How to Improve Sales Effectiveness Using a Disciplined Autonomy Approach

ITA Group
ITA Group

Group of three sales people sitting in armchairs talking

It’s an arm-wrestling match that goes back generations: what’s the best way to ensure your sales force is effective?

Is it a top-down, disciplined approach? Or is it one that stresses autonomy?

Sales would be a lot easier if you could stick to the script 100% of the time. But that’s never the case. A prospect will eventually ask a question that requires a member of your team to color outside the lines.

Being truly effective in sales and giving your team the motivation they need requires balance between autonomy and discipline. Here’s how to manage it.

Discipline Is Key to Sales Effectiveness

As a study published in Psychological Science details, the self-discipline of a student far outweighs their innate intelligence. Simply put, those who hustle harder win.

“Underachievement among American youth is often blamed on inadequate teachers, boring textbooks and large class sizes,” the study’s authors write. “We suggest another reason for students falling short of their intellectual potential: their failure to exercise self-discipline.”

The discipline that your sales team exacts on itself, along with the discipline that sales leaders push on them, is key to the sales effectiveness. Sales leaders need to be disciplined to present a consistent, coherent message across industries and clients, and they need discipline from above to ensure goals are being met.

But it’s not the only way to motivate a successful team and achieve sales effectiveness.

...But Autonomy Is Also Essential

Daniel Pink shares a nugget of truth in his book “Drive”: “Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”

In sales, control is needed to ensure the right message is being presented and to establish a hard-working team, but autonomy is essential for motivation.

Autonomy is defined as “freedom from external control or influence.” And, in the context of sales, it’s the ability for your people to go “off script,” in a sense, and to make their own decisions.

Discipline is prescriptive, and assumes the worldview and perspective of the sales leader to be correct. As one article details, not only does this contribute to a feeling of micromanagement or smothering, there can be circumstances where that advice proves to be untrue.

Salespeople need the autonomy to variate from the norm when needed in order to achieve peak performance.

The Disciplined Autonomy Approach

If you want to create a sales force that self-implodes, you only have to do one thing: let people do whatever they want to close a sale. Some people would follow a script to a T, and others would say and do most anything to get a signature on the dotted line. For example, one study discovered that 53% of people occasionally or frequently “bend the rules” of the organization to get the job done.

To truly motivate your sales team, both discipline and autonomy must be factored into a sales incentive program.

How Discipline and Autonomy Align With Incentives

Sales incentives have come a long way. The sales incentive your dad participated in—sell the most items, get a gold watch—is long gone. Each sales incentive solution must be custom-crafted to meet your goals.

Truly motivating, rewarding and challenging your team to get results can’t take an out-of-the-box approach. Try this:

  • Give your team the liberty to take autonomous actions toward a sale and offer incentives for profitable outcomes.
  • Reward team members that follow the discipline of tried-and-true sales tactics.
  • Focus on a balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators—not just tangible rewards—to give your people a goal they’ll move mountains to achieve.

The results of a well-orchestrated sales incentive program are clear: properly constructed programs can increase performance by as much as 44%.

Set your goal and trust your team to determine the best way of getting the work done and you’ll reap the rewards of an engaged, high-performing staff.