Guest Column - March/April 2018

Building, and Keeping, an Engaged Team

(Yes, Including Millennials)

By Dennis Borst

It's a simple formula: Hire and retain top-flight talent, then put the group together into a winning team. Sounds easy to do, right? But ask any seasoned sales manager, and they will tell you it isn't so easy.

It isn't just that recruiting and retention require constant attention, we all know that. The real key to long-term successful sales teams is engagement. So how do you create an engaged sales team that can drive your company revenue and ROI higher than you ever thought possible?

First off, an employee engagement commitment must be considered a company investment, not an expense. If top-level management's attitude is, "We already pay them to do their job, isn't that enough?" there lies your fight. These old-school executives are going to find themselves outmaneuvered by forward-thinking executives out to eat their lunch. The forward-thinkers are looking to enlighten, enthuse, encourage and elevate the performance of their team. At the same time, the dinosaurs are thinking their sales people are "lucky to have a job." These executives need to wake up now, before they fall by the side of the road. Their employees are their most important product, not the widgets they are trying to sell. And if they don't wake up soon, their team will disintegrate, with millennials going out the door first looking for a position with a forward-thinking company.

With each new generation entering the workforce comes a new set of expectations. Gone are the days of the baby boomer attitude of "What can I do to get ahead at my company?" The mantra of the millennial is, "What can you do for me?" The baby boomer generation followed the example of their Depression-era parents who brought a sense of pride and loyalty to the job. Generations that followed saw these parents lose their jobs to downsizing, reorganization and globalization, with dedication and loyalty discarded as unimportant. Hence, follow-up generations started job-hopping every couple years purely for the money without ever engaging themselves in their work. They were looking for jobs, not careers.

In response, companies began the implementation of Suggestion Programs, Length of Service Programs, Sales Incentives and Recognition Programs. And guess what? Those programs worked!

However, in spite of the success of these programs and the reporting of that success in white papers, university research, as well as industry research, only a quarter of American companies have such programs in place. Why, you wonder? It's old-school thinking again: "We pay them, and that should be enough."

I look back to my early days as a mid-level manager at a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company, where the philosophy was "the company owed the employee a day's pay for a day's work, and the employee owed the company a day's work for a day's pay." It is frightening to think that this stinking thinking still exists in the majority of companies.

The real key to long-term successful sales teams is engagement.

It all reduces down to this: As a manager, are you an oyster or an eagle? Are you going to take the attitude that there remain opportunities out there that are financially advantageous? Are you going to go out and get it, like an eagle? Or are you going to sit there waiting for it to come to you, like an oyster? From this point forward, I will be addressing you eagles. You oysters can sit back and wait for someone to bring you lunch.

When I started this discussion, I talked about starting the engagement process with your existing team. It won't be tough to shuck the oysters and begin adding top-notch add-ons through an employee referral program. No one is better equipped to know who is good than your sales team. Consider yourself a pro sports team adding successful free agents to bolster your talent roster. By establishing employee engagement strategies at your company, you will define yourself as a desirable employment target. Everyone wants to play for the Yankees, right?

Before I begin discussing specifics I must assume you are committed to building an empowered, engaged employee environment at your company. If not, you can stop reading now as I have not gotten through your dinosaur hide. If your team is going to assist you in signing free agents, they must be engaged. The things free agents are looking for, especially millennials, are the same things that engaged employees cite as their key motivating factors:

  • Everyone works on a level playing field.
  • Your company takes a real interest in what employees think.
  • Your company exhibits a clear path for advancement.
  • Your company recognizes individual and team performance.
  • Your company provides employees the tools required to succeed and drive performance.
  • Your company continually works toward process improvement, utilizing employees from across all disciplines in the company.
  • Your company provides value-added benefits that create a positive environment and sense of team.
  • Your company also employs strategies to engage customers.
  • Your company has a positive image in the community.
  • Your company has programs in place that promote employee health and well-being.
  • Your company has a safe work environment.

You receive the grade of eagle if, and only if, your company follows all these practices. Without these practices you may still lure free agents with money, titles, perks and promises. But this is a short-term fix and does nothing to create an empowered, engaged environment. Don't step in the dinosaur scat.

Dennis Borst has more than 30 years in the media, promotions and incentives world. He has extensive experience with driving customer behavior, increasing employee performance and establishing brand identities. Dennis has worked with General Motors, Ford, Buffalo Wild Wings, Lexus, and Foot Locker, to name a few of his experiences. Since 1995, he has managed the B2B gift card program for Foot Locker and Champs Sports.