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How to Motivate Your Sales Team

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motivated sales team

Salespeople tend to have a reputation for being confident and bold, with big personalities.

Managers sometimes approach sales teams with apprehension because they assume people with big personalities will be difficult to work with, but that is not usually the case.

While it is true that many salespeople tend to be bold and confident, it is important to recognize that the characteristics necessary for success in sales can appear on sales aptitude test results for introverted candidates as well as extroverted candidates.

From a management perspective, there is not one perfect formula for motivating sales teams, but there are several strategies that can help you do so more effectively.

Motivate with Money? Not Necessarily

Managers’ knee-jerk reaction to lagging sales numbers is often to throw more money at the problem with higher commission rates or bonuses, but this is a mistake. Recent studies have been able to identify and separate two types of motivation: internal motivation and instrumental motivation, with interesting results.

  • Internal motivation: aligns with Need for Achievement and is best described as a desire to improve and be the best you can as a person, in your career or in your field of interest.
  • Instrumental motivation: is more specific and best illustrated by a concrete goal like “make six figures this year.”

According to a study reported in the New York Times, internal motivation is not only more powerful than instrumental motivation, but instrumentally motivated people are less likely to be successful at their own self-made goals.

This means that appealing to internally motivated desires for achievement is not only more powerful than dangling monetary incentives in front of your team; it is the only tactic that has any hope of helping in a way that lasts.

So does that mean you should cap commissions for your sales team?

While it makes sense to limit payouts from an upfront financial and management perspective, it is not the answer either. As a manager, you do not want to give your salespeople any reason to hold back when making sales. Instituting a commission cap, especially if your company does not currently use one, is like punishing salespeople who go above and beyond.

Another recent study reported in the Harvard Business Review showed that commission caps could reduce sales by as much as 9%. Paying healthy sales commissions is a no-brainer because it does not cost your company anything unless your sales team is performing. So while it is not helpful to increase commissions to inspire productivity, it is even worse to cap them.

So what tools are we left with to motivate our sales teams?

What Is More Motivating than Money?


Everyone wants to feel like they are contributing to something constructive and making a difference.

Within your company, delegate clear responsibilities and goals for every sales rep so they will know how their role fits into the company-wide picture.

On a larger scale, putting together team-building activities and service projects can help salespeople feel more connected to their career, company and community, which in turn will motivate them to take pride in what they do and consistently perform their best.


Allowing a salesperson the space to own their career will make them more productive and more invested in their own progress. Micromanaging is stressful for you and will make a salesperson feel like you do not trust or respect them. Make your expectations for your team clear from the beginning and let each team member get the job done in their own way. When employees feel like their path is theirs to shape, they are much more motivated to succeed.

Skill Building

Driven salespeople respond well to opportunities to achieve goals, so make skill building a part of your management plan. In addition to helping your team members feel more confident, taking time away from selling to attend to personal development will help the team become more invested in success together and as individuals. Everyone wants to feel like the master of their craft, so help your team members become the sales stars they want to be.


Praise does not have to cost anything, but there is almost nothing more effective at making your employees feel valued and loyal to your company. Monthly or quarterly meetings are the perfect time to publicly recognize your hardest workers and inspire others to follow their example.


A well-conceived and clearly communicated set of responsibilities and expectations will give you the foundation to let your sales team develop their own styles and take ownership of their careers. Structured goals are highly motivating for achievement-driven people and a perfect tool for managing a sales team.

Beyond financial rewards, a salesperson wants to be able to take pride in their career, be respected by their team, and have opportunities to achieve and progress. Money is attractive, but truly Driven salespeople, with the traits needed for long-lasting success, need to be motivated by more than money to achieve excellence.

3 Ideas for Healthy Competitions:

Holding contests within your sales team is a great way to tap into the natural Competitiveness, Need for Achievement and Optimism of your Driven salespeople while providing opportunities for recognition. Contests will not take the place of internal motivation, but they can provide structure for goal setting among team members, which is always valuable. Friendly competitions, when done right, should be team building experiences.

