business owners) don’t want somebody jumping ship. The longer you can keep a sales person, the more experience and the more knowledgeable they’re going to be on your product and service, and they’re going to be better.”

For those interested in developing contests to motivate their sales staff, Cunningham has some advice.

Get your team to tell you what motivates them — cash, recognition, time off, trips. Do it anonymously or “they’re going to just tell you what you want to hear,” he says.

Look at your budget for contests and the number of contests you would like to have. “Don’t just do one big contest,” he says. “Do three or four. Sometimes when a contest is over, it’s good to take a break. You don’t want to just keep running these back to back. And you certainly don’t want to have more than one going on at the same time or people can’t figure out where they’re at on either side.

Don’t set goals that are easy to reach. “Make them realistic, but make them a push. If you give somebody a contest that’s (too) easy, then you haven’t gained anything. You have just spent money. The additional revenue should more than pay for the contest.”

And how has his ADP office done this year?

“We had a great year,” Cunningham says. “We have a phenomenal year. Every sales person hit their plan, and 12 of 14 made President’s Club. It’s a great year.” How to reach: ADR, (216) 643-5450

Daniel Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor for SBN.

Planning for sales

Contests are a nice way to motivate your sales force to a higher level, and it adds something to the paycheck, but before you can provide appropriate compensation for your team, you need a plan.

Alfred J. Candrilli, performance management and compensation consulting practice leader for Deloitte & Touche LLP, offers advice on how to create a sales compensation program.

“Developing such a strategic sales plan is step one to developing an effective sales force compensation program,” according to Candrilli.

“The strategic sales plan should act as a road map for sales achievement,” he continues. “The plan should take into account the external conditions affecting the company’s ability to achieve sales results, as well as the type of sales techniques and approaches that are necessary to accomplish these results.”

These conditions include:

  • Market demand

  • Market maturity by market segment

  • Competitive conditions

  • Economic conditions in the market

  • Strategic objectives by market

  • Types of sales effort/behaviors desired

  • Current/desired sales structure

  • Current/desired future skills needs

  • Other factors which may impact a company’s sales efforts.

“Without a well-formulated sales strategy, a company’s sales efforts will be disjointed at best and highly ineffective at worst,” Candrilli says.

To learn more about Candrilli’s “How to Design an Effective Sales Compensation Program,” contact the Employers Resource Coun cil, which will offer the program in Cleveland and Akron in November. For information about dates, times and location, call (216) 696-3636 or (877) 696-3636.