By Dorothy York, President and CEO of North American Precis Syndicate (NAPS)
Against all odds, the optimists are finding new ways, including games, to motivate staff members, who face an uphill battle in the wake of the fallout, from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, on our economy.
Good leadership starts with setting realistic goals that are attainable. Staff members have to understand what steps can be taken along the path to success, to ensure the most favorable outcomes. The opportunity pie may be smaller, due to business closures, tighter budgets, and the uncertainty that causes inertia, but there is a way to continue to grow, under these difficult circumstances.
Before the pandemic, if we can accept that we were not at capacity for bringing in new business, we can continue to use strategies that helped us to move in the right direction and we can add a few new ideas to the mix, to adjust for the changes that have interrupted our progress. There are several ways to grow business in the “new normal”:
1- New Business: Create an awareness of your message among all the members of your target audience. There are many people who may be hearing it for the first time. We must continue our marketing efforts to get attention from a bigger share of our target audiences.
2- Repeat Business: Reconnect with people who have been neglected due to lack of outreach, possibly due to a smaller staff size trying to reach the same number of prospects. It’s much easier to retain and renew business with existing customers than it is to win new business.
3- Win Back Business: Examine the reason that some did not renew and develop a strategy to win back those that have been lost from previous years. There are several possible categories that those who did not renew can fall into, such as:
A) The old contacts are gone and the new contacts are either not familiar, or not receptive.
B) If not familiar, we need to get in touch with our best marketing efforts.
C) If not receptive, we need to determine the reason and try to overcome objections.
D) Valid objections may be a sign that we need to try again at some later date or concede that we will not be able to do business with some prospects. Some factors may be beyond our control. For example, a company has gone out of business, a product line has been eliminated, or budgets have been frozen, or cut dramatically.
E) Invalid objections may be a sign that we need to continue the conversation. Qualify prospects by determining if objections are valid, or not. For example, if someone says “I don’t have budget”, that may be an easy way to end the conversation, but what they are really saying is “tell me more about why I should use your service/product”. We can educate people to the best of our abilities, instead of giving up too easily, in order to win more business.
Some businesses are transactional, which would preclude us from using the same strategies as we would in a relationship business. If someone is simply choosing among parity products/services, and just looking for the best price, and we can’t lower our price to a level that is enough to be profitable, we should just concede and move on. That scenario is just a race to the bottom in which competitors will bid against each other and drive the business into a downward spiral until it ends.
Ideally, to win business, you will be able to demonstrate the benefits of your product/service and be able to differentiate that from others who claim to do the same for less. For example, you could say that you would outperform on the basis of quality or service and specify how you would do that.
Trust is an essential element in the business development process. The best way to earn trust, early on, is to tell success stories and how you helped people to solve a problem of some kind. If you can position yourself as a trusted advisor with a long track record of doing excellent work, with many satisfied customers, who have been with you for many years, you will earn the respect and trust of your prospects.
In a down economy, staff members may be reluctant to have the conversations necessary to win business, because they may have a defeatist attitude, thinking that most objections are valid and that there is little they can do to change the situation. They need to be motivated to perform to the best of their abilities, and take conversations to the next level. One way to do that is with a gamification of the business development process.
We have used gamification of many contests with various prizes offered for people who achieve graduated levels of performance. Those start out easy and then include increasing levels of difficulty. For example, here are a few we have tried to incentivize people:
1- Proposal Contest: For those offering the most proposals to win new business. This always results in new business from unexpected sources and the prizes are a small fraction of the new business that is brought in.
2- Social Media Contest: We offered summer Fridays off, for the whole team, for achieving the goal of a benchmark number of new social media engagements. This was remarkably effective and time-off is so precious to our workers that it was a huge motivating factor.
3- Revenue Contest: For those able to generate the most revenue in a month, we gave pre-defined cash prizes for first, second and third place. This was above and beyond any other compensation that staff was otherwise entitled to. These bonuses, based on performance, were instrumental in motivating people to excel by trying harder.
