7 tips on how to motivate your sales team

Being a sales manager your focus is going to be on the numbers. Are your sales reps hitting their quotas? How healthy is your sales pipeline? But numbers are not how you get the sale, people are.

To be an effective sales manager you need to be able to motivate your sales team. So what is the key foundation of sales motivation? It’s trust, your sales reps have to be able to trust you enough to be honest with you about their situation whether good or bad or somewhere in between.

If you don’t know how they’re doing because they don’t communicate because there isn’t that level of comfort and trust there then motivation in your sales team will begin to degrade.

And that matters because demotivated people mean less effective sales people which will hurt your bottom line and it’ll infect your company culture. You don’t want people coming into work unhappy.

How do you build trust?

We’ll run through an example of how we work to build trust at RealtimeCRM with a new recruit who’s relatively inexperienced. We don’t throw them into the deep end, we let them shadow a more senior person and so they learn on the job, and over time their responsibilities increase.

The senior person is there to answer questions, to provide help and in doing this without really thinking about it trust is being built between the two and then the rest of the team as they get integrated into our culture.

We don’t throw people straight into the deep end, we try to build them up and make it clear we’re a team and here to help and that they can speak frankly and honestly about what they need. It’s like informal mentorship in the early days but it builds a culture of transparency and openness which is what trust is built on.

You’re less likely to hide things from someone you trust. It’s that culture of openness you have to inoculate everyone with. The ability to question ideas no matter how senior or not senior a person is.

If people see that they’ll emulate it. What we do our best to avoid is creating a culture where people are afraid about being honest, you don’t want your team members too much in their head. You want to be able to take the sting out of the ‘asking’ and get to dealing with whatever the issue is so you can get your sales rep back to being happy and motivated.

Creating trust is downstream from company culture.

One of the ways we do that here at RealtimeCRM is with our weekly chats where we talk about our various projects and we can ask for advice and ask questions. There’s no such thing as a stupid question even though often times we preface a question with the phrase “This might sound like a stupid question”, in doing so this culture of openness and transparency is reinforced every week.

Finding the right carrot to motivate a sales rep

You start at the end and work backwards.

The tried and tested method of motivating sales teams is ‘salary + commission’. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it but not everyone’s the same.

Your sales reps are just like your prospects, human beings and therefore each one individual is unlike another. Each has their own road to happiness. It’s your job to figure out how to get them there.

You have to find out what motivates them, is it money or praise or achieving a target or helping the organisation?

That will help determine the toolkit you use to get them motivated and ready to make that sales call or go into that meeting confident and determined.

What you don’t do is use a one glove fits all approach. You wouldn’t do that with every prospect you try to convert and it’s the same with motivating each member of your sales team.

To figure out what carrot works best for them just ask them, and also use your intuition. How do they respond to public praise or hitting targets. If they get uncomfortable with the former and put their feet up after reaching the latter maybe they need different carrots.

Take for example sales reps who are poorer performers (laggards), a study out of the Harvard business school found:

That removing quarterly bonuses from laggards’ incentives—and keeping only an annual bonus—would decrease their overall performance (as measured by the revenues they generate) by approximately 10%. The same change would decrease the overall performance of core and star salespeople by 4% and 2%, respectively.

So here you can see bonuses matter but the pace setting of bonuses matter just as much. Just as you would analyse how each step in your sales pipeline affects the conversion rate of your deals you should see and then change if necessary the tools you’re using to motivate each member of your sales team.

Following from the previous section on building trust this flexible approach also involves transparency and honesty. If someone isn’t hitting their targets or they don’t look happy, you can just sense they’re demotivated in your one to one chats – you should bring it up.

Once you bring it up it’s there to be dealt with and some of the tension of whatever the issue is has been taken out because you bit the bullet and brought it into the foreground.

Don’t do it in an accusatory way but in a “Hey how can I help?” kind of a way. If you’ve built that level of comfort and trust you should be fine to figure it out with them.

Half the trouble is people bottle stuff up, so help them out with that and the rest will naturally follow.

A subtler approach in your one to one chats is to let them vent and then assess what they’re saying. Is this just normal venting or something more serious that is really negatively affecting them. Once again this is where your intuition comes in but remember to ask the right questions and then let them talk, don’t interrupt until you’ve got enough detail to decide whether to go into greater depth or not.

