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SWOT Team: Extreme Makeovers Done Right

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You've seen the programs on TV: homes get cleaned and spiffed up, women get Botoxed, men get coiffed and coutured. And on the Web, sites get redesigned.

Times change, technology evolves, and business needs mature. The Web site has to respond to all these forces. As any marketing project, a site redesign is a planning-intensive effort.

This doesn't mean, of course, that companies have to completely throw out the old. This week's challenge asks fellow marketers about Web site elements that work best (or not) for them.

Do news releases, case studies and testimonials bring results? How about your Service, Products, Contact Us or About pages? Have you found a call to action that generates leads? What are the elements that work or don't work for a business Web site? In your experience, what elements have sparked the greatest traffic?

If makeovers are the least of your problems, share your extreme challenge with 100,000 “MarketingProfs Today” readers who are standing by with the right tools, ready to work. You will receive a complimentary copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.


This Week's Dilemma

Winning ideas needed for marketing site extreme makeover

We're going to redo our marketing Web site that targets marketing professionals. Obviously, it's important to consider our clients' needs when working on the requirements. However, I am sure all marketing companies share a few common elements as to what works and doesn't work on a marketing business Web site. We're avoiding the “brochure-style” Web site in favor of a more dynamic model. What have you found that gets the attention of your target audience and helps develop a two-way relationship?

—Michael, Marketing Manager

Previous Dilemma

Get your sales groove back

Our sales force is not motivated. They're responsible for visiting our distribution places and agents. We've tried high commissions, better prices, etc., and nothing has worked out! How do I improve my sales distribution channel? How do I engage and motive my salespeople so they actually enjoy their jobs?

—Product Manager

Summary of Advice Received

The advice to the Product Manager is diverse, with one answer dominating the responses: recognition.

Making the workplace a happier place is a challenge. There are people whose sole job is to find ways to improve the environment, in terms of mentality. One of the best ways to do that is by recognizing employees' efforts.

The workforce has changed in the last 10 years. We are more productive, thanks to computers. But we are also working longer hours. Rarely does a person work the old-fashioned eight-hour day. Because of this great time commitment, employees need to feel valued for their efforts. Readers offer the following ways to engage and motivate the sales force:

  1. Recognize employee efforts. 

  2. Have one-on-one sessions. 

  3. Keep things fresh with change. 

  4. Energize the team. 

  5. Modify the payment structure.

1. Recognize employee efforts

Recognition and respect are always a winner with employees. One reader points out that if a salesperson isn't recognized when doing well, how is she or he going to know where the line is between OK, good and great?

Marketing manager at Red House Marketing, Lini Madhavan, says each person may have different motivational factors:

Apart from commissions, offer achievement awards for both individuals and the team—like Top Gun, Top Gun-runner up, etc.—for achieving highest sales. If there are team leaders, give them additional incentives for team performances. Top performance awards can be given for every quarter.

The CEO could meet the winners for lunch. Offering commissions alone just ensures the targets are met. There is no motivation to go the extra mile to increase the sales. Target achievement bonuses and awards encourage the sales force to constantly strive for higher targets. Consider organizing sales contests once a year with attractive prizes, like an all-expenses-paid holiday for achieving exceptionally high performance.

Incentives can also be offered for innovative suggestions to streamline sales function, cut costs, develop new businesses and improve client loyalty. It is not just important to achieve targets; targets should be achieved in the most cost-effective way.

In response to “they're responsible for visiting our distribution places and agents,” Rock Gjermo, business development manager with Renewal by Andersen, wonders why the salespeople aren't responsible for interacting with customers to see how they like the products:

So the salespeople aren't responsible for seeing real customers use the products? Not responsible for interacting with real customers about how to improve the products and feeding back that information to improve the next generation of products?

First, I'd suggest changing what they're responsible for. Second, money is ultimately a poor motivator. Connecting with people to help solve their problems is emotionally energizing. When's the last time you (very) publicly recognized one of these unmotivated dinosaurs for a heroic effort to satisfy a customer need?

Think of the last time you were recognized for your work. How did it impact you work over the next few weeks? Did it energize you? Make you want to work harder for better results?

2. Have one-on-one sessions

Individually communicating with employees is an excellent way to connect with them. Lisa Gale, marketing manager with Class VI River Runners Inc., writes that the product manager can't change employees' attitudes or make them enjoy their jobs:

It is up to each individual to determine her daily attitude. At first glance, it appears that perhaps you are younger than your team and maybe have a different perspective. I would personally take the time to speak with each person individually, allowing them to freely share their joys and frustrations, likes and dislikes and personal goals and objectives.

Not only will you uncover each individual's motivating factors, but also you will have an opportunity to share yourself in return. Employees (especially “not engaged” employees) need a leader (not a boss)—a leader who cares about them, encourages them and genuinely wants them to succeed not only in their job, but as human beings. But, if you've given them your “all” and there is still no improvement, it may be time to bring motivated “new blood” into the fold.

While it's true that no one can force a person to be happier in a job, leaders can facilitate communication and meetings to improve the environment or help the person find the cause for his low motivation.

3. Keep things fresh with change

Hit television shows eventually go off the air. It's either because the audience gets tired of the show or the actors have had enough. Getting bored can happen with just about anything in life, and making a change is what keeps things fresh and challenging. That's what Roland Goetz, operations manager at House of Knives/Bella Vita, believes:

Regardless of how well a staff incentive program is put together, after a while most get bored with it. Once a system becomes routine, it becomes monotonous. But this is human nature. It's why people keep coming into stores to buy new items, even when their older items are still perfectly serviceable.

