Imagine a retail sales team with a huge sales quota due in two weeks. Successfully meeting this quota will catapult the team members’ careers and dramatically increase their checkbook balances! Failing to hit their numbers within the 14 day window will set the stage for team realignments and terminations. With all the obvious benefits of sales success and the looming consequences of failure, the sales leader has to look for ways to motivate and support her team.  The only problem? The various team members show different levels of achievement drive.

Achievement Drive 101

 Achievement drive can best be described as an individual‘s will to put forth effort to achieve a stated goal. What makes achievement drive so difficult to pin down for sales leaders is it’s individual, personal nature. The same goal will generate a high level of achievement drive from one sales person and no drive from the next. 

When the stakes are high, too many sales leaders try to support their sales team with more product training because, frankly, that’s the go-to solution in our leadership portfolio. However, top sales performers demonstrate both product knowledge and achievement drive. If the sales leader in our scenario wants to meet her goal, she has to recognize and address gaps in achievement drive by tapping into her sales team members’ individual motivations and fears

Improving a sales rep’s achievement drive requires the powerful shift of two internal beliefs from negative to positive:

1. Is this something I can do?

2. Is this something I deserve?

Achievement drive comes from the internal conversation each individual has about a given task. A lifelong smoker might talk to his friends and family (external) about wanting to quit, but when he asks himself (internal) if he can stop smoking the answer most times is “no.”  After a heart attack, however, the need to quit can change that same person’s internal answer to a resounding “yes.” Feeling that he can quit smoking will provide the achievement drive to meet his goal.

Achievement Drive

The underachieving salesperson has similar conversations with himself every day. He wants to improve but doesn’t actually believe he can. By extension, if he doesn’t think he can improve, how could he possibly deserve any type of reward?  These sales people lack achievement drive because of negative internal conversations, which sales leaders haven’t identified or addressed.

A Tale of Two Conversations

I want to focus on the first of the two internal conversations because sales is one of the last meritocratic professions: If you do more, you get more! We can draw a straight line from a sales person‘s efforts to her long-term financial and professional results.

When sales leaders help change a team member’s negative answer to that first question – “is this something I can do?“ – into a “yes,” the chances of meeting performance goals skyrocket.

Consider a salesperson who looks at an upcoming sales quota and realizes she doesn’t have the closed business or active prospects to reach the quota in time. This is the point where her internal conversation turns negative: “I can’t do this.”  Armed with this negative internal conversation, she  believes no amount of work or help will get her across the finish line. Sales leaders should recognize the red flag when a sales person lacks specifics about how they plan to achieve their goals. It is at this point you need to step into this breach and lead!

Achievement Drive

You Can Do This…

Sales leaders should show their reps that any goal can indeed be reached. In a recent article, Mike Esterday of Integrity Solutions prescribed five steps to nurture achievement drive:

1. Define Objectives – Sales leaders can support their reps by breaking large goals into smaller, more achievable objectives.

2. Plan a Strategy – Too often, sales reps misinterpret “I don’t know how to do X” as “I can’t do X”. Creating a plan for reaching the achievable objectives of their larger goal will help.

3.  Build Belief – Show your sales people their past or related achievements to bolster their confidence. 

4.  Develop Strengths – Build on the tools the sales rep already has confidence in. Show how to direct the sales process to areas that highlight those strengths. 

5.  Manage Process – Focus on executing the plan you’ve developed with your rep. This shifts the pressure of achieving the goal away from the person and on to the tasks. “We manage tasks and lead people!“

Achievement Drive is, at its core, a personal belief system. By breaking a challenging goal into attainable/achievable objectives, you create the opportunity for a small scale successes. Attaining and celebrating each successful accomplishment will slowly develop the confidence which your sales rep can use as the building blocks of future achievement drive. 

Unlike with product or sales-process training, the underachieving sales professional will not respond to one-size-fits-all, group presentations. Developing and unleashing achievement drive requires you to build a relationship with each of your sales people. Once the relationship is built they can trust you when you push them beyond their comfort zones. Equipped with the knowledge about the roots of achievement drive and the five principles to reorient a sales person’s beliefs, each of your sales reps can be set on the path the greater success!


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