Editor's Note: When this story first was published, it was credited to Jennifer Swick, Scott Ericson's partner at Wheelhouse 2020.

Security is traditionally thought of as a positive state, but it can also lead to complacency and apathy in salespeople. In my experience, top-tier salespeople, those who exceed your expectations every day, never truly feel secure. They are competitive people, constantly driving for more, never satisfied with their current sales or income. To them, the thought of losing even one account is unacceptable. These self-motivated individuals are continually aware of the competition and usually act with a highly developed sense of purpose and urgency. They believe that the competition is always trying furiously to separate them from their top accounts. You know what? They are absolutely right.

Scott Ericson
Wheelhouse 2020 Scott Ericson

Building an insecure sales force means building a team that is internally motivated to achieve above average results. It does not mean hiring individuals who lack confidence, as the title of this article might suggest. It is about creating a team of salespeople who use cross-selling techniques, develop plans, overcome obstacles, start early, and stay late. These people recognize a competitor's success as their loss.

Four steps to building an insecure sales force

Accountability: To break out of a secure routine, salespeople must acknowledge that they are accountable for their own success and the profits of the organization. When communicating accountability, it is necessary that a salesperson take ownership over the company's revenue. Salespeople are hired and compensated to generate profits for the organization. A truck driver must be able to drive a truck in order to have value in his or her position. If a purchasing agent does not understand commodity buying, then he or she should be relocated. If a salesperson cannot sell, then he or she needs to find another profession. Salespeople are accountable and have chosen or been promoted to the occupation because of their personalities, communication skills, and experience. They have been identified as the employees who are uniquely qualified to create sales. That is not to say that everyone isn't responsible for sales, but salespeople are the employees held accountable.

Visibility: The phrase "ignorance is bliss" certainly applies to a secure force. It is comfortable for salespeople to think that they are doing everything possible and the circumstances are solely a condition of the market. Salespeople often don't want you to know what they are doing. It is their power. Additionally, most companies only use one performance measure for salespeople. Without visibility over several sources of factual data, it is difficult to enforce accountability. The company and the salesperson need to have visibility over sales, margins, pipeline reports, closing ratios, customer rankings, target customers, lost customers, and market share data. It is important to have a process that will continuously track and monitor sales success against benchmarks and the market in real time. Evaluating a salesperson's progress quarterly is too late. It is always more effectual to drive a car by looking out the front rather than trying to navigate using the rearview mirror.

Training: For salespeople who are not internally motivated, the good news is that insecurity and urgency can be taught once accountability has been communicated. When building an effective sales force, a company has an obligation to provide the necessary resources for the salespeople to ensure success. It starts with teaching the team to accurately and consistently communicate how the company's unique advantages will benefit the customer. They must also be shown how to proficiently execute the organization's strategy and sales call process. They should be able to effectively use their pipeline reports to provide visibility and demonstrate a clear understanding of products and customer service.

Motivation: The final step to building an insecure team is to supply motivation. Telling a salesperson that he or she will be fired unless sales improve is not motivational, especially if the salesperson does not feel he or she has the support, training, visibility, accountability, or resources to change the outcome. Instead of looking for sales, a threatened salesperson will more likely spend time looking for another job. Salespeople should be afraid of losing business to the competition, not afraid of losing their jobs. The motivational tools that the company uses should be as unique as the individual. It is important to find out specifically what inspires each person. For some people, it is money, others respond to recognition, responsibility, or empowerment. Design your incentive program with this in mind. Whichever tool is used, it should be consistent and directed toward the intended results.

If salespeople are accountable, visible, trained, and motivated, a company will more easily create an effective, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and professional sales team. The goal should be a team that is constantly thinking of ways to defeat the competition and that always treats each customer as if it is their only account. Today, selling is truly a zero sum game: the pie just got smaller and salespeople are required to take a piece from competitors while simultaneously defending their own slice. There will be winners and losers in this market because there are simply not enough opportunities for everyone. It will be the insecure sales force that prevails.

Wheelhouse 20/20 is a business development company founded by former Parr Lumber executives Jennifer Swick (mail%20to:%[email protected]) and Scott Ericson. It focuses on serving companies within the LBM and building industries.