In the same way that we can't eat the same food every day, listen to the same song or watch the same TV show, our retail staff need perpetual change.

At our support office, we work hard to create new spiffs and contests that do change on a monthly or even weekly basis. We constantly challenge and re-challenge our staff by putting incentives on certain products and alternating those products.

We also publish company-wide sales-per-staff-hour figures for all employees to see as this also challenges them. To keep re-inventing and re-creating our spiffs and games, it takes a lot of creativity at a support office level. But the benefit of this not only keeps our staff enthusiastic, but also keeps us at the support office enthusiastic, because we're constantly working on new ways of doing things.

4. Energize the team

Have you ever seen or heard about what happens at a sales conference? Some conferences have hoards of people standing around cheering while listening to the speaker. It's like a football game where everyone is a winner. Martin Urban, focus expert at Inspired Focus, says sales is about energy:

When was the last time you asked your salespeople “what are you passionate about?” Allow them to give you “real” answers, not what they think you want to hear. These answers may vary from “I love golf” to “Visiting my smallest customer to hear his latest story about a sale he made!” When you begin to engage your salespeople on this “real life” level, and they feel from you that you are actually interested in them, you begin the road toward “client focus.”

Prompting your salespeople with more money and lower prices ignores the core value of why they continue to work for you, which is that they are in a relationship with their team and everyone in their organization. When that relationship becomes damaged or is reduced within their corporation, the first tangible effect is always in sales. The sales process is entirely dependent on the relationship between salesperson and client; however, it begins within the salesperson's organization.

Until you achieve a level of relationship with your salespeople, focusing on them as “your clients,” and you engage with them in a manner that constantly reinforces the strength and importance of this, then you will see large incremental changes in their “client focus.” Simply put, what you want from your salespeople, you must give them first. If you want them to engage, be motivated and enjoy their jobs, then you and your entire organization must focus on this.

Your salespeople are merely following the reality of how everyone within your corporation relates. Refocusing your entire organization toward a “client focus” rather than a “product focus” will vastly strengthen the level of change that your salespeople achieve.

Maybe it's time for a jam session and to start cheering for yourselves!

5. Modify the payment structure

Money is the most controversial response. Some people say, as you've seen, that it won't make a difference. But could a change also be in order for the payment structure? That is what Marcus Barber thinks:

There are some fundamental keys to keeping a sales force motivated, and it's not so much what you pay them but HOW you pay them based on your rules structure, that is the critical factor. Essentially, you have two “poles” of payment—pure commission only and pure salary only. In between, you have the various weightings.

If you are paying your salespeople enough so that their base salary is enough for them to live comfortably, then you need to have a fairly strict, rule-based environment with minimal flexibility. The client base should reflect that, and the company aims should be about maintaining these customers. If your rule structure is flexible and open-ended, then under a heavy base commission you end up with “comfortable” sales staff (read lazy) who have little need to really keep on edge in building sales.

If you have a pure commission-based structure, then your management style needs to allow for a HUGE amount of flexibility, and the commissions nees to be high enough so that the salespeople can earn enough to eat and not worry about paying their bills. Commission-only reps who are successful are the best in the business BAR NONE! It takes an enormous level of skill to live successfully working only on commission. Few have the courage or ability to do it for long periods of time.

Unfortunately, too many companies pay commission only (or heavily weighted) and then place a restrictive rules structure around the rep, preventing them from doing the things they need to do (read: “in their way”) to enable them to make great sales. It just doesn't work.

So the key question to ask for the business is, “What is our intention for these clients?” If you are just looking to maintain them, then build a sales arm that looks after maintenance. You pay the reps high salaries, give them a good solid rules structure, but add a penalty clause. Because you are paying them so well and because the key strategy is about (or should be in this case) maintaining your existing client base, if a customer goes to a competitor or reduces spending below an acceptable level, that must be reflected in a smaller pay packet to the rep.

Next, establish those clients you feel are ideal targets for greater growth. Create a “growth” sales team arm and pay them a salary plus a commission bonus for increases on sales volume and value (profit). Give them more flexibility and pay them enough so that their bills are covered, but do not pay them enough as a salary component to let them “enjoy lifestyle improvements.” They need to earn bonuses to earn that sort of money and they can only do that by boosting sales to growth clients.

Also target low-end clients and prospects. Create a “New Channel” sales team and pay them a small retainer (just enough to cover some of their main bills, but not all) and then place a heavy component in a commission-based structure. Make the commissions fair and attractive. The reps working this channel should easily earn more than any of the other channels. It's the hardest channel to work and they need to be paid accordingly.

This then gives you a strategy for addressing your problem:

  1. Split your clients into channels: Retain, Grow and Obtain.

  2. Create a sales plan that addresses the key needs from within each of these channels.

  3. Create a “management process” that provides the appropriate level of flexibility/rigidity based on the channel (hint: This will be your biggest challenge).

  4. Offer your sales team a choice of which channel they can work in highlighting the benefits and pain associated with each channel (be up front about the yin and the yang)

  5. Start the campaign and add sales reps as some leave—and believe me, some will leave.

Thanks for the thorough advice, Marcus. Your method has built-in motivators.

Keeping employees happy and challenged is… well, a challenge. The tips offered here can be applied to many situations. Reward, change, communicate one-on-one and energize are important ways to engage and motivate employees in any organization.

Have you thanked or recognized a coworker for a job well done? It doesn't have to be formal. A simple thank you is appreciated.

Can we help you with other extreme problems that none of the tools in your toolbox will resolve? Share your challenge, and we'll put the handy marketers on the job.


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Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

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