In “The One-Hour Sales Manager” I shared a list of all the things I’d like to have in a manager. I created that list in my last hour before taking the helm as VP of Sales. Interestingly I named both “praise” and “recognition” on a short list of seven words.

Is there a difference between praise and recognition? It was funny to see hanging on my wall each day, and while I would sum them both up today as “appreciation,” I came to differentiate recognition in my mind as things I can do publically to provide “status” as a reward for good salesmanship.

Public recognition does more than just make a rep blush, it sets the standard by which all reps will seek to perform. It also helps identify who the future leaders of the sales organization will be, leaving few surprises and greasing the skids for acceptance of those leaders when promotions are made.

Here are a few ways I’ve recognized star performers:

  • I published a monthly wrap-up of sales performance which the entire sales organization read, plus all company managers. It was a simple email narrative with an attached graph of our key metrics. All reps with 100% to goal or higher were featured as a bullet in the narrative. I used the opportunity to say more than how Patty crushed her goal, I described what habits or techniques made her specifically successful that month. That’s a lot of work. But it was among the most important tasks I did every month.
  • We had an awards night at our annual sales conference. Picture your average sales awards night on steroids. It was a very big deal to win Regional MVP, Top Rep, Rookie of the Year, and so on. I required each presenter to submit a draft of their award speech to make sure that nearly everyone in the room would pretty much cry during every speech. Most companies just want that ceremony to end so they can get to the bar but we could have gone all night recognizing our stars. We didn’t give away trips or cars or big bonuses; we just talked from the heart and gave people the proudest moments of their lives. And then we went to the bar.
  • I followed a strict policy of promoting from within. I found this to be the most sincere form of recognition and while we had a lot of on-the-job-training as a result, that policy more than paid off in respect and loyalty to managers because reps knew they had earned their promotions, as well as motivational fuel and retention from our young reps with ambition.
  • Every once in a while we found a nice professional development opportunity for our staff. Rather than send the entire team, we invested in top performers to attend the event and come back and lead the entire staff in a summarized session in their own words.  Not only did I get an opportunity to recognize reps, our team got the personalized version of a what might have been a generic message.
  • Also on the PD theme, our rock stars were heavily involved in planning and putting on our annual Sales Conference. It was terrific to share some of the workload with people who were thrilled to be asked to help.
  • We developed “Team Lead” positions inside of even small departments. I didn’t even always have a budget to pay the Team Lead more than their peers, but in a high-growth environment the opportunity for a real promotion was likely to present itself sooner or later, and reps showed enthusiasm and pride for this honor by stepping it up to train and support their peers.

On top of these more formal ideas, you can build a culture of recognition by marking the moment in some small way when your team closes a sale, opens a new district, sets an appointment, or hits their daily call count. It’s fun to ring a bell or join in a line dance at the end of a great day! Bigger milestones like launching your 500th school site or making quarterly goal should have correspondingly bigger celebrations. Pull a prank on your good-natured CEO, play 9 holes of putt-putt between the cubicles, head off-site for a toast, or give a small trinket to every employee to remind them the rewards of hard work. These are the ties that bind.

Never look at time you spend on recognition as time that could be better spent growing the business. Recognition will grow your business faster than any other method you could choose!

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