The competitive spirit is a powerful motivator. People love to win. Even a small reward is better than none at all, and you would be surprised at how hard people will work to achieve even the most nominal prizes, such as dinner for two, tickets to an event or show, gift cards or small amounts of cash. People may try harder to win bigger prizes, with points that turn into trips, such as an all expenses paid vacation for two, for a weekend, or a week, all the way up to cruises or luxury resorts. The cost of the prizes is always, a small fraction of the awards of new business, and far exceeded by the volume of new business brought in.
These prizes were all offered in conjunction with the usual incentives for new prospects, including discounts, added value options, and even rebates, or drawing prizes, to help generate interest among our target audience and help our team to do even better. This worked extremely well, resulting in happy, satisfied clients that came back year after year for more good service. For the proposal contest, people were offering slightly modified proposals in various industry sectors, such as travel, home improvement, auto repair, insurance, pet grooming, etc. This helped us to reach out to more people in our target audience with long-term plans that resulted in a high lifetime value.
There were several refinements made to the rules of the contests, after careful consideration of the goals and the ways to get there, going through those with a fine tooth comb. For example, for the proposal contest, we needed to be sure that the proposals were actually getting to the prospects, not just requests for our staff to create fantastic spec jobs, and that people actually followed up with clients to get the business. We had to be sure, with the social media contest, that we were reaching our target audiences with our messages, not just employees, friends and family members. For the revenue contest, which helped increase our closing percentages, some people may have felt that it was impossible to reach the goals, so they stopped trying as hard, and we needed to offer more levels of achievement with additional prizes for subsequent contests. The prizes have to be what people want, or some may want the cash equivalent.
If you really want a highly organized approach, with sophisticated implementation, that will work even better than you had hoped, there may be a need to confer with outside counsel, with experience regarding setting up rules for events, such as sweepstakes, which may have legal implications that were not originally considered. They may come back to you with a long list of rules on several pages. The more times you create games, with each subsequent version, the more efficient those get.
Good managers have a high energy level, enthusiasm and an optimistic attitude that is often contagious. Even if they feel doubts on the inside, they must put on their best happy faces and keep up morale with exciting positive messages about the wonderful, awesome road to a better future, for people to look forward to. Passion for the job is essential for the best performance. If people believe in and love what they do, they will exude confidence and project an aura of sweet successful accomplishment. The best managers know how to harness their high octane energy and translate it to their staff, and maintain the excitement throughout the process.
It is important to recognize the good work and progress of staff members, to keep them happy, and motivated, to continue doing their best for the team, and possibly even up the level a notch for all the team members. You can make the game more fun by including a publicly displayed bulletin board with stickers, either virtually, or with a simple photograph that can be shared. You can have a theme, such as a jungle safari, a nautical voyage of some kind or maybe a hike in the mountains. You could also try tying it in to an action adventure entertainment theme, such as Marvel’s Avengers, Disney or Warner Brothers films, recently released, to keep it fresh and relevant.
You don’t need next level creative designers to create the kind of great games that many folks grew up with, such as Super Mario Bros., which is now celebrating the 35th anniversary. To make it more visually appealing, creative teams can create professional looking images for a big digital screen, but you don’t need that level of sophistication to get started. There are many tools to create your own games, online, for free, but you can start out with a simple process that doesn’t require a fancy game board or any new software, only a way to communicate the progress to the team, such as email or, if you use Slack, there is a game board that you can populate with your data.
You can simply print things out and stick those on a wall, and show that to your staff. Anybody can do this. For example, you can create a sign, and maybe a statue of an action figure, to ramp things up, get people on board and let people know something is coming. You can show how work moves from one wall to another, as new business comes in. You can have a grid of lines and columns for progress levels and people participating, indicating which prizes they have qualified for, as the game progresses. You can add information as it comes in, from periodic meetings with the staff. You can make it more fun by adding party music to your presentation.
To help gamify your process, you might want to try showing off a “tree of success” which is a simple way of showing people, by putting gift cards in colorful envelopes on a small tree, what the opportunities are. You can try adding more tiers, to up the stakes, with bigger prizes, leading up to “The Ultimate Voyage” or some other great achievement. By the time people get up to the top tier, they are making a fortune for the company.