Managing B2B sales professionals grows more complex every year.

The steady influx of mobility, social media, and analytics represent both challenges and opportunities when it comes to nurturing an ever-changing workforce increasingly comprised of Millennials. Add to the mix the growing popularity of game mechanics, non-cash incentives, collaboration initiatives, and their ability to drive B2B revenue — and beat quota — becomes an environment of continuous change for modern sales leaders.

Among all the jobs in the modern enterprise, the sales position has traditionally been considered the most straightforward to manage. Thanks to the traditional pay-for-play approach to compensating quota-carrying staff members, generations of B2B sales managers have, in a sense, had it sort of easy: reps succeed when they hit their number and fail when they don’t.

When your individual contributors are responsible for their own destiny, the softer elements of human capital management — such as employee satisfaction or engagement — need less leadership attention, right?

Times Have Already Changed. Have You?

Wrong. Whether or not the Internet — which is universally acknowledged to have changed just about everything in modern business and culture — is the primary catalyst for massive shifts in how employees expect to be managed, the fact is that they do, even in sales.

Aberdeen Group’s ongoing sales performance management (SPM) research tracks trends and developments demonstrating that traditional 20th century sales management techniques continue to die out. These techniques are being replaced by styles, processes, and technologies reflective of a more sensitive and flexible approach, one that, let’s face it, would make Horrible Bosses or Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross turn over in their grave.

The fact is, Millennials now comprise the largest segment of the US workforce, and they don’t react to the same motivational techniques, communication styles, or compensation schemes to which previous generations of sales professionals responded. Nevertheless, coming of age in an era of ubiquitous online activity, collaborative interactions, and universal mobility, the under-35 crowd has a lot to offer the modern sales leader who is willing to engage them using a different, updated tool kit.

New Aberdeen research into sales training and SPM competencies reveals, in Figure 1, that our top-performing, Best-in-Class cohort has made far more progress in evolving their sales management techniques to accommodate and leverage today’s new breed of individual contributors:

Figure 1: Top Performers Adapt Sales Management to a Changing Audience

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 11.07.53 AMHere, we see that the most successful sales teams, defined by stronger quota attainment and sales cycle reduction, are 24% more likely than under-performers (77% vs. 62%) to indicate a high or very high existing level of sensitivity to the dramatic changes in the makeup of the B2B sales workforce. The V-shape of the data presented in Figure 1 provides a compelling case for sales leaders to re-think their approach to managing “kids these days.”

Conversely, while not a single Best-in-Class company agreed that “we’ve seen zero need to adapt sales management strategies or styles,” one in five Laggard firms (21%) selected this response to our Millennials question. Considering the poor overall performance of Laggards — their average year-over-year performance worsened in 11 of 12 tracked research metrics — their sales management style is clearly not the one to emulate.

Show Me The…Pat on the Back?

Returning to the Best-in-Class sales organizations, Aberdeen’s annual SPM research reveals a remarkable three-year trend that speaks to the heart of how Millennials compel a change in our management approaches.

Each year, Aberdeen survey respondents are asked, “In your opinion, what are the top three motivators behind superior sales behavior?” As we see in Figure 2, while financial compensation remains the leading driver of sales excellence, among top-performing companies the balance between money and non-financial motivators has changed dramatically:

Figure 2: Money Isn’t Everything to Millennials

sales_compensation_millenialsThe data shows that among the most elite sales teams, the percentage of respondents not selecting money as a top-three motivator has increased from 2% to 24% to 36%, while the “softer” side of sales management levers have generally grown in importance. This is not to imply that base-plus-commission compensation structures should be abandoned. Sales professionals and channel partners alike obviously respond to financial incentives with the behavior that sales and executive leadership desire.

And yet, a more holistic approach to inspiring individual contributors is supported by the data. Millennial sellers are not less likely than their predecessors to compete aggressively with one another in pursuit of money, points, or President’s Club — see new gamification findings in What Motivates Best-in-Class B2B Sellers? You’ll Be Surprised (October 2015) — but are definitely more desirous of recognition for a job well done, the opportunity to collaborate with team members, chances to increase their skill set, and overall career development.

Only time will tell if one of the non-financial elements in Figure 2 eventually overtakes cold, hard cash as a Best-in-Class pathway toward quota-busting behavior. However, if current trends continue, we’ll have to continue evolving our approach to sales performance management.

Read the full report: Sales Performance Management 2016: How the Best-in-Class Evolve Success.

Image Source (Creative Commons): John Morgan.

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