Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article in a four-part series on the topic of staff management for private-practice dispensing professionals. The other topics addressed by Bye in this series have included assessing and selecting excellent staff members during the hiring process,1 instilling a culture of personal responsibility and accountability within a dispensing office/practice,2 and developing professional skills and the coaching of staff members.3

When managers complain that their staff doesn’t have the special fire that keeps them continuously reaching for the brass ring, they are really admitting that they don’t know how to motivate their people. When the flame of commitment that drives performance is waning, it’s important to understand how to stoke it. There are no one-size-fits-all cures, because differences among people cause them to respond differently to the environment, problems, and challenges, as well as rules and procedures established by others. In other words, they will respond differently to different modes of motivation.

The following ideas will help you get a handle on what makes your staff tick, so you can answer the million-dollar question: How do I motivate my staff?

Help Them Fulfill Their Dreams
First, identify the dreams and aspirations of each employee and help that person develop a game plan to achieve specific goals. Understand that no one wakes up and asks how he/she can help the company make record profits this year. Rather, people are more interested in financing college educations, paying bills, buying a vacation home, planning a vacation. These are some of the real reasons they play what can sometimes be the high-rejection game of dispensing hearing instruments.

When a regional manager of one my clients (outside the dispensing field) was performing below his proven ability, I asked the manager where he wanted to be and what he wanted to be doing in 5 years. After I did some probing, he finally admitted that he wanted to retire to a new cabin in the Appalachian Mountains. Although he was passionate about this goal, he hadn’t invested the time to draw up plans or select a lot. Consequently, he had absolutely no idea of the financial requirements needed to fulfill his goal!

Based on our conversation, we devised an action plan to learn what it would take financially to make his dream come true. Three months later, our manager was on track. Why? Because he discovered that his ideal lot was $75,000, and he needed a down payment. Now he’s working enthusiastically to achieve his dream. Along the way his sales have grown by over 38% after having been flat for 4 years.

It’s critical for managers to recall Dale Carnegie’s wise advice: You can get everything you want in life by helping others get what they want. I once asked a recent college graduate during a job interview what she wanted to do when she turned 30. When she told me that she wanted to her own business. I committed to her that, if she joined my team, I would help her achieve her dreams. During our monthly planning and quarterly review sessions, I frequently asked her about her progress toward her goal, and how I could help her master what she thought she needed in order to be successful at her own business. And after one year, she was the top performing rep….and stayed there for the entire 5 years she was with the company. She is currently general manager of a medical device company—well on her way to owning her own business.

So don’t delay discussing with each hearing instrument professional what personal goals, dreams, and passions make them leap out of bed in the morning. Should you learn that they don’t have any long-term goals, this may be a red flag indicating lack of desire for success or lack of commitment to do the necessary behaviors to be successful. They may not have the needed incentive to tackle new assignments or learn new behaviors that will help them excel.

If this is the case, begin to help your people build and document their “need to excel” through a progression of discussions with them:

• Identify their gifts, talents, passions, etc.
• Identify where they want to be in 3-5 years and 5-10 years
• Identify annual goals that will help them achieve their vision
• Break those annual goals into 30, 90, and 180 day goals
• Translate goals into monthly, weekly, and daily game plans

If an employee has difficulty formulating their long-term personal goals and dreams, you’ll need to determine what short-term motivators you can tap. For instance, does the individual have a strong need for personal and/or team recognition? Are they motivated by results, team accomplishments, or amount of work accomplished?

Motivation helps keep the momentum flowing. No matter what motivator(s) you focus on, make sure your management system supports activity and behavior levels that deliver desired results.

Talk Their Language
Become familiar with each person’s communication style, and learn to communicate in a way that resonates with that person. Widely acclaimed executive manager Lee Iacocca says it best: “Communication is everything.” You may be the boss, but people respond to those whom they relate well.

In discovering their communication style, you’ll also find out their natural motivation gifts. Is it:

1) Results and control,
2) Being involved and recognition,
3) Security and stability, or
4) Accuracy and order?

Understanding these motivators will provide a framework for communicating in a manner that will make the person feel most receptive. The DISC Behavioral Style tool I use provides distinct guidelines for talking to salespeople in each of the above four behavioral categories: for instance, whether to pose specific/direct questions or emotional/feeling questions; whether to offer statistics or analogies and stories to make a point; and how to regulate tone and inflection.

Here’s an example: Walt, a sales manager at a medical software company, was frustrated with his sales people because they didn’t follow his process. Conversely, his sales people were irritated with him because they felt that Walt “micro-managed” them with his processes. It was a standoff in which neither side was winning.

When we examined their communication and behavior styles, we found that Walt’s natural management gifts were his precision, attention to quality work, and timely follow-up. But one of his sales people, Dale, had different natural gifts—optimism, enthusiasm and relationship-building skills. Details burdened (and bored) him.

Once Walt and Dale, his most vocal sales rep, began to understand each other’s behavior and style, it became easier to negotiate activity and performance benchmarks, enabling them to work together synergistically. Walt learned to augment his analytical style and create a collaborative working environment. He learned to ask emotional/feeling questions in lieu of overly direct questions. To emphasize points, he used analogies and stories instead of statistics.

To reciprocate, Dale learned how to prepare his detailed case with sufficient backup data in advance.

