Money talks. But all that talk won’t buy you a motivated sales team.
Motivation runs deeper than numbers.
Sales leaders need ways to ignite salespeople’s inner desires to win, have fun, do better and be praised.
Salespeople like money, so you must compensate fairly, with understandable structure and predictable frequency. Beyond money, use frequently changing, motivational tactics tailored to salespeople.
These 21 ideas will deliver.
1. Give work deeper meaning
People who find meaning in their work – those who walk away almost every day feeling good about what they did – are more motivated and committed, according to Harvard Business School research.
Company mission and values are just words until you help salespeople understand their role in making altruistic goals happen. As salespeople, they might only see their goal as bringing in accounts and making money for the company. True motivation will come from understanding the social purpose your product or service supports and the impact it has on people and communities.
Regularly collect customer success stories – what they’ve achieved or how your product or service made their lives easier. Take those to everyone in the organization, as it’s important for people outside of sales to share in the meaning.
2. Make people feel valued
While salespeople need to find meaning in their work, they need to feel their work is valued by their boss and company to stay motivated, a study by the American Psychological Association found. Praise is a good start, and explaining why what they’ve done matters is a stronger finish.
Five ways to make salespeople feel valued:
- Invite them to get involved in decision-making
- Offer growth and advancement opportunities
- Create flexible work arrangements
- Compensate fairly and adequately, and
- Offer rewards beyond cash that are important to them – time off, public recognition, opportunities to share or lead, etc.
3. Emphasize collaboration before competition
Salespeople are competitive by nature, but going head-to-head with each other can create negative motivation. It drives some to disregard their colleagues and others to resent their colleagues.
Foster collaboration above competition, and it’s more likely everyone will be motivated. The goal is to compete against competitors, not each other. Encourage collaboration by rewarding mentoring, knowledge-sharing and efforts to work together to overcome the competition.
4. Encourage and recognize initiative
In the same vein as collaboration, encourage salespeople to be entrepreneurs by cultivating ideas to grow business. Give them the time, freedom and space to try their ideas (with just enough oversight from you to be sure they’re not chasing rainbows or wasting time and resources.)
Reward them for bringing new ideas to increase market share and find new customers. Give larger rewards for ideas that are implemented – and even larger rewards for ideas that work.
5. Keep check on who you do business with
Closing deals is important to the bottom line. For salespeople, closing deals with customers they like is important to morale. Bottom line results will more than likely follow.
Entrepreneur and sales consultant Troy Hazard has shared his personal proof that this approach works to motivate salespeople: He realized 60% of his company’s clients were people his team didn’t particularly like, respect or trust. He didn’t get rid of those customers, but he told his sales team to refocus on their company values. In a memo, he wrote, “Beginning now, our new criteria for taking on new business will be that we like the client and that they are prepared to pay our price. Do not deviate from this and follow your intuition, and don’t try to make any potential clients fit into our culture, people, and what we stand for.” Morale immediately shot up.
6. Celebrate small wins
You don’t have to plan a party every time salespeople land a meeting. But morale shoots up when small accomplishments are recognized, according to another Harvard Business School study.
Small wins have a disproportionate power over boosting moods and changing the perception of challenge. Recognize small wins – such as moving a prospect one step further down the pipeline – with written or verbal praise. Save big celebrations for larger group wins.
7. Encourage everyone to track wins
In sales, it’s often easy to focus on the setbacks and rejections because they happen more often than the small and big wins. Get salespeople to focus more on wins by asking them to track daily wins – if just the little things that made them feel good such as a great conversation with a customer – and send you a message about them.
Compile at least one of those wins for each salesperson into a weekly “win message” to the team. Include wins in categories important to your business – perhaps professional development, understanding the industry, getting a leg up on the competition and/or signing a first-time deal.
8. Praise the group publicly
Small-win recognition is powerful (especially for salespeople who aren’t comfortable with public praise – and, yes, there are some salespeople who aren’t). Public praise for the team gives a double dose of morale.
