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How building trust is the true secret to motivating sales teams

July 20, 2022 - 16 min read

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What is sales team motivation?

What motivates sales teams?

7 ways to motivate your sales team

Why would your sales team need motivation?

Crack open any guide to sales leadership, and you’ll find it chock full of metaphors. But why? It’s not because storytelling is a great way to sell (although that is true). It’s because sales can be a bit of a grind. That’s why sales motivation is so important. 

Most sales managers are trying to find the right balance of tools and sales enablement, training, and incentives to keep their teams hitting their metrics.  

After all, there are two paths most sales leaders take to make sure their sales teams perform: invest in sales training or invest in keeping them motivated, at least in the short term. Making calls and prepping decks are still the brick-and-mortar of the salesperson's business — but the attitude they bring to it determines what they’re building. The right attitude can also guard against the plague of burnout dogging so many sales reps, especially since the pandemic. 

"Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude." – Zig Ziglar

With burnout becoming more common, a recession on the horizon, and the pandemic still affecting the way we work, it’s likely that your sales organization needs some extra motivation more than ever. 

In this article, we’ll break down what drives your team, how to build trust as a sales manager, and how you can empower them to be their best. No sales contest or gamification (or even fixing that CRM) alone can deliver a motivated sales team.

When you start combining the right sales activities with teamwork, good management, and a coaching style of sales leadership, your sales talent will take notice. Let’s dive in.

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What is sales team motivation?

In the world of work, sales team motivation is putting conscious effort into what keeps your team engaged, focused, and confident about their ability to connect with your customer. They are your brand ambassadors at the front line of the company, and their morale is connected to company morale.

Everyone is motivated by different things, so it is extremely important to understand your team at the core. Motivating people means understanding the whole person, and getting to know the whys and the motivations behind each one.

What motivates sales teams?

People are unique, and what matters to them — as well as what motivates them — is unique as well. However, it’s fair to say that when it comes to their work, people all want to be recognized for their efforts (and a little extra money never hurts things, either). Here are four key motivators that drive your sales team:

  • Money: Many professionals get into sales because they want to have control over their income. In commission-based roles, there’s often no limit on how much you can make. Because of the high-earning potential, sales attracts money-motivated individuals.
  • Career mobility: Successful sales professionals are recognized — and promoted — based on their personal efforts. A new rising star can quickly distinguish themselves from the pack with stellar performance or a novel approach.
  • Recognition: There’s something thrilling about seeing your name at the top of the leaderboard. In sales, it’s even better, since every win comes with a cash prize. The salespeople leading the pack are often driven by recognition and their desire to push themselves to achieve their personal best.
  • Purpose: Sales isn’t always about the money. While selling skills are often transferable across industries, most salespeople can’t get excited about selling a product they don’t believe in. However, if your sales team believes in and feels connected to the company mission, they’ll share that passion with your customers.

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7 ways to motivate your sales team

So how do you tap into these motivators and get your sales team off to the races? Design incentives and make leadership choices around the four areas you know mean the most to them. Here are 7 ideas you can use to motivate your sales team.

1. Build trust 

Building trust is one of the most important methods for motivating your sales team. If you can do this right, it will be a strong foundation for all the other ways you can motivate the team. 

But why is trust so significant? If employees trust leadership, their productivity, team unity, and career satisfaction will increase. If there’s a lack of trust, that will lead to lower engagement, higher employee turnover, and an overall decrease in performance. 

We all know when we have an inspiring leader that we believe in, we’re more likely to be dedicated to our work — that’s why building trust can have such a positive impact on sales team motivation. Here are a few ways to start building more trust with your sales team, so that you can motivate them more effectively: 

  • Have integrity — do what you say you will, when you say you will 
  • Spend time with your team — dedicate more than the occasional sales meeting to getting to know your team members and what matters to them 
  • Be positive — instead of becoming cynical or passive aggressive, keep your language and your mindset positive
  • Be open to receiving feedback — give your employees the opportunity to tell you how you can do better, and then act on their constructive criticism when you need to 
  • Listen and collaborate — instead of making the sales strategy all by yourself, ask your employees for their input, and then implement their best ideas into the plan 
  • Take action — when your employees need something, do everything you can to make it happen (just don’t make false promises when things are out of your control)

2. Get in the trenches

This goes hand-in-hand with building trust. Show your team that you understand the work they do on a daily basis. Get involved, and when they see you working hard next to them, they’ll be more motivated — and achieve better sales results. Send them a lead. Cold call with them. Strategize on a deal together. Be a hands-on leader. 

