Autonomy as a Motivator in the Sales Process

If you’ve ever seen this popular TED talk by Daniel Pink on “The Puzzle of Motivation”, you know that autonomy is one of the most powerful intrinsic motivators for employees. Autonomy is our desire to have control over our work and choice in how we use our time.

Firms can support an environment of autonomy by giving people real control over various aspects of their work, including business development activities. When done correctly, firms can employ autonomy to motivate doer-sellers to participate in the business development process.

Here’s how to do autonomy the right way:

Communicate Goals & Vision

It’s not enough to tell your people to sell or teach them how to do it (although these are important); they need to know WHY their assigned tasks or individual goals have value to the firm. Make sure employees at all levels of your firm understand the vision and how their piece contributes to the big picture.

Provide Structure, Direction & Support

It’s important to find a balance between autonomy and structure. Before doer-sellers feel comfortable moving forward in the sales process on their own, they need to understand the rules of engagement. At a minimum, make sure your firm has the following in place:

  • Defined Sales Process: Give your doer-sellers a clear path to follow that outlines key steps and responsibilities. A shared understanding of key terms and processes helps to ensure everyone is speaking the same language and working from the same playbook.
  • Training: Incorporate some level of business development training into your firm. This can include tactical, skills-based training (such as how to ask for referrals or CRM training) as well as more general topics (such as understanding the firm’s target industries, service capabilities, etc.)
  • Tools & Resources: Give your doer-sellers the training and technology they’ll need to be successful in the sales process. Make sure employees know where to go when they have questions.

Let Them Fly!

If your doer-sellers have a firm understanding of why business development is important and the guidelines within which to operate, it’s time to get out of the way and let them do their thing!

Map out your current process and identify bottlenecks or unnecessary steps that can be eliminated or streamlined through the use of technology. (Remember, an autonomous environment is more focused on outcomes rather than the steps people take to get there.)

Here a few examples of areas within the BD process you may consider reworking:

  • Do you require a minimum number of hours per year/quarter/month to be spent on BD activities?
  • Do doer-sellers (specifically at the non-partner level) have to seek expense approval before taking a contact out for lunch?
  • Do you block access to social media sites?
  • Are doer-sellers dependent on the marketing team to provide a prospect with general information about the firm, its services, or its industry practice areas? (If your doer-sellers are frequently asking your marketing team for this information, it may be time to consider giving them access to the materials they need with a tool like POUNCE.)

Challenge yourself and firm leadership to find ways to reduce rules, incorporate flexibility and create decision-making opportunities.

Summary

Autonomy is a powerful motivator because it’s really about empowerment and trust. Empowered employees feel more valued and more satisfied, which increases their productivity and engagement. Trust your team to determine how to approach each sales opportunity and you’ll reap the rewards of an engaged, high-performing team.

Also remember: firms don’t have to change overnight. Start with small increases in flexibility and choice and implement changes gradually.

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