It is likely you have a few salespeople who tend to outperform the rest of the team, so it is important to create contests that will emphasize performance metrics that do not always end in closed deals. Sales closing stars are great for your company, but if you have the LeBron James of sales on your team, it might get a bit discouraging if every contest plays to that person’s strengths. Even LeBron needs his team; so find ways to acknowledge the best supporting players as well.

  1. Reward the “no’s” – It is important to train new sales representatives to respond to rejection with optimism. One company even goes as far as awarding the “most no’s” at the end of each week with a gift card. Their reasoning is that the more “no’s” a salesperson gets, the closer they will be to the next “yes”.
  2. Make more winners – If you have two stars who always clean up in numbers competitions, award your top three next time. Strong performers that get used to being overshadowed by their gifted team members will be more motivated to push themselves if they know they have a realistic shot at some level of recognition.
  3. Reward mastery of skills – Rather than incentivizing sales further with a competition, try designing a contest around a skill your team is working on mastering, like building trust with clients or conducting thorough client research before delivering a sales presentation.
business people with trophy

Motivating a sales team can be challenging, but once you understand what makes a Driven salesperson tick, it is not such an overwhelming or perplexing task.

Drive is defined as the essential combination of three traits required for success in sales: Need for Achievement, Competitiveness and Optimism. When managers understand these three traits, it makes managing a sales team quite simple.

What is hard is finding Driven salespeople in the first place, which is why we recommend using a sales aptitude test as part of your candidate screening process. Once you find and assemble a sales team where every member has Drive, you will be amazed at how easy it is to keep them motivated.

Can a Motivational Speech Increase Drive in Your Salespeople?

Companies often include motivational speakers in their training systems, and a good motivational speaker can spark some fresh thinking and bring energy into the program.

However, these speeches will not be a cure-all for your sales team.

Unfortunately, even the most inspiring motivational speakers cannot transform a low-Drive person into a high-Drive person.

Since only 15% of the general population actually have the skills necessary to succeed in sales, it is imperative to manage your expectations ahead of time.

Why Motivational Speeches Cannot Help Low-Drive Employees

Drive is unteachable after adulthood because it is developed through an intense combination of genetic makeup and years of environmental influence while our minds are young and impressionable.

To believe a speaker can come in and change those brain pathways and behavior in a few hours, or at all for that matter, is not a realistic expectation nor is that notion supported by research.

To the contrary, research actively shows that motivational speaking does not change most behavior for more than a few days. Teachable skills are rarely transferable, let alone those hard-wired personality characteristics.

Less than 20% of the population can be developed into strong Hunter salespeople, and that is with a consistent push to develop your employees. Every sales manager has been frustrated dealing with untrainable employees, and a motivational speech will not solve the problem.

What Motivational Speeches Can Do

Leadership is responsible for their team’s morale. Being an inspiration to your sales team is fundamental to improving employees’ attitudes.

What motivational speakers can do is motivate the salespeople who are already susceptible to pushing forward in their careers with blind ambition.

In other words these speeches will help the people in your group who are already high in Drive. They are the salespeople who are eager to try anything and everything to achieve and to compete, so a good speaker can fire them up and provide great inspiration because they are singing to the choir and reinforcing those positive behaviors.

Your low-Drive folks may also enjoy the speech, and you may even see a temporary uplift in performance, but research shows that their behavior will revert back to the baseline quickly. The hurdle for these employees is that they are not hard-wired to become strong salespeople. Speeches should not be aimed at these employees. By hiring a low-Drive salesperson, you are already experiencing diminishing returns on your talent investments.

Delivering a Motivational Speech

Whether your speech is designed to fix employee morale or prepping employees before an important sales campaign, a speech delivered by the manager can be inspirational and remind your employees why they want to work with you.

There is an old adage when structuring speeches that says to tell your audience what you will say during your talk, say those things, then rehash the important elements of the speech. In other words, a good speech has a strong beginning, middle and end.

Choose Your Topics Carefully

When crafting the content, keep your audience in mind. These are salespeople, prone to high energy and extroverted activity. Your high-Drive salespeople want to hear that the sky is the limit.

Having all members of your team take a sales assessment can help dictate important content for your speech. Knowing what is important to your team members and what they respond best to can help you develop your speech into something that will actually resonate with your employees.

