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Engagement Is a Means, Not an End

Original Content Publication Date: 02/22/2016


At one global B2B sales organization, sales people perennially complained about the burden of filing detailed reports on sales calls to accounts and prospects alike. We could sell more if you made us report less, said the sales force. Free us up to sell. Make reporting less burdensome. Empower us. So, both as a test and as a demonstration that it took its sales team seriously, the company changed reporting requirements for a few geographies and product lines. The result? Sales increased for a handful of high performers; held steady for the overwhelming majority; and measurably dropped for about 20% of the participants. Freeing up top salespeople was a terrific investment; empowering average and/or typical salespeople delivered a poor ROI.

Key Points

  • Empowerment boosted sales for only a sliver of the force; it had no positive productivity benefit for the rest.
  • Reviews of the empowerent initiative suggested that marketing and customer service were hurt by the lack of detailed sales reports for those accounts.
  • Average salespeople proved more dependent on past reports for their effectiveness than they had acknowledged.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did empowerment lead to decreased performance for some employees?
  2. What can a manager do to find the right mix of compliance and empowerment? 
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