During an extended downturn in equipment sales like we’ve been experiencing, how do you motivate your employees to maintain a sense of urgency? Do incentives work in situations like this?


“I would have to say that our employees are part of the greater rural community and are well aware of ag conditions. Their motivation is that they still have a job. If you need to incentivize employees during these times, you have big problems.”

— Donnie Lund, President, Lund Implement, Madison, Minn.

“Our shops have been busy, so the downturn has not affected the shops sense of urgency. A shortage of techs industry wide has made us constantly monitor tech wages and benefits to keep up with a quickly changing market. Parts is similar but there is less pressure on wages increasing across the industry. With wholegood sales, we had to revamp our pay structure and build in a bigger base to compensate for the more difficult market. We had to lower the commission percent to make this feasible, but we built in volume margin dollar kickers to encourage our salesperson to reach higher levels in sales & margin. More month-to-month stability with similar income potential as the volume increased.”

— Jerry McCain, Regional Manager, Service Motor Co., Green Bay, Wis.

“One, lead by example, my positive attitude is the most important message. Two, if it did not come as standard equipment within each individual there is little hope!”

— Kenny Bergmann, Sales Manager, S & H Farm Supply, Lockwood, Mo.

“I have a little different approach in driving sales that has always worked in a down economy. My approach is focusing on helping our customers rather than selling them something. I believe in involving everyone at the store to help our customers in whatever their needs are and to also alert our customer if there are great savings going on that can help them genuinely.

“Empowering our employees to help our customers is a great way to build a team and it is so important for us to lead by example in doing the right thing and demonstrating altruistic behavior. Inspiration and appreciation are great example to follow and lead by that lead to happy productive employees and customers that are loyal to you.”

— Victor Caratachea, Sales Manager, Washington Tractor, Mount Vernon, Wash.

“Employees who have that something inside of themselves become reactive from your motivations as the leader of the pack. They see excitement that you see, and they feel what a good leader projects. Too often our salespeople are great people and often survive in a sales world but are not real salespeople themselves. They would probably be successful to a degree anywhere because they work hard, are liked or loveable, and so they survive in the sales world.

“Once several years ago, we had a young man that was a parts man. Not just any parts man, he was a great one with the ability to become one of the best this industry had ever seen. He thought he wanted to be a salesperson. It was his thought that they made all the money with less effort and with less responsibility. Instead of helping him see his potential, and by helping him understand the business and helping to lay out a professional projection within the parts depart to include a good competition program, we made him a salesperson. He survived as a salesperson but was average at best, when he could have been great, we stole from him that opportunity to be great and helped him be average.

“The better question to ask isn’t how we keep our salespeople motivated, it’s how we find those people that have it within themselves to become motivated and stay motivated. I don’t motivate people; I think that we help stimulate a motivated person to get back up and to stay up. He must have that something by nature in his makeup.”

— C. Max Smith, General Manager, Ag West Supply, Hillsboro, Ore.

“I would say the best motivation is good communication with the sales staff about current sales and inventory and what is required to sustain sales. The more they feel a part of the process, the more ownership they take of current situations.”

— Tom Snyder, President, Oneida New Holland, Caledonia, Ont.

“When things get tough in your business, you must make tough decisions. It is important to be as transparent as possible with your people. They need to understand where the business is at and why you are making those decisions. If you have the right people, and they understand where things are at, they will help you pull in the right direction. If you explain the why, we have seen that create urgency. As your organization grows, there are always going to be some who are disengaged or don’t seem to care. You need to decide if you want or need those folks on your team.

“It is also key to celebrate the small wins during those times. When things are gloomy, it is easy for everyone to jump in the pity parade and forget that even though times are tough, there are still victories happening. If we can focus on those wins, it helps keep moral a lot more positive then if all the focus is on how bad things are.

“Incentives help drive behaviors, but they need to focus on what you need to improve. They can be used to stretch performance, but if you rely too heavily on them, they begin to lose their effectiveness and become more of an expectation than a reward.”

— Arthur Ward, President, Pattison Ag, Swift Current, Sask.

“We don’t really talk about downturns. We are aware that market trends and conditions change and we have to focus on what we need to do to be successful. I believe that incentives should align with your values, strategies and tactics — putting them in place when markets soften to motivate is at best short term. I try to avoid carrot and stick behaviors. They have their place but, like a drug, if you become ‘addicted’ or rely too heavily on them, they just have to be increased in reward and frequency.

“Effective inventory management and targeted, well communicated and measured programs that help salespeople feel they have the tools and team behind them. Constantly developing your people’s selling and relationship skills before the market shift. Targeted and consistent communication with customers ensures you understand their needs and that you are their ‘go to’ dealer when they are ready to buy.”

— Darrel Pankratz, CEO, Prairieland Partners LLC, Hutchinson, Kan.

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