Managers in the recovery can focus on change

Our behaviors and decisions change regularly to a very large degree because of context. With the quarantine, and now the recovery, the context that the entire world is experiencing is different from what it used to be. We’re exempting monastic monks and those who live off the grid. But that’s not you, nor is it your customers.

Sales managers are in a unique position to create a clean slate during the recovery because nearly everyone is. This is the time to bring your long-held desires to the surface, to rewrite the book on how your reps are rewarded, deciding on the metrics that really matter, the types of clients you’re willing to accept and, on a broader note, the business you want to be in.

Using this cataclysmic fresh start, as Wendy Wood, PhD, from the University of California San Diego put it in a recent conversation, we can move forward with less guilt and status quo getting in the way. We can queue up new processes and new metrics with less pushback and take the business in new directions. “Now is the time to begin something new,” she told me.

Change the context

The best way to drive new behaviors is to change the context. The work environment is one thing, but that is already changed since most employees are still working from home. More importantly, think about the context (a.k.a. environment, situation) that you as the sales leader are creating for your reps.

  • Create the environment you want your reps to work in.
  • Create the dialogue that you want your reps to use as they talk to customers.
  • Create the goals that best fit the situation that you’re all in.
  • Create the leadership role that you want them to follow.

What you are doing now is creating a context that is delivering the results you’re currently getting. If you want to change the results, you’ll need to change the context.

New ideas

It’s easy to be stuck on the regular metrics: sales volume, gross margin or profit, number of pounds/boxes/crates of specific products. But with a fresh start at hand, you can create a new landscape. Here are a few ideas for changing the environment that could lead to improved results.

  • Change your metrics – Not everything needs to be about sales volume. Remember “what you measure gets done” as a meme? Try measuring new things and offer rewards (as incentives) for processes and learning.
  • Change your reward systems – Tired of the results your sales contests are producing? Move away from cash to non-cash rewards. Get a feel for the emotional power delivered by non-monetary rewards. Just don’t flip a switch…plan your transition thoughtfully.
  • Change your clients – Chart a course to new clients — don’t make a wholesale dump — and focus on businesses and client contacts that you want to do business with.
  • Change your cadence – Who says that a monthly measurement period is best? Are there timelines that better fit the business you’re moving into? Would six weeks work better than four? Would biweekly be better given the velocity at which you’re moving product and processing orders now?
  • Change your goal setting – Nobody really likes top-down goals, so why not ask for participation from your reps? Ask them to help you decide what their goals should be. If both of you participate in a dialogue based on the facts, it’s likely your reps will commit to results that are far superior to where they are now.  

Tim Houlihan is chief behavioral strategist at Behavior Alchemy, LLC, blending applied behavioral science with experience and knowledge. He is also the co-founder of the podcast Behavioral Grooves.

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