5 Ways to Motivate a Sales Team

Have you noticed your profits dwindling? It may be time for a little pep talk. If you're looking for ways to motivate a sales team, these tactics may help.
Journalist, freelance writer
September 07, 2017

If you're always trying to increase your profits, chances are you're looking for ways to motivate a sales team.

Spurring your sales team onto greatness isn't the only way to see profits climb. Having a stellar product or service, great infrastructure and a solid marketing strategy helps. But sales team motivation can also be an important piece of the puzzle.

That's why Manny Medina, CEO of Seattle-based sales engagement software company Outreach, always looks to hire people who display a lot of motivation. 

Sure, you want new hires to have competence and knowledge. But generally, you can give an employee information to make them more effective. When somebody lacks enthusiasm for their job, turning them into a motivated salesperson may require a complete rewiring of their brain, which is probably out of your skill set.

But if a person is naturally enthusiastic about selling, “you shouldn't have to motivate them," says Medina. "You should just be able to trigger the passion they already have for the cause. It's like a soldier. If that soldier hates the enemy you don't have to motivate him to run up the hill. He's motivated and does it without even thinking."

Fortunately, motivating a sales team is about love and not war. But if you're looking for ways to motivate a sales team, consider trying the following strategies.

1. Work on functioning as a team. 

Often salespeople are competing against themselves—trying to best last month's numbers and to get a higher commission than they ever have. 

There's nothing wrong with that, but you might get better results by getting everyone on the sales team to work together.

For instance, Medina says that his senior vice president of sales recently told a new sales team that they'd all get a significant cash bonus when they delivered on their individual, team and company goals. If they all delivered, they all received a bonus. If one didn't, nobody would get a bonus.

Apparently, nobody in the group wanted to let anyone else down: “That new hire cohort has been the highest performing ever," Medina says.

2. Hold regular sales meetings and check-ins. 

Your sales people may hate it, and you may, too. Who wants to interrupt their work for yet another meeting? 

Still, having everyone check in quickly every day—or a few times a week—to share their latest sales and what they're working on can be a powerful motivator, says Derrick Mains, a Phoenix-based serial entrepreneur and operational efficiency consultant who owns AMP Business Systems.

Salespeople need mentorship. Be hands on when needed and teach, teach, teach.

—Nina Pfister, founder, Mooring Advisory Group

“This does a number of things," Mains says. "First, it reminds the salespeople that each day they can win or lose, and this brings that fiery competitiveness out of them. Next, it gives you a good pulse on where things are and it exposes barriers that you might be able to help your team with."

You can even have these meetings online using an internal company website or Slack, instead of meeting in person.

3. Realize incentives are not always about money. 

Yes, your salespeople want that commission, and they enjoy seeing their bank accounts full. But many business owners will tell you that cold hard cash doesn't drive everyone—especially Millennials.

“No one comes to work to earn more green pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents on them. They come to work for what the money will do for them," says Jeff Goldberg, who owns Jeff Goldberg & Associates in Long Beach, New York. 

“Each rep is different," says Goldberg, who has managed hundreds of sales reps over his career. "Bob may be concerned about his retirement while Betty wants to drive a nicer car. Sue wants to send her kids to great colleges, and Diane would like to move up to a nicer country club."

If you know what your sales rep wants, you can use that information to find ways to motivate a sales team member, Goldberg says.

For instance, if you know that an employee needs X amount of dollars to pay for his kid's college tuition, you could break out the number of additional sales he or she would need to make every day for the next six months. 

True, if the number is demoralizing (i.e., “Hey, Frank, you just need to make 300 extra sales a day!"), that may not be much of a motivator. But if the number is empowering (“Hey, Frank, if you increase your sales by 3 percent, within six months, you'll have that tuition money"), you may inspire Frank to work harder—improving both his and your company's bottom line.

4. Avoid the negativity. 

When sales numbers are down, meetings often can take a negative tone, says Nina Pfister, founder and owner of the Mooring Advisory Group, a marketing, public relations and sales consultancy in Hingham, Massachusetts.

Of all the ways to motivate a sales team, sounding a call of doom and gloom can be one the worst.

Pfister suggests having a monthly meeting where you highlight the sales wins.

“Discuss why these folks pushed ahead of the pack, and have them personally share the strategies that they used as a peer mentoring tactic," she advises.

Nobody gets motivated focusing on the negatives, Pfister says. You want constructive ideas and solutions. Going positive can help build people up instead of tearing them down.

“Once a sales team loses their positive attitude, it's downhill from there," she says.

5. Treat your salespeople as people. 

It can be easy to think of your sales team as a cog in your machine—people who are there to make the company money, and that's pretty much it. Salespeople are always hustling, and you tend to only see them when they check in to report their sales. Or maybe you're so impressed with your sales staff, you spend most of your energy focusing on your customer service or marketing teams.

But ignoring your salespeople, even if it is kind of a compliment, is one of the worst ways to motivate a sales team. 

“Salespeople need mentorship," Pfister says. “Be hands on when needed and teach, teach, teach. Your salespeople should be developed like any other employee, no matter how seasoned they might be. Step up your training programs and be the person you'd want to follow."

Your salespeople have hopes and dreams just like everyone at your company. They may want to move up the corporate ladder at your firm, or they may want to move on somewhere else someday. They may stay at your company—and be happier—longer if you're nourishing their needs.

Jordan Wan, founder and CEO of CloserIQ, a sales recruiting platform that connects sales talent to startups, has a similar take. He says that it's vital that your salespeople know that they're appreciated.

You want to show them “that you don't just care about the work they do. You value them as an individual and care about their well-being," he says.

And if you do that, and your salespeople end up caring for the company as much as the company cares for them, you may end up seeing improved sales team motivation—and profits.

Read more articles on marketing & sales.

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