A few years ago, I became the manager of a business that provided pre-press production services to major retailers.
Of the 50 employees, four were in the sales team – the rest worked in production or admin. Despite the appearance of a happy workplace in general, it didn’t take me long to sense widespread resentment towards those in the sales team.
‘All they do is drink coffee and talk to each other.’
‘They’re always out at lunch, on the company expense account.’
‘They have it easy – they should try doing some real work.’
I called the staff together for end of week drinks and gave them an update on the company’s progress. At the end, I announced an internal incentive scheme to encourage the growth of new business.
Any salesperson from our company who brought in new business over the next month would qualify to win one of four cash prizes, and whoever topped the new billings would get a special bonus.
I saw the bewildered looks on the faces of the production and admin staff – four prizes and only four salespeople -and lazy ones at that. So unfair!
Then I announced the special condition of the promotion.
‘The only people who are not eligible to take part in this are members of our sales team,’ I explained.
Someone from production was confused. ‘So who will win the prizes?’ he asked.
The deal was simple. Anyone from production or admin who wanted to go on the road, selling to potential clients, was welcome to take up to a month off their current roles and would be replaced by temps.
As it turned out, only two staff took the plunge and had a go at selling.
One landed an order of $800, the other managed a single sale worth $1,200 and duly won the top cash prize and special bonus (worth more than the sales they brought in).
But both staff were mightily relieved to return to the production department, away from the pressures of cold calling and trying to find new customers. As happy as they were with their cash prizes, they couldn’t wait to tell their workmates how scary it was to go into the world outside.
Overnight, 46 employees discovered new respect for their four colleagues in sales – the people who performed their magic outside the building and who needed coffee and a chat when they returned to base to recharge their batteries.
Our sales team thrived with the fresh support and encouragement they gained from their workmates.
And I can’t recall anyone whinging about them again.