Spending time with your team will also make it easier for you to coach them, provide valuable feedback, and keep them encouraged throughout the day. Put the same effort into building authentic relationships with your team members as you would with a customer — as a leader, your sales reps are now your #1 customers.

3. Set goals — and celebrate when they’re accomplished

If you’re working closely with your team each day, you’ll be better equipped to help them set SMART goals. These goals can be big — you should push them to get out of their comfort zones. However, by working together, you can also make sure their sales goals are realistic. After they set goals, try to remember when certain milestones are so that you also celebrate them along the way. 

Hitting a big goal is cause for celebration, but don’t forget the small wins. This is important in sales because not every day ends with a huge close. It can be easy to get caught up in the bottom line. Make a habit of celebrating the activities that get you to the big wins. First meetings? Demos? Next steps? All are worthy of celebration.

“It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.” – Warren Buffett

4. Optimize your leadership style

Not every situation calls for the same management style. If you’re dealing with workplace conflict, you’ll want to be a little more diplomatic. However, if you have an employee suffering from poor performance, you’ll need to be more of a coach. Remember, a lack of motivation can come from anywhere, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. 

Consider your team’s needs and what they’re tackling right now. How can servant leadership, transactional leadership, or a democratic style of leadership motivate them? You can also ask for their feedback. Maybe they have certain needs that you’re not meeting right now, and with a little adjustment, you could motivate them in new ways

5. Offer opportunities for growth and development

Talk to your sales reps about their strengths, their plans for the future, and upcoming promotions. Build plans around performance and interests. But don't stop at just offering career opportunities. Offer your reps the opportunity to truly thrive as whole people while building careers in this demanding profession.

Many sales reps are struggling with the changing sales landscape. Traditional sales investments focus on productivity tools and ad hoc training, rather than building the skills and behaviors that ultimately impact performance. At BetterUp, we believe supporting sales leaders in building the mindsets and behaviors to thrive and inspire will help them motivate and coach their teams to succeed personally and professionally.

6. Offer financial incentives  

If you want a simple way to boost sales team motivation, monetary incentives could be the way to go. These could include spot bonuses, contests, or higher commissions. You could even adjust compensation plans completely for top performers. Rewards are a great way to power your team through periods of low motivation.  

Offering a financial incentive is a great way to make an immediate impact on your team — but don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s all they care about. We'd be lying if we said money doesn't still matter, but it isn't all that matters. People have walked away from tremendous compensation packages because they didn’t feel appreciated or valued in the ways that matter to them. 

7. Say thank you often 

It is easy to put your head down and focus on your workload, but try your best to say “thank you” — at least weekly. People need to know that their efforts are recognized and appreciated. You can never say “thank you” too often. If you can, be specific about why they make a difference.

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Why would your sales team need motivation?

Maybe you know your team needs motivation, but you’re thinking sales is easy, right? Wrong. HubSpot reports that sales turnover is nearly three times higher than any other industry. Three times. Sales teams are under a lot of pressure.

Anyone who has played baseball knows that as a hitter, you're going to strike out fairly often — it's the nature of the game. You keep taking your at-bats and working on your game. Sales is the same way — you step up to the plate and face failure and rejection every day.

Over time, stress and sales rejection can do a number on your staff’s morale — and when they stop producing, you lose more than just revenue. But rejection isn’t the only thing that gets sales teams down. Here are a few more reasons why your sales organization could need some extra motivation: 

  • The rise of remote work means sales teams are more isolated — which hinders the “office motivation” we used to get. Gone are the high fives, the collaboration sessions, the “good jobs.” Not to mention, most of us thrive on being around people. 
  • Team members could be distracted by conflict with coworkers. If you’re not interacting with the whole team every day, you might not be aware of any tension between certain individuals. Try to keep lines of communication open so that you can help resolve conflict when needed. 
  • The sales organization might not feel connected to the company’s mission. If they’re feeling a lack of purpose or unsure how their daily work relates to the bigger picture, that can reduce motivation. Remind your team why they’re doing the work they do. 
  • They may need resources. Sometimes, your team simply has too much work, and feelings of overwhelm are absolutely detrimental to productivity and motivation. Have open conversations with your team about their workload, and try to bring on more resources when needed. 

Whether working virtually or in-office, your sales team relies on you to keep them excited, encouraged, and empowered to do their jobs. By understanding why your team needs motivation