Suppose you are the sales manager, and one of your direct reports is 5% less than last year's sales figures and 12% less than this year's financial plan. You had put him on warning two months before and, since then, he has been doing a dependable job of prospecting. Actually, he has begun positive discussions with almost 10 fresh prospects. His sales just aren't where they should be that is the problem. What should you do?
A. Put more pressure on him to raise his numbers.
B. Cover your rear by telling your boss that you've done what you can to help the lost cause.
C. Commend him for his work and assure him that, if he keeps this effort up, he'll eventually see results.
If you answer was A, you are like the majority of sales managers who would just put on more pressure and hope that the salesperson "gets the message" that they are in trouble. If your answer was B, well...there's a good chance you're not reading this article. If you answer was C, you are putting to use your emotional and psychological brainpower in an authoritative way to emphasize quality performances that will generate positive results.
One mistake sales managers make is concentrating too closely on immediate sales goals and overlooking the quality behaviors that may build better long-term results. There is more for the sales manager to focus on than sales results; it is important that the sales manager emphasize and encourage the behaviors and activities--like telemarketing, territory management, first-rate questioning skills, listening skills and things along those lines--that add to long-term sales success.
What are the best ways to emphasize those behaviors? The key is through praise. Praise is the cheapest resource accessible to you, and it may be going unused.
B.F. Skinner, the psychologist who introduced the theory of behavior modification, gave major insights into ways in which both positive and negative reinforcement can form and create performance patterns. Skinner's theory starts with the notion of operant conditioning, the idea that a behavior is reinforced with an operant reward or penalty directly after the behavior takes place. He tested his theory on lab rats in a box that grew to be recognized as the "Skinner box". The rats in the experiment were given a pellet of food every time they tapped a lever. The rats quickly figured out the game and consequently tapped the lever when they wanted to eat, and just when they wanted food.
Then, Skinner altered the experiment by presenting food only at fixed intervals--like, every five taps would give them a pellet--an alteration that the rats rapidly adapted to by tapping the lever just enough to get the next piece of food. Then, Skinner wanted to find out if the rats could be "influenced" to carry out the preferred behavior of tapping the lever on a continuous basis. He achieved this goal by generating a variable schedule of enforcement. In other words, the rewards for the rats were random. Occasionally two taps of the lever would give them a pellet, sometimes eight, or even 20. Since there was no guarantee of when the rewards would be given, the rats enthusiastically tapped the lever on a constant basis.