Tapping your employees' creativity can provide you with a wealth of ideas that you may have overlooked, in addition to creating an environment where workers feel engaged. Inc. interviewed seven experts on how to to get the best ideas and better input from your sales team.
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1. Use the Right Motivation. "Money is generally the worst. Pride in company, pride in personal accomplishment, and being able to meaningfully contribute are generally much more powerful and enduring. If you use exigent motivation like money, essentially what you're saying is, 'I'm going to pay you money if you find the cheese.' What happens is that employees will take the shortest route possible to get to the new idea. Innovation and new ideas often require a circuitous route. Brain science shows that the money just means less and less over time, so you just have to keep upping the amount. If you want to get ideas from employees, they need to understand the strategy of company. Only about 10 percent of employees can describe their strategy. Often times employees are asked to have really high quality in their work. Quality is actually sort of the enemy. New ideas and innovation are often sloppy. You have to embrace uncertainty. Innovation by definition is something that hasn't happened before." —Bruce Strong, partner, CBridge Partners, consulting organization for businesses and non-profits
(NOTE: At our fall 6 Pillars of Sales Productivity Workshop we have a session focused on Recognition and Rewards for Sales, led by our Pillar Partner Awards Network. Learn more about this Workshop Session CLICK HERE)
2. Prove Great Ideas can Come From Anywhere. "It's easy for people to think that new ideas are the responsibility of the innovation or R&D teams and have nothing to do with them. By telling the stories of some great everyday innovations such as the Post-It note, Band-Aid or traffic lights, Sales Managers can prove that game-changing ideas can come from anywhere and are not just the preserve of men and women in white coats or with bigger titles. In sales, sales reps are representative of the consumer, which makes them exceptionally qualified to come up with the next big thing."
—Philippa Brown, employee communication manager, Tata Global Beverages, makers of Tetley Tea and Good Earth beverages
(At our Fall Sales Coaching Summit, Mary Uhl-Bien, reknowned expert in leadership culture, will share research that show the necessity of accepting ideas and leadership from all levels of your sales team. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SUMMIT CLICK HERE)
3. Keep Them on the Same Page. "Nothing is more discouraging to you and your workers than getting overly simplistic or misguided advice. You'll be quick to shoot down suggestions that don't take into account all the variables, which is also a huge turn-off for the contributors. So you have to spend some time explaining the situation as you see it, including the ideas you have already considered and rejected. At my weekly meeting, I'll sometimes talk about a problem for several minutes, in order to explain it as completely as I can, before asking for ideas from my people. This leads to better, more nuanced advice, which leverages the knowledge that they have, and I don't."
—Paul Downs, owner of Paul Downs Cabinetmakers and author of the New York Times online column Staying Alive about the struggles of small businesses
(NOTE: The fall Sales Coaching Summit focuses in on advanced coaching techniques for senior Sales Managers. CLICK HERE)
4. Ask a Relevant Question and Provide Feedback. "A great place to start is to look at your sales objectives and pick a challenging business problem for which you do not have all of the answers. The best challenge questions are results-oriented, defining a specific outcome that is desired without limiting the nature of the solution. Providing background information on the problem, its history, and any past attempts to solve it help to keep the ideas focused and relevant. You need to invest some time to thoroughly understand the ideas, ask clarifying questions, cluster them into similar groups, and decide which ones will shape your next actions. Some employees will be disappointed that you did not select their ideas, but if they see that you gave real consideration to all options and made a rational choice, they will be likely to come back and participate in your next challenge."
—Matthew Broder, vice president, external communications, Pitney Bowes Inc., provider of business solutions
5. Remember That Employees are Customers, Too. "We realized we could tap our own employees to gather feedback on new ideas before doing formal research and created an on-line employee community called "FOODii." We have used FOODii for many things, including idea generation, packaging guidance, and insights into cooking habits. For example, our Jell-O marketing team turned to FOODii to help find a name for a new flavor of Jell-O Mousse Temptations. Less than 24 hours after the request, the Jell-O Team had 110 naming options to consider. They selected the 10 best names and sent them on to consumers for further evaluation. The final name, Chocolate Mint Sensation, comes from one of the suggestions provided through FOODii. Our employees have a vested interest in our success - they want to be sure we succeed, so their feedback is particularly valuable."
—Julie Fleischer, director of consumer relationship marketing content strategy & integration, Kraft Food
6. Make it Fun. "The old suggestion box just doesn’t do it anymore and you can wait a long time to get more than a few scattered ideas from a web site. Make it social: Ideas come from the interplay and free exchange between employees. Create opportunities for employees to get together and brainstorm. The Japanese have long done this informally with their after-work get togethers (though sometimes those involve excessive drinking). It doesn’t really matter how it’s done, as long as it's done together. New ideas come from playfulness and humor. If fun is not a dirty word at your business, you’ll hear a lot more ideas every day. Nothing shuts people up faster than knowing if they offer an idea the boss or company doesn’t like, they’ll pay for it. Really good ideas almost never sound "normal." Imagine how the idea for Post-it notes must have sounded when it was first described—'you stick these little pieces of paper everywhere, then...'"
—Steven Farmer, W. Frank Barton Distinguished Chair in Business, Department of Management, Wichita State University
7. Keep an Open Door. "Great ideas don’t keep to a schedule. As a sales leader, make sure your door —whether physical office or e-mail inbox—is always open to employees. When an employee approaches you and asks "do you have a moment?" make time for him or her, even if it isn’t convenient for you. Keeping an open door builds trust and demonstrates an active interest in what employees have to say. Over time, employees will share their ideas as they appear, knowing that a willing audience is waiting to hear them."
—Jennifer C. Loftus, national Director and founding partner, Astron Solutions
Many of these topics will be covered at our fall Sales Coaching Summit series, October 5-6 in Atlanta. If you are a senior Sales Manager who wants to evolve from ordinary Sales Manager to extraordinary Sales Coach, we invite you to join us. Learn advanced leadership and coaching techniques to help you get the most out of the people you are responsible for. CLICK HERE to learn about the Sales Coaching Summit Agenda.