Popular topics among high-Drive salespeople often include persuasiveness, organization or relationship building.

Speak Directly to Your Audience

Remember what motivates your employees. Get them engaged. Audience participation will increase the amount of content the team absorbs.

Think about the best motivational speeches you have heard. YouTube has hundreds of videos to watch for inspiration. Get a sense of how flow and vocal cadence influences the audience.

Remember that simple speeches are best. You are not giving a speech to show how many books you have read. You are trying to deliver a message.

Beginning speakers may want to take note from Alan Monroe, a researcher who introduced five steps to engaging your audience.

  1. Attention. First you want to draw in your audience with a story, powerful detail or major statistic relevant to the sales team.
  2. Need. Raise awareness to a problem or the need to rise to a challenge by pointing out that the current state of the team has opportunity for improvement. Any statistics or data that may help reinforce the need (or add urgency!) is really helpful for this step. You want to show how the problem affects the sales team, individually or as a whole.
  3. Solve the problem. Here you want to elaborate on the facts and explain in detail what steps your salespeople can take to overcome a problem. Use examples of previous situations that were effective and how they may apply to your need. By now your high-Drive employees will be salivating, ready to deploy their skills to the challenge.
  4. Visualization. Explain what will happen if nothing changes after the speech, namely how their sales or commission will stay stagnant or decline. Staying realistic and relatable about the future incites desire. Those successful in sales got that way by constantly striving to be the best, so painting a picture of possible failure will light a flame under them.
  5. Call to action. In detail, summarize the solution to the need and how each salesperson on the team can contribute to success. It is important not to overwhelm your employees. A daunting call to action can curb success before your employees even get the chance to make a difference.

Consider Outsourcing Your Speaker

Your other option is to find your speaker elsewhere. Be mindful of what has motivated your salespeople in the past and the speaker’s delivery style. If your team is hands-on, it pays to find someone who will use activities to deliver their message.

You want to really engage your high-Drive salespeople. If you have not already tested your employees, consider using a sales assessment to get a feel for the team’s needs, strengths and focus.

Give the speaker your employees’ triggers – those nuances for success your employees often exhibit. This will be fuel for the speaker to deliver a more poignant message that sticks with your sales team longer.

It is also advantageous to search for speakers who primarily talk to sales audiences. They will have better crowd-reading instincts that allow them to adjust the talk based on the energy in the room.

Additionally, it is helpful to give your sales team some background information on the incoming speaker prior to the day of the presentation. Include any noteworthy accolades and how they relate to your industry to really get the team looking forward to the event (rather than thinking of the number of pitches they could be making with that time instead).

So get out there and start setting up great speeches. Let them fire up your team and stir up creativity and energy.

Just be sure your goals are realistic so your expectations and investment match the results you are seeking. If you ask your team to move mountains, do not be upset when the low-Drive salespeople ask if molehills are “good enough.”

How to Continually Push Your Driven Salespeople

Has your all-star sales team lost its mojo and is no longer performing as well as it used to? Could it be that they have already plateaued or simply lost motivation?

Perhaps they feel like they are not catching the eye of management anymore and have faded into the “average” category.

The real reasons for declining production of many sales teams may surprise you. Sales is such a fast-paced and competitive field that many managers make the mistake of only taking a short-term focus on their talent.

They regularly emphasize how to attract the best talent, but often do not pay proper attention to their current staff.

There is a great deal of excellent sales literature describing the best ways to get the right people onto your sales team. Yet little advice exists for managers who need help figuring out how to retain those Driven and competitive employees you have worked so hard to find.

sales test on tablet

Use Sales Assessments to Get Started

For a long time, sales managers have relied on their “gut” to make decisions. Many have come to realize that this usually means acting randomly based on personal biases.

Modern managers use sales assessments to collect relevant data about their current employees. These can be used to design mentoring, training and coaching programs for salespeople with high potential.

These salesperson assessments can also help managers figure out how to identify the best candidates during the hiring process.

Quite a lot of research has shown that self-motivated salespeople are the highest performers. Using sales tests can help identify candidates with a Drive to succeed and those current employees who will most benefit from training.

