A Valentine’s for Your Top Performers

Paul White, Ph.D. with Daniel Agne

Leaders of sales teams often focus on compensation as the major motivator for reps. However, it should not be the only focus. Doug Chung said it best in his April 2015 article in the Harvard Business Review, “How to Really Motivate Salespeople:” “To get the optimal work out of a rep, you should in theory tailor a compensation system to that individual … however, such an individualized plan would be extremely difficult and costly to administer.” Comp systems, therefore, are limited in their ability to meet the more personal motivational needs.

The sales manager sits right in the gap between the recognition provided by the comp system and the needs of an individual sales rep. Unfortunately, many recognition efforts by managers are misguided and wind up being a waste of time and effort. Why? Because they are not built upon the core principles needed for appreciation to be communicated effectively.

Recognition is Not the Same as Appreciation
Recognition expresses the value of the work of the individual; appreciation expresses the value of the person. As a former sales manager and now teacher of sales managers, I (Dan) have encountered these misconceptions over and over:

  • Salespeople are “coin operated” (money is the only appreciation they value)
  • Recognition provided by company systems should be enough
  • All sales reps want to be appreciated basically the same way

The discussions that I encountered while teaching a coaching skills class quickly revealed that sales managers struggled severely with knowing how to express appreciation on an individual basis. As a further study for those interested, we offered training based on the book, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary Chapman and Paul White. From that training, managers were better able to express appreciation to each sales rep in the manner that rep would value it – tailoring it for the sales force of one according to the following principles.

Core Principles for Effectively Communicated Appreciation
Make sure your praise is specific and personal.
The most common mistake organizations and supervisors make is that their communication is general and impersonal.  They send blast emails:  “Good job. Way to go team.” But they have no specific meaning to the individual who stayed late to get the project completed.  Use your colleague’s name and tell specifically what they do that makes your job easier.

Realize that other types of actions can be more impactful than words for many people. Some employees do not value verbal praise (the “words are cheap” mentality).  For many people, they have grown to not believe compliments from others, expecting them primarily to be an act of manipulation.  Other actions can be more impactful for these individuals, like spending time with them or helping them get a task done.

Use the language of appreciation valued by the recipient. Not everyone likes public recognition or social events.  One leader stated, “You can give me an award but you’ll have to shoot me first before I’ll go up and get it in front of a crowd.”  And for many introverts, going to a “staff appreciation dinner” is more like torture than a reward for doing a good job.  They may prefer getting a gift card for a bookstore and staying at home and reading.  Find out what they value and communicate in that language.

Separate affirmation from constructive criticism or instruction. If you want the positive message to be heard “loud and clear”, don’t follow your affirmation with a “Now, if you would only…” message.  Don’t give them a compliment and then tell them how they could do the task better.  They will only remember the “constructive” criticism, and may not even hear the positive.

Absolutely be genuine. Don’t try to fake it, or overstate your appreciation (“You are the best administrative assistant in the free world!”).  People want appreciation to be genuine, not contrived.

Motivating our teams through optimal compensation systems is important but does not complete the picture. As sales managers, we can get closer to motivating individuals by applying genuine appreciation without having to use additional costly resources.

Paul White, Ph.D., is a psychologist, author, speaker and consultant who makes work relationships work.  He is co-author of Rising Above a Toxic Workplace and The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.  For more information, go to www.appreciationatwork.com.

Dan Agne is a Premier Partner with Appreciation at Work and founder of The Agne Group. Formerly the Senior Manager of National Sales Training for Tyco/SimplexGrinnell, Dan now independently trains, consults, and coaches sales professionals nationwide. Connect with Dan on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnedan) or email Dan@Agne-Group.com.