Your praise in a meeting or a shout-out in the office when everyone is around is the first dose. Colleagues talking about the win and congratulating each other is the second dose.
9. Build the team
Team-building activities generally generate more eye rolling than excitement, but research proves it actually works at improving morale and employee retention.
The key: Get the group to interact, have fun and build skills in a natural way.
Formal or informal, skip the awkward games or sharing of emotions.
10. Stay positive
Anyone in the sales profession faces negative situations weekly, if not daily – rejection, anger, confusion. It’s difficult to rise above all the challenges and stay motivated day-in, day-out.
That’s where sales leaders must step in, being cheerleaders of sorts. Three keys:
- Acknowledge salespeople’s worries and defeats, but avoid echoing them
- Recognize frustrations, but use positive language and suggestions to keep the focus on personal goals and company values, and
- Identify challenges and fears, but continue to take and suggest risks.
11. Connect them to their future career
To motivate salespeople who are interested in career trajectory, link today’s activities to tomorrow’s career. Help them map the path to their career goals – perhaps moving up within your company or to a new industry or entrepreneurship. Allow them to take on day-to-day activities that will build the skills they need to achieve their long-term career goals.
One caveat: Recognize that not all salespeople want a “bigger” career. Some are happy – and motivated – as salespeople: They’d rather help customers than manage people. Know who doesn’t want to climb a ladder before you show them how to do it.
Most salespeople are motivated by the chance to learn more about their industry, customers, products or services and other subjects that will help them do better at work and life.
Encourage them to learn more by building time and expectations into their schedules to attend virtual and offsite educational events (not just events where they’d sell). Steer them to relevant webinars and podcasts. Give them books.
13. Be ready for the ‘fire alarm’
Sales leaders who keep themselves immersed in the sales process – without micro-managing – tend to be more empathetic to salespeople’s day-to-day struggles. Salespeople are motivated when they know their bosses have empathy and are easy to get a hold of if the salesperson needs to pull a “fire alarm” for immediate help, suggests Jaimie McFarlin, Executive Director of AdmitLink Consulting.
Knowing the boss has your back is a morale booster.
14. Offer incentive choices
Every salesperson is motivated differently. Some people will like one incentive, while others will be compelled by a different benefit. One perk will appeal to the masses while another motivational tactic will light a fire under a few. (That rings true for all the tactics we’ve compiled here. You’ve been forewarned that not all of these will work for everyone all the time!)
One thing that works across the board to motivate with incentives: Let salespeople pick the incentives they want. An Aberdeen study found companies that adopted different kinds of incentives had 33% more salespeople hit quota and had a 23% higher rate of team quota attainment.
Offer a variety of incentives in your budget range and set goals salespeople can realistically reach so they are motivated to attain the incentives they want.
15. Be a committed, strategic coach
Sales managers are usually salespeople’s foremost coaches – and might only show up to coach after mistakes or losses. Then salespeople only associate coaching with failure, which is kick in the morale pants.
Motivate salespeople by showing a commitment to coaching – time spent on praising, developing and improving, plus time scheduled strategically to help when it’s most necessary.
16. Foster critical relationships
When trying to motivate a sales team, one thing that’s often overlooked are the seemingly innocuous things that have a de-motivating effect. Some biggies: finger-pointing, contention, silos and back-stabbing between critical areas such as Marketing, Customer Support and Development.
Sales leaders who build up those relationships and foster good relations between their salespeople and other departments achieve higher morale than those who allow contentious relationships. Bring the groups together to uncover ways to communicate better, collaborate on customer-focused projects more often and celebrate group victories.
17. Play games the right way
There’s no shortage of advice on gamification, daily or even hourly contests, bracket (a-la March Madness) competitions and the like. And nearly every sales group has used a competition at one time or another to motivate salespeople.