Managers often make the mistake of seeing their role as some kind of cheerleader. In sales, it is vital that employees not only perform their assignments well, but actively seek out new work.

Highly self-motivated people are naturally suited to the sales profession. Those who need constant monitoring to stay on task will find it difficult to make hundreds of cold calls.

But there is so much more to knowing who on your team is self-motivated, which is why it is so important to utilize sales assessments during the hiring process as well as with existing salespeople.

Improving Performance Through Intelligent Management

Sales assessments are an important first step in this process because they enable managers to learn what motivates their employees. Instead of relying on theories, they can actually see what their employees need to succeed.

And while theories should not be the sole basis of understanding your sales team, there are a few good ones that can add some value to your management practices. They are often based on data collected on a broader level and have gleaned useful insights, such as:

  • The hallmark of self-motivated workers is their tendency to seek out challenges and try to improve their capabilities through learning and exploration.
  • Having a lot of rules is counterproductive when motivating salespeople. Excessive formality in processes reduces the likelihood they will be done properly.
  • Low pay not only hinders performance and motivation, but also makes employees resentful. Human beings react very strongly to feelings of unfairness and will tend to focus on that inequality over their job.
  • Money is not everything, though. Allowing creativity and freedom in accomplishing tasks increases the productivity of self-motivated employees. When monetary gain is the only reward for work, employees often lose interest in the tasks themselves and focus only on the money.
  • Self-worth when performing job duties will motivate high-Drive salespeople far more than external incentives like stock options. Recognizing accomplishments are a good way to boost employee confidence and morale.
  • Fear is the worst motivator, because it focuses worker’s energy away from their work. This leaves them tired, stressed out and unfocused, and has the opposite of the desired effect.
  • While this is hard to find in sales, it is important to find people who are not entirely driven by money. Self-motivated employees derive satisfaction from the work they do and the money they make, not one or the other alone.

Factory workers engaged in routine work are often well motivated through reward and punishment. Applying this principle of management to educated corporate employees devastates their motivation by reducing self-worth.

Many managers have found that self-motivated salespeople are the best hires, but can be difficult to motivate as long-term personnel.

It is important to identify those traits early on and understand how each of those candidates are best managed. Salesperson assessments are an effective way to gain this unique understanding.

Some candidates may appear highly Driven during the interview process, but it is difficult to determine what is really motivating them.

Administering an assessment prior to the interview process can uncover their underlying motivations and their likelihood for sales success when provided with the right environment.

To be successful in the long-term, a salesperson has to derive satisfaction out of the work they perform aside from their compensation. Many sales managers realize that it is unwise to focus on short-term results, but fail to see that someone entirely focused on money and power is not going to last long.

How to Motivate an Ambitious Sales Team

Because self-motivated employees do not require micromanagement, and it actually will hurt their performance, it is important to set high-level goals.

If managers can try to involve their staff in the strategic process, it will improve their feelings of self-worth.

Managers must also be empathetic, or emotionally intelligent, to ascertain the best way to communicate with each worker.

Every individual has their particular language and communication habits and managers have to be flexible.

Sales teams are naturally competitive, which means sales managers must be proactive in fostering a healthy culture.

A self-motivated team means managers can focus on encouraging good working relationships among the staff. This is best done through getting to know and understanding them as individuals and helping them find common cause.

Managers who use their employees’ self-motivation to their advantage can reap the most rewards. Instead of fearing their workers’ ambitions, if they can find a way to direct and encourage them, they can increase their already impressive motivation and performance.

When a manager gets to know their staff, they can begin to tailor their rewards and motivators to individuals on the team. Each employee is motivated by something different; identifying and understanding this is vital to augmenting their performance.

Learn More about Effective Sales Management

There are many excellent resources available to help sales managers learn how to attract and maintain Driven salespeople.

A thoughtful and informed process could enable an organization to find and keep the talent they need.

Take advantage of the latest research on motivation and salespeople to build the best team for any organization. There is no need to go with the “gut” ever again.

See part 2 of this article for more tips on motivating your sales team.

Sales Hiring Simplified!

Hire top-performing salespeople with The DriveTest®. Get started now with one free test.

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