Sales Motivation: 9 Tactics For a Motivated Sales Team

March 31, 2021

Jackie Goudreault

What motivates us? It’s a question we rarely ask ourselves. You might have read Steve Jobs’ biography four times cover-to-cover or have a motivational sales quote or two on your coffee mug. Beyond that, our motivation often feels like something slightly vague, even to ourselves. Are we sweating toward our sales target for the bonus? For kudos from our boss? For the joy of feeling like a crucial team player? For the glory of making our companies stable and secure in an unpredictable market?

If you’re a sales leader, it’s a question you should be used to asking your sales team. Motivation might seem simpler these days than it once was — we want to help keep our company afloat in difficult times. We want to keep food on the table. We want to show our worth in case any unfortunate staffing cutbacks have to be made. Whether times are good or bad, a motivated sales team is a successful sales team — and a successful sales team will keep your company together.

Mastering the secrets of motivation involves more than just boasting about the most competitive bonus scheme or striking the ideal balance between the salary and the commission you’re offering. Why should you put so much effort into tailored motivational strategies when, you could argue, a well-planned one-size-fits-all commission model should do the trick?

It’s because motivation runs deeper than sales targets — and nailing your motivational strategies can get stronger results from your sales team than keeping to the carrot-and-stick approach. Read on to find out just how varied the means of motivation can be and how you can motivate your sales team to hit the heights.

Types of Sales Motivation #

Being able to convince someone to do something might just be the most valuable skill in the world, and those people who know how to motivate someone are excellent at finding out just what motivates the person in front of them. Our clocks are all wound slightly differently.

Motivation, broadly speaking, breaks down into two types: intrinsic and extrinsic.

  • Intrinsic motivation comes from an individual’s principles or beliefs and is extremely powerful.
    • Curiosity, the desire for status and power, and the need to feel accepted are all types of intrinsic motivation.
    • Practically, a sales rep’s intrinsic motivation might manifest itself in a desire to establish themselves as an elite seller, an enjoyment of the sales team group dynamic and the feeling of struggling toward a common goal, or an appreciation for supplying a customer with something they need.
  • Extrinsic motivation is the kind of motivation that comes from external factors.
    • Money and other forms of rewards are the most standard types of extrinsic motivators.
    • Security is another extrinsic motivation — it’s particularly important during a struggling economy that companies are having to adapt to.
    • To some degree, pay will be a common extrinsic motivation for all of your sales reps, whether it stops at the base salary they need to keep the lights on or it’s the height of that commission really drive them.
    • Otherwise, extrinsic motivation can come from more abstract targets on the horizon (the new house they have their eye on).

The science of motivation is the same for all of us, but the various kinds of motivators will combine differently for the individual members of your sales team. Knowing how to motivate someone involves getting a sense of the different combinations, with a particular focus on your sales reps’ intrinsic motivations. Then, it requires you to adjust your extrinsic motivators to bring the best out of those intrinsic sales reps.

Let’s take a look at a few different sales reps, all with very different personalities, and see how to bring the best out of them motivationally:

  • Sales Rep A has a highly extroverted, diligent, and aggressive personality profile. They love the feeling of the win and seeing a target be exceeded. They know the company needs to target bigger, tougher enterprise-scale deals to keep afloat. In their case, the right motivation can be as easy as setting up sufficiently challenging targets and letting the rep chase that bonus.
  • Sales Rep B is different. They’re not motivated by having bonuses thrown at them. Dustin Crawford, regional vice president at DocuSign, encountered just this type of rep when managing his own sales teams. Turns out that the rep was more motivated by being part of a team and not wanting to let the team down. With this knowledge in hand, Crawford could tailor incentives to match, rewarding the whole team with bonuses and social events for good performance.
  • Sales Rep C is different still. They love prospecting as much as they love the hustle of cold calling, but they prefer having a tangible outcome at the end of the sales rainbow, as opposed to a bonus sum. C’s sales leader motivates them by offering prizes for exceeding targets — a vacation (when those become a thing again)? A set of steak knives? A Cadillac?

