A small-business owner was in trouble. She decided to call in an expert sales consultant to give her an outsider’s viewpoint. After she had gone over her plans and problems, the business owner took the consultant to a map on the wall where she had stuck brightly colored pins to note where she had a salesperson.

“Now,” she asked, “for a starter, what is the first thing we should do?”

“Well,” replied the consultant, “the first thing is to take those pins out of the map and stick them in the salespeople.”

Ouch! This business owner never learned the basic lesson: It’s not how many salespeople you have, it’s how many sales your people make.

At MackayMitchell Envelope Co., we have a formal sales force, but I live by the motto that every employee we have is in sales. They all represent our company and have an impact on our customers.

Sales is the lifeblood of all business. There are no companies unless someone brings in the business. So, short of sticking pins in them, how do you fire up your salespeople?

One of the most effective incentives I’ve used over the years is crisp, crunchy, crackly, cold, hard cash. Money remains a prime motivator, but there are many others.

Recognition promotes results. At MackayMitchell, we recognize our employees with tickets for sporting events, the theater, symphony concerts and dinners. We like to celebrate our employees’ accomplishments.

I make a point of recognizing people in front of their peers. Why not give others something to strive for and show them how you value good performance? Ever meet a person who didn’t like recognition? No way.

Promote successes. We have a large bell at our company, and any time we get a big order, our sales reps can’t wait to ring it loud and proud. People come out of their offices and want to know about the sale and get excited to match it or better it.

Another key ingredient in motivating a sales force is learning how people want to be managed. No two people are alike. You need to get in the face of some people and give a lot of slack to others. Some like to be challenged; others are self-starters. Get in the trenches and learn more about your team’s skills.

Continue to train and educate your sales team. You don’t learn everything in school — you learn all your life. I’m a big believer in continuous education. If one of our people learns a new sales technique, we ask them to share it with the team so we can all benefit.

We’re always brainstorming and experimenting. Sometimes things don’t work out, and sometimes they do. You can’t punish people for making mistakes, as long as they don’t make the same mistake three times.

Finally, you must allow your sales force to focus on selling. Let them do what they do best and help them in any way possible with great marketing materials. Lighten their load by requiring them to fill out fewer reports or work flexible schedules to meet their customers’ needs.

Columnist Ben Holden tells the story of a newly hired traveling salesman named Gooch who wrote his first report to the home office. It stunned the brass in the sales department because it was obvious the new man was illiterate. He wrote:

Dear Bos: I have seen this outfit which ain’t never bot a dimes worth of nothing from us, and I sole them a couple hunerd thousand dollars of guds. I am now going to Chicawgo.”

Before Gooch could be given the heave-ho by the sales manager, this letter came from Chicago: “I cum hear and sole them haff a millyon.”

Fearful what would happen if he did or did not fire the Gooch, the sales manager dumped the problem on the president. The following morning, both letters were posted on the bulletin board with the following memo from the president:

“To All Salespeople: We ben spending two much time trying to spel instead of trying to sel. Let’s watch those sails. I want everybody shud reed these leters from Gooch, who is on the rode doin a grate job for us, and you shud go out and do like he done.”

Mackay’s Moral: Do a sales job on your sales force to promote stellar sales.


Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.