Last week I had lunch with a marketing big wig for a major company. She deals with thousands of salespeople and wondered, like I do, why managers seem to toss out arbitrary goals for salespeople to hit. A lot of times, these numbers have no rhyme or reason. Truly it seems as if management has nothing better to do but think up hoops for salespeople to jump through. Check out the YouTube video below. It takes a fun, profane but sadly accurate look at how many salespeople feel, and how managers make confounding crap up. If you haven't seen this video, you are sure to enjoy!
So why do managers, owners or other sales directors come up with nebular commission plans and strange sales targets? They may say it has to do with increasing performance, but it really has to do with an illusion of control.
Sure, they say its to "motivate" and push you to the next level. After all, the guy in the video, "could have closed 86%", instead of 85%. But let's face it, its all a mind fuck not for you, but so the manager can feel like they are actually doing something. Numbers are the simply the crutch of the illusion of control.
Illusion of control basically means that people think they can control things that they really can't. It's a close cousin to superstition and you can see it prevalent at craps tables, lotto numbers and oh yeah, arbitrary sales targets. People think they can toss a six at craps by tapping on the table or blowing on the dice. Others think they have a better chance of winning the lottery if they choose the numbers as opposed to having them randomly assigned, even though the odds are exactly the same no matter which method is used.
Then there's the sales mangers with the illusion that they can control you and results by tossing out numbers and systems. Yes, I know, goals help people achieve greater things. I'm bought in. However many if not most managers take it too far. We're talking statements like: "Sales need to improve 10% Great Recession or not." "Numbers need to go up 20 percent every year." Even though the number of prospects or the territory shrinks. Or even worse, changing the sales commissions when those targets are hit.
Is it illusion of control or delusion of control? One way or the other sales managers want to feel like they are trying to control you. And the numbers managers toss out have no basis in well, anything. Here's the deal, though: managers think if they don't toss out numbers and arbitrarily raise quotas people won't perform. The dynamic sales leaders (much different than a manager) motivate without the mumbo-jumbo. They motivate without the illusion of control.
Look, there's nothing wrong with setting goals or outlining expectations. And yes, numbers do come into play, but there must be a logical reason behind them. It can't be just because someone decided that it should be that way, and for goodness sake, commissions don't have to be a shell game.
What's wrong with laying it all out to salespeople? Companies make investments in you. To make a return on investment, you must sell x dollars of product. Otherwise why have you around? Successful salespeople have averaged, x number of calls to make that happen. The more the company makes on you, the more you make as a salesperson...in real pay, not BS gift cards and incentive trips. How hard is that?
Apparently very hard. Because most salespeople tell me they are on the other side of the old man wearing the glasses. Companies should get smart, get rid of the assistant sales managers and sales managers who manipulate numbers to garner the illusion of control. Easily eight out of ten would go.
Then change commissions to something straightforward and honest. Forget the gold stars. Yes, we sell like second graders but it doesn't mean we have to be rewarded like trusted adults. Salespeople will sell more and no one will get stabbed in the neck with a letter opener.