Effective sales management often comes down to one of two key principles – carrot or stick. Some sales managers use a combination of both, but which is more effective? Could the method you choose actually be driving motivation, morale and performance down? Let’s explore a few of the key points to consider in the good cop vs. bad cop debate.

The good cop approach

Being a good guy in the sales office usually means taking a friendly, supportive and inspirational approach. These sales managers lead by example, offering one-to-one help and hoping to inspire their team to keep them motivated.

Where this approach can be effective is where recognition rather than simply money is given as a reward for hard work and achievement. Studies such as this one have shown that 81% of employees would work harder if they had an appreciative boss and were thanked for their efforts.

‘Good cop’ sales managers do need to be careful however that they don’t turn into ‘The Pal’ – a term coined in this insightful article exploring unintentionally destructive sales management techniques. The Pal is a manager who is good friends with all his or her team members, which can make it difficult when it comes to discipline or holding team members accountable for poor performance. The team is too relaxed with The Pal around, as they know they won’t get into trouble and there is no real incentive to boost performance.

Are you using too much stick?

The ‘bad cop’ sales manager is one who punishes rather than praises, who uses fear rather than support and understanding to motivate the team and keep everyone on their toes. This method can produce short-term improvements in productivity and performance, but it can potentially cause a drop in motivation in the long run. It can also cause problems with staff retention.

Money may motivate for a short while, but without a supportive, positive company culture and support and recognition from a manager, you might find that your salespeople don’t stick around for very long.

So what’s the right approach to take?

It’s not a huge leap to suggest that the best approach is a combination of methods, or you could take a completely different approach and abandon carrot and stick altogether on the recommendation of research such as this Hoffeld Group study – entitled “The Science of Motivating Sales People: The Carrot & the Stick Must Go”

Ultimately, the most effective sales managers are those that are able to understand what motivates the individual members of their team. An understanding of the strengths, weaknesses, aspirations and needs of each individual is crucial to putting together a strategy that works.

To improve and develop your own style and strategy as a sales manager, get in touch with The Institute of Sales Management. The ISM offers a range of professional development training opportunities for managers and salespeople, as well as access to valuable resources, support, advice and networking