Help Them Strengthen Weaknesses in Their Belief Systems
Next, identify the team’s beliefs about dispensing and new business development. Once those beliefs are identified, you must be willing to provide resources to address weak spots. What do I mean by weak spots? Objective Management Group, a company specializing in sales-force evaluations, identifies several issues that can sabotage performance. With disappointing results, motivation can quickly erode.

OMG has found that dispensing professionals who are uncomfortable talking about money during the dispensing process are 25% less effective in convincing clients to purchase hearing instruments than their counterparts. The firm finds that 55% of those assessed demonstrate a money weakness. Aside from the actual evaluation tool, one may detect a money weakness from a dispensing professional who continually reports that clients don’t have enough money. Or they frequently ask management to lower prices in order to “close the deal.”

Another belief-system glitch is a strong need for approval. Dispensing professionals who find it difficult to ask tough, business-appropriate questions and fear rejection are 35% less effective than their counterparts. They may have a full pipeline, but very little ever seems to leave it. OMG finds that 45% of the people involved in sales have this weakness.

If your people have an intense desire to be successful and are unconditionally committed to success, one of your responsibilities, as a manager is to provide resources to help them maximize every opportunity. In teaching them how to overcome their own fears and weaknesses, such as a money weakness or a need for approval, you create an environment where success breeds success.
After you uncover your salespeople’s unsupportive beliefs, you can “surgically” coach them and provide tools to help them be successful. (If you’d like more information on this, refer to my article, Coaching for Entrepreneurs.3)

Kevin, a knowledgeable salesperson at a start-up medical software company, was very discouraged and ready to quit. Exceeding the 2004 revenue target seemed impossible. Frustrated, he confessed that he could not close the deals he had gotten into the pipeline. Prospects seemed to have either “no money” or “not enough budgeted.” When questioned, he admitted that he viewed discussing money as “impolite” and “none of his business.” After a couple of months of training and coaching, Kevin’s comfort level soared, and he continues to close larger and larger deals. He surpassed his 2004 target and has a solid foundation for over-achieving his 2005 goals.

Understand Their Values
In contrast to behavioral assessments, which help explain how a person behaves and performs in the work environment, understanding an individual’s attitudes helps explain why they behave as they do. In order to maximize performance, it’s essential that the manager to understand the values that motivate each team member.

Yet, attitudes behind one’s behavior are not always readily observed, which is why they’re sometimes called “hidden motivators.” One of my favorite assessment tools measures the relative prominence of 6 basic interests or attitudes: Theoretical, Utilitarian, Aesthetic, Social, Individualistic and Traditional. The report helps illuminate and amplify some motivating factors and serves as a foundation for building on the strengths that each person brings to the work environment.

For example, our manager, Walt, ranked high Utilitarian, while his sales person, Dale, ranked high in Social. This difference was a source of frustration for Walt when the company, in growth mode, needed to focus on improving account penetration with increased revenue per account and increasing the number of clients.

Here’s why: Dale covered a large geographical territory—Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota—which involved a significant expense in keeping him on the road. Each face-to-face visit needed to be maximized and yield a return-on-investment. However, Dale’s social motivation made his primary interest “helping” his clients even if the transaction didn’t earn him or the company any money. He routinely made out-of-the-way trips—some that cost up to 4 hours—to help even small clients. In understanding Dale’s values, Walt was able to reframe the purpose of the travel so that both needs were met.

Clarify Minimum and High-Performance Expectations
In addition to understanding communication styles, weakness in their belief system, and values, it’s imperative to clearly define “base-line” and “brass-ring” performance. An accurate understanding of activity and result minimums (base-line), as well as over-achievement (brass ring) is one of the first steps in building a motivational success system. These clearly defined expectations help salespeople focus their efforts. As John Condry, a management expert with Career Success Seminars, says, “People are paid in direct proportion to how well they manage their time and their accounts.”

Jim, the owner of a private audiology clinic, was disappointed with his staff audiologists’ performance. He was even more frustrated with his staff’s apparent disregard for fitting the minimum number of instruments in order to cover overhead costs.

I asked some questions that uncovered the source of the problem: Did they know their baseline: What they needed to produce in order to keep the doors open? Did they know what they needed to produce in order to pay for themselves? Jim quickly realized that he needed to communicate minimum performance expectations and ask his staff to step up their level of effort.

As we worked through the process, Jim also decided that he needed to be clear about what a “brass ring” in his company looked like. He needed to specify what each person needed to produce in order to be recognized as having an outstanding “report card,” which would translate into additional growth opportunities, an accelerated compensation plan, and other company perks.

In summary, you can successfully motivate your sales people when you understand their goals and help them achieve their dreams. Flexibility in management style enables sales people to be more successful in an environment that supports their personal work style. And when they understand what is expected of them, they will rise to meet those expectations.

Danita Bye is president of Sales Growth Specialists (SGS) Inc, Minneapolis, a company that specializes in helping business owners increase their revenue-generating capabilities.

1. Bye D. Five steps to building a great team. The Hearing Review. 2003;10(7):28-31.
2. Bye D. Creating a team culture of personal accountability. The Hearing Review. 2004;11(4):40-44, 69.
3. Bye D. Coaching for Entrepreneurs. The Hearing Review. 2004;11(12):38-42.

Correspondence can be addressed to HR or Danita Bye, Sales Growth Specialists, 1160 Cherokee Road, Long Lake, MN 55356; email: [email protected].