Encourage intrinsic motivation

Let’s get the definitions out of the way but to paraphrase intrinsic motivation is behaviour driven by internal rewards, it obviously follows that extrinsic motivation is behavior driven by external rewards like money or praise.

Extrinsic motivation is powerful but we want to create intrinsic motivation amongst our sales reps as well. You need a healthy balance between the two.

You can use extrinsic reinforcement to encourage this, for example giving your sales reps more responsibility and ownership over opportunities and projects. It becomes their challenge and their way of proving themselves to others but also to themselves.

At Apple under the late Steve Jobs they would have multiple teams compete against each other, each team working as hard as possible to outdo the other and prove itself.

That’s how you can create the right ground for intrinsic motivation amongst your sales team to flourish.

Another way we do it at RealtimeCRM is getting our team to buy into the overarching mission, the goal of the company which is that our product RealtimeCRM covers all costs and grows to a point where we can pay everyone so well that they’ll be very comfortable and not want to go anywhere else. We have more of a family feel to the company and we’re all working to get us all there. That’s not an immediate reward but the long term goal and it helps encourage that intrinsic motivation to beat this challenge and get there.

You can also create several tiers of sales targets which will drive your overall sales revenue up, your poorest performers will try to hit the first tier and be satisfied and your best performers don’t care; they want to be the best and will try to maximise sales. However it’s your average or core sales performers who’ll try and reach all the tiers that will see the boost in revenue. Core performers trying to achieve triple-tier targets greatly outsold core performers given only two tiers.

Cut down on boring monotonous work

Paperwork is boring yet sales reps spend most of their time, around 14.8% or 5.9 hours per week on admin. It’s not exciting, it’s monotonous and kind of draining.

That psychic energy that they’ve expended on doing these things should have been spent on selling and prospect engagement.

So you should have the infrastructure in place to reduce this as much as possible for example have the case studies and marketing materials and any templates ready to go so they don’t have to create these documents from scratch every time.

Another way we’ve reduced this is with our product RealtimeCRM, it has its own business card reader that creates new contact records on the fly from our sales rep’s phones. That means less data entry for them.

Anyone who has been to a networking event and come away with a small pile of business cards that they have to get into their CRM knows what a pain this can be.

Provide flexible support

You know what’s demotivating? Feeling stuck and without any help. We like to give ownership over projects to members of our team but that doesn’t mean they’re on their own.

Our managers sort of float between different projects and keep an eye on things but in general have a light hand. However, if there’s trouble or there’s something that’s tricky they can come in and provide extra support. Another man on the problem.

We don’t make it a big deal, there’s nothing accusatory if it happens but it’s more like OK let’s sort the problem out and work together to get this thing done. That’s huge for maintaining motivation amongst our team because they know they can ask for and get help, it’s not a huge deal and they’re not going to lose face. We want them to ask for support if they need it.

If you allow your sales team members to be adrift at sea and feel like they’re drowning, your sales team’s motivation will sink too.

Public displays of appreciation

Underappreciated people can become resentful and resentment is corrosive to motivation.

It’s always good to say thank you but some people need it in public too so do so. We do it in our weekly catchup calls with the team where we go through what they’ve been working on or on Slack when we’ve got another win and the whole team praises the person whose achieved some goal.

It’s easy and powerful especially when you get the whole team involved.

We don’t just stop at the individual level either. If we’ve had a really good month we often give the team half days off before the weekend as another token of appreciation and a pat on the back for a job well done.

A well rested and appreciated team is a well motivated team.

Sometimes you need to use a stick

We’re all supposed to be nice, all the time.

Really though?

Sometimes you need to have tough conversations to light a fire under someone. It doesn’t need to be angry or confrontational but get across a sense of disappointment, that you expect more of them and that they need to prove themselves.

This is not a long term tactic but a short term tactic to get them out of their sense of complacency and then once hopefully they’re back to pulling their weight again you use more positive reinforcement.

But when you have this conversation, couple the sense of disappointment with an offer of support to get them back on track. Ask them what they feel they’re lacking and how you as a sales manager can help them.

If you don’t like the stick analogy then call it tough love but if a sales rep is clearly not trying and they’re being evasive call it out and get it out into the open. Maybe it doesn’t work and that’s not necessarily a bad thing because maybe they’re not the right fit for your team.

We’ve been there ourselves and our greatest regret when dealing with team members where it didn’t work out wasn’t letting them go but dragging it out and hoping things would change when they never did.