August 13, 2015

Salespeople tend to have a reputation for being confident and bold, with big personalities. how-to-motivate-sales-team

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 money 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?


Purpose – 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 he will know how his 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 career, company and community, which in turn will motivate them to take pride in what they do and consistently perform their best.

Independence – Allowing a salesperson the space to own his career will make him more productive and more invested in his own progress. Helicopter managing is stressful for you and will make a salesperson feel like you do not trust or respect him. Make your expectations for your team clear from the beginning and let each team member get the job done in his 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 ninjas they want to be.

Recognition – 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.

Structure – 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.


Sales Reps are People Too

Beyond financial rewards, a salesperson wants to be able to take pride in his career, be respected by his 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.


Healthy Competition

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 his strengths. Even LeBron needs his team; so find ways to acknowledge the best supporting players as well.


3 Ideas for Healthy Competition:

  1. healthy-competition-between-sales-teamReward 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 he 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.


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.