Regardless of the type of games and competitions you host, keep these essential elements to success in mind:
- Make it brief. The motivational effects of any competition are short-lived, even if the prize is sizable. Salespeople will be excited to participate for a few weeks and the winners will relish in a victory for just days.
- Keep it simple. Each competition should be aimed at motivating a single behavior (for example, making more calls, setting up more appointments, closing more deals).
- Broadcast results. Ideally, you want real-time results so salespeople can see where they stand throughout the competition. Most sales and CRM software offer this.
- Make it team-based. We know not all sales leaders have enough salespeople to do a team competition, but if you can, do it. Team-based competitions build camaraderie and lend themselves to more kindness and fairness. Individual based competitions (unfortunately) often end in complaints of cheating and stacking the odds. Team competitions also level the playing field: Top individual performers won’t win every time and low performers won’t get frustrated every time.
- Engage executives. Ask the C-level to offer praise and encouragement along the way. Being recognized by executives can motivate even the salespeople who don’t win.
- Keep it fresh. Don’t keep running the same short-term sales contests. Come up with new metrics, themes, goals and prizes based on your organizational and industry needs.
18. Manage with flexibility
You might be a leader to everyone on the sales team, but you don’t need to be the same leader to everyone. Managing in just one fashion, forcing your will and imposing your ways will hurt morale – no matter the singular approach you take.
To motivate salespeople, manage each in a way that fits with his or her work style. To determine how you want to lead each salesperson, ask questions like these:
- How often do you like to interact – several times a week, weekly, every two weeks?
- Do you prefer private or public praise?
- What kind of feedback do you prefer?
- How do you want me to give you feedback – face-to-face, written, through coaching, etc.?
- How involved do you want me in your selling process?
- How will you let me know about your concerns and accomplishments?
19. Enable and ennoble
We’ve already recognized that training and adding meaning to work are important factors in the success of salespeople. But leaders can’t just check them off the list after monthly product training and a vision statement.
Deb Calvert, author of Stop Selling & Start Leading and founder of The Sales Experts Channel, says motivation comes from helping salespeople grow in their capacity, confidence and competence (enablement), plus making them feel important (ennoblement).
Regularly ask if your expectations are reasonable and if you provide enough resources to meet them. Praise what they’ve accomplished and proven, and you’ll feed confidence and competence. Then explain why it’s important to you, executives, customers and the organization’s future, and you’ll feed the need to feel important.
20. Let them be heroes
Heroes are motivated to do the most unnatural things in the worst circumstances. Sounds like the sales environment, right?
“Leaders can (and should) recognize, support and reward the heroic salesperson in a variety of ways, including encouraging and rewarding risk-taking. Tolerate a reasonable level of failure, and support those who act on bold visions,” says Andy Gole, president of Urgency Based Selling and author of Innovate Now – Scale up with 16 Sales Breakthrough Techniques, in the Forbes Councils.
To motivate heroic salespeople, Gole suggests:
- Smartly support creativity, discovery and risk-taking. When those are done well to generate positive outcomes, salespeople will feel like heroes.
- Help salespeople convey strong beliefs. The more salespeople witness the good your products and services do, the more they’ll believe in what they sell. As their customers succeed, their positive feelings will increase.
- Encourage rest. Give salespeople the time and resources to practice a “meditative mindset.” Mediation, yoga and other relaxation methods help them avoid burnout and remain heroes.
21. Fuel them
Salespeople have hectic jobs and lives. Many travel. Most put in extra efforts. That can lead to a bad balance of nutrition, exercise and sleep. And when those are out of whack, motivation will suffer.
Leaders need to keep a watchful eye on the numbers and salespeople’s physical well-being. If salespeople admit to or seem to be feeling sleep deprived, suggest time off or just a nap. Provide healthy food on-site and connect them with information about on-the-go nutrition. Encourage them to take time to exercise and unwind in their favorite, healthy ways.