Good sales managers will also take stock of the wider situation when considering what motivates these different personality types. They might respond differently to commissions, to steeper goals, or to tougher coaching, but none of them want to feel insecure in their job. Make sure all of your sales personnel understand the stakes. If they’re secure, make them feel that security. If cutbacks might be necessary in the future, be open about it.

Why Bother with Motivational Strategies? #

The degree of communication and care involved in building up a motivational profile for each of your reps can seem like a real-time commitment — and it is. The reason you should make that commitment is that motivation brings out a number of intangibles in your reps, individually and as a team, that you can’t get by any other means.

Motivation breeds resilience #

Teams that are highly motivated are unlikely to let their performance drop, even in the midst of trying to close a difficult deal. Make no mistake, B2B sales are not any easier since the pandemic broke out. Our research shows it takes 106 dials for a sales rep to get one scheduled meeting, and the average sales cycle for closed-won deals is 96 days. Our research also shows that deals take longer since the pandemic began, too, and feature more high-pressure meetings with C-suite personnel. It’s hard work.

Motivational strategies breed organization #

A sales team should be viewed as just that — a team. A sales team is built to collectively satisfy a goal and is not just a set of unrelated individuals who happen to be driving at the same targets (or, even worse, are supposed to be competing with each other). You’ll have reps with different personalities and with different degrees of experience on your team, and depending on how your company weathered 2020, they may well have a tough task on their hands steadying the ship. Motivation becomes more and more important as a way of unifying your sales team as it scales.

Motivating your team is a form of investment #

Reps who feel that the company they work for cares enough about them to find out what makes them tick are more likely to go the extra mile for their team and their employers. That’s a much more powerful motivator than a simple bonus scheme, which drives reps to work harder only for themselves. A motivated team is happier and more stable.

How to Motivate Your Sales Team #

So you know what winds each one of your sales rep’s respective clocks. Now, let’s translate that understanding into actual motivational techniques.

1. Encourage your sales reps to play to their unique strengths #

Chances are, if your reps have gotten this far, their style of approaching a sale must be pretty good or at least functional.

Don’t be tempted to straitjacket your team members. The adaptable may thrive, but you’ll end up demotivating the rest. Motivating your sales team members according to their strengths is particularly vital when coaching and motivating younger members of your team. They’re more prone to discouragement and self-doubt regarding the value of their approach when encountering failure.

This kind of motivation is not accomplished with just a few well-chosen words of encouragement. If you have a rep who is uncertain on the phone but brilliant at conjuring up social media sales, consider tweaking your approach to accommodate this (you’ll find it a worthwhile adjustment). If you have a more experienced rep who couldn’t sell through LinkedIn if their life depended on it but is great on the phone, then assign them more on-call leads. These shows of good faith will motivate your team.

2. Coach, Coach, Coach #

It might seem like a strange thing to mention coaching when talking about sales motivation, but nothing can replicate the benefits of true confidence. A sales rep making a call knowing that they’re fully prepared for it is an excellent way to avoid the procrastination trap and to make the best possible impact on a prospect.

Coaching is the most direct route to this. Don’t just dispense rote sales tips. Talk to your managers and reps, identify common and individual areas of weakness. Are some reps less sure of themselves when it comes to discussing your product in-depth? Are others poor when it comes to properly structuring discovery calls? Overcoming areas of doubt and weakness through sales training is a key confidence builder. Remember, a confident rep is a more easily motivated rep.

Preparation and prospect research is often overlooked as a stage in the sales process. A huge majority of B2B decision-makers believe that reps tend to come to sales calls under-prepared. Getting your reps in the know is an excellent way of making them stand out, and this preparedness will shore up their motivation.

3. Keep your sales team-wise to the bigger picture #

Any sales cycle will involve down days, hard times, and disappointments. It’s getting harder, too. On average, it now takes twice as many call attempts to reach a prospect as it did in 2007 (up to 8 from the previous 3.68).

By regularly pulling your team together and reminding them what it all amounts to, you’ll give them what it takes to push through those difficult periods. A strong team spirit will make this easier — if you have a team selling not just for the sake of their own sales success and not just for your company but for each other, they can’t lose.

4. Don’t forget to zero in from time to time #

Looking at a long list of jobs that need doing is a sure-fire way to produce anxiety and procrastination in your sales team. Train your team to break down large tasks into smaller ones to make their motivation carry further.

5. Be Proactive Against Burnout #

Motivation is not just mental — it’s physical, too. There’s nothing worse for the physical component of motivation than the weight of fatigue.

In normal circumstances, working from home is great for employee health and keeping burnout at bay. Since the pandemic began and the economy went into chaos, employees may, in fact, be more at risk from burnout than ever before. Our research has shown more mentions of burnout during calls.

Elite sales professionals like Stephanie Benavidez, senior director of sales enablement at WellRight, have observed that sales reps are working longer hours and suffering “Zoom fatigue.”

Create and impose rigorous standards for work-life balance and free time to keep your sales team members healthy and at full productive capacity. You can go for the German template of restricting out-of-hours communication for work reasons. You can include more team events — gaming afternoons, wine tasting, subsidized pizza parties — to allow your team to blow off steam together.

As a sales manager, your job is not just to motivate your reps towards sales success — but toward health-and-wellbeing success as well. Being diligent about one will have noticeable benefits for the other.

6. Reward small wins as well as big ones #

The rewards don’t have to be huge or even palpable, but recognizing your team’s individual moments of triumph will keep them going through a long sales cycle. For instance, pinning down a tricky prospect and getting from the discovery stage to the late stage quickly, instead of the usual nine days, might not be a sales goal, but it’s worth rewarding.

7. Face Failure Head-On #

Sales can be a highly emotional process: failure can really put a dent in a rep’s motivation, and a too-strong fear of failure can have even worse potential outcomes. Use all failures as a means for growth within your team; review them non-judgmentally and collaboratively, and stress their importance as learning experiences.

Ninety-two percent of all salespeople give up on a lead after four rejections; removing the stigma from failure will help ensure that your team doesn’t makeup part of that number. Being able to examine both your successes and failures in detail can be hugely helpful in this. Luckily, we know a solution that can do the trick.

8. Make motivation part of the furniture #

You should be motivating your team to peak sales performance on a daily basis — but as a sales manager, there’s hardly time for daily one-to-ones. Coaching events or meetings focused more directly on motivating your team are great, but making your team’s environment motivational is an excellent way of maintaining high levels between these events.

Send your team automated email alerts that contain pearls of sales wisdom every day. Create a little team-led podcast to allow team members to share motivational tips and blow off steam. Find an inspirational sales quote that gets everyone going, and send each of your team members a print of it to put on their desk or hang on their wall. Take a look here if you’re stuck for inspiration. It might not seem like the most decisive component of a sales strategy, but it works.

9. Give Them the Right Tools #

As we’ve seen, motivation is considerably easier to keep a hold of when your team, your sales leader, your environment feel like they’re running with you. That principle applies to tools, as well. Fitting your sales reps with the right tools will reduce the likelihood of a lot of tedious admin sapping their motivational drive.

Focus on solutions that can actively help your team:

  • Conversational intelligence programs that let them hone in on areas of potential improvement in their sales call techniques
  • A good, high-functioning CRM that allows your reps to keep track of their various priorities while automating some of the grunt work that cuts into their selling time

We know of a solution or two that can help do all this.

Mastering Sales Motivation #

In many ways, mastering sales motivation is a reactive pursuit — it involves communicating clearly with your reps and finely tailoring your approach to motivation based on what you learn. As you embark on the sales cycle, it then becomes about how well you can react to bumps in the road and keep your sales team on an even keel through the ups and downs. There will be hardship on the road to recovery; the complications of 2020 might be behind us, but they’re not totally over yet. There may well be difficult days ahead.

The result of doing this right is a team with tremendous energy, engagement, and fire, for whom failure is water off a duck’s back and success is only a matter of time, patience, and perseverance. Motivation is the most transformative component of a sales ecosystem. Master it, and your sales team will be unstoppable.

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