For the sales and service leader to maintain motivation and productivity, there is one key principle: competition is external to the sales and service team/s. Competition and rivalry only belong in the market place, not within the sales or service team or teams.
Sure, it is common practice for managers of sales and service teams to run internal competitions. Typically these managers are thinking 1) competition is part of life and human nature, 2) they say competition motivates the team, 3) this drives a focus on attaining targets and that it is a way to have fun at work. They may even say that competition builds character, but these myths have been conclusively busted by behavioural and motivational theorists (such as Dan Pink, Alfie Kohn, Jason Fox and others).
Alfie Kohn once wrote: Competitions trivialise the nature of teamwork and turns it into a set of behaviours used to achieve victory. When organisations set teams against each other in some kind of contest, the message is that the only reason for a bunch of people to work together effectively is so they can defeat another group of people working together…rewards and punishment are two sides of the same coin”.
Sales and service managers will often take the ‘competition short cut’, with an expectation of improving performance. I confess I have run many sales competitions in the past and it is only from researching this topic and reflecting that I realised that there are five key issues with this practice.
- Competition breaks teamwork as sales and service people are encouraged to compete with each other.
- In most cases the team will know who will win – it’s the same few people each time. It is either the better sales people, or the ones driven to win at any cost. Competitions do not motivate the whole team, only a few.
- Competition drives the wrong behaviours. Does not build best practice sharing, coaching, nurturing of the new sales people, or the ‘rank and file’ team members. Can foster ‘gaming’. Competition actually drives complacency among the core members of the team that do a good job, day in day out. For these core team members, it can even reduce their confidence in the sales and service leader.
- Creates winners and losers within the team.
- Competition needs to be external not internal. The focus of the sales and service team needs to be on their prospects and customers, to edge off approaches from rivals and competitors.
However, managers continue to run internal competitions. In most work places there are “league ladders” on the walls showing who is at the top. To stay at the top I do not want o share what I am doing…those in the top group try to edge each other out for the top spot. Those in the middle watch the game, and those at the bottom are disengaged.
Let’s stay with the sports analogy that our Australian culture adores, we could shift from the League Ladder to the focusing on Personal Best. In the same way that swimmers, golfers and other athletes pay micro attention to their form (their stroke, swing, feet placement etc) and improving each micro-part of their technique and endeavouring to get a PB. This is what we want sales and service people and teams to focus on – micro, continual improvement to achieve a PB. And we can do it as a team.
If we must have competitions, then let’s ensure we have a focus on building teams, on building skills, and creating many more winners than losers. Then we will emphatically out class our rivals and competitors, as a team.