Fable Friday:  Aflac and how to coach performance

In a New York Times interview, Daniel Amos, CEO of Aflac, said that when he used to discuss annual goals with his sales team, he never mentioned how much product he wanted sold.  Instead, he positioned the conversation around the incentive to be earned, like this:  “I want you to make $80,000 in incentives this year.”  As Amos pointed out, “No one ever says ‘Oh, I don’t want to make that much money.’”

This approach is consistent with some of the best practices you saw last week in our quiz on how to coach Fred, the reluctant caller. I mixed up some best practices with some less effective remarks, so there was no one scenario that was perfect, but here are some of the things that worked.

Focus on the positive

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedTry to lead with a discussion of strengths, and keep the conversation at all times positive:  “two areas that have impressed me are your close ratio and that you consistently make goal year over year.”  Avoid starting the conversation as if you’re going to give your team member a scolding.  Here was a poor start:

“Fred, last year you made an average of 12 on-site calls per month, while the rest of the team averaged 18.  And although you just made goal for the year, I’d like to see you do better than that.”

And while we’re thinking positively, get the performer to talk about what he CAN do.  Don’t focus on obstacles, as in this comment:  “What’s getting in the way of your making more calls?” It will get you into a maze of excuses and take his eye off the ball.

Offering thanks and congratulations on successes is a good way to keep the conversation positive. Here was a great intro:  “Fred, before we talk about your plans for next year, let me first congratulate you on last year’s performance, once again meeting your sales quota.  Thank you for your contribution. It makes me feel better to know I have a talented performer like you on my team, someone I can count on.”

Use benefit statements: what’s in it for YOU

You can use many different benefit statements, but the most powerful are the ones that focus on what success means to the individual.  Here’s a good one:

“A breakthrough year not only ensures you’ll surpass your goals, but it would also enhance your professional reputation within the team. You’d be a rock star.  But more importantly, a greater call production combined with your sales skill is guaranteed to put more money in your pocket and I’d love to write you a fat bonus check.”  Sounds like Daniel Amos, doesn’t it?

Your feedback

Jeff Horton and James Carr, two very strong sales managers in the financial services area, made the same excellent suggestion to me about this case, and that was to give Fred a bigger “stretch goal.”  Instead of asking him to make 20 calls, which would be simple to do, why not suggest 30?

In general I agree with them, but keep in mind that if you do this you have to be a very good coach, staying on top of Fred’s call numbers each month so that he stays motivated and doesn’t fall behind and get discouraged.  Thanks Jeff and James.

Think Like Your Customer!