I’ve written about several times about motivation (here, for example, and in my new book). But “de-motivation” is a different animal.

Typical motivation techniques are designed to create inspiration. They work well for unmotivated reps—those who haven’t found or have lost their internal desire to excel.

But demotivated reps are those who are encountering barriers that they think are preventing them from doing their jobs. To get better performance from them, you have to remove the barriers or at least provide the rep with better ways of coping with whatever is discouraging them.

What Not To Do!

I remember it like it was yesterday. My area VP called and said that he planned to stop by my office in a few days to talk about something important. Because I’d recently been named “GM of the Year: West Region,” I assumed that he wanted to discuss a possible promotion.

He arrived at my office, sat down, and said, “Kevin, I’m here because recently I’ve become really concerned about your lack of commitment to this company.”

I was stunned. How did I go from hero to slouch in just two months? How could he possibly think I lacked commitment?

Because of this VP’s approach, I immediately became defensive and shut down. I didn’t really hear what the VP was saying, and wasn’t open to trying to see if I had been at fault in some way.

How to approach the rep

The big picture you want to keep in mind is how to confront the situation in a way that results in improving motivation. How do you not make the problem worse?

Being on the wrong end of this kind of coaching discussion and having many of my own experiences dealing with demotivated reps has taught me that sales managers dealing with willingness issues have to do three things:

1. Put their dominant self in “park.” People with bad attitudes, in most cases, don’t recognize it in themselves. I sure didn’t. If you take a direct approach with a demotivated rep, it will come as a surprise, and they will likely become defensive (as I did). If you are blunt, people will resist. They may speak their objections or, like me, simply sit silent and detached.

2. Probe for the source of unwillingness before prescribing a solution. You have no idea, really, what the source of the poor attitude is. Perhaps the rep is unhappy with a recent change in the organization—compensation plans, territory alignment, organizational structure, job responsibilities, and so on. Or perhaps there is something in their personal life (relationship issues, illness, etc.) that is robbing them of energy and enthusiasm. Or it could be a combination of these factors.

3. Comment on specific behavioral observations rather than jump to conclusions. You have to separate the unacceptable behavior from the person. If you sound judgmental of them as a person, you will never make progress.

Using these tactics, you can approach reps in a non-accusatory way and communicate your expectations that they will now conform to the high standards you’ve set for your team.

Kevin F. Davis shares practical solutions to the most challenging issues that frontline sales managers struggle with every day. Kevin blogs on methods for everything from leading, coaching, and managing priorities, to hiring, forecasting, and driving rep accountability. Kevin is the president of TopLine Leadership, Inc., and the author of the new book, “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness.” Find his blogs and articles at TopLineLeadership.com/blog and kevinfdavis.com/blog

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