The Broken Scoreboard.

The Broken Scoreboard.

Every so often I’ll hear a senior exec or CFO say – quite earnestly – that salespeople are motivated by money. Not much else… just the cash. Of course, this is empirically false – motivations and incentives are far more layered and subtle –and it’s led to some really bad compensation plans and awful sales cultures.

Having made a career working with sellers, I believe they’re motivated by something else: the scoreboard. Looking at the scoreboard – how they’re doing relative to quota, where they rank in comparison with their peers – that bestows the healthy paranoia that drives sellers to work harder, dig deeper and persevere.

Which brings me to the point of this post. The scoreboard has blown up. It’s been destroyed by the Coronavirus pandemic, and its absence is the reason sales people are struggling. Whether you sell or manage those who do, pay attention to this point.

As the economy recedes and marketers start pulling budgets, the numbers we once projected for the second quarter and beyond have become essentially unattainable. In many cases, the bosses have agreed to quota relief or guaranteed commissions to soften the sellers’ pain. But either way, the scoreboard is no longer there.

The smart managers and evolved sellers are adapting by building new scoreboards. They’re not basing them on sales numbers: with no idea where the curve tops out or the market bottoms, that would be folly. They’re building scoreboards around excellence. They’re creating internal competition around learning, and service, and empathy. Understanding that this is not a time to reap, they are choosing to keep track of what’s being sown.

I’m encouraging managers to lock in on the empathetic learning and meaningful creativity that will give their sellers confidence and forward momentum, even as they also make them genuinely more valuable to their customers. Track the inputs – the uncovered research insights, the thoughtful, generous outreach, the descriptions of creative thinking on the client’s behalf – and then gamify them. Create a friendly competition, with your team judging one another’s work. Offer prizes or recognition – perhaps “Empath of the Week” gets to use a custom background on team Zoom calls for the week.

When sellers fret about the future, it has relatively little to do with their paychecks and a lot to do with their place in the world. They need to know they’re progressing, achieving, measuring up. They need a new scoreboard right now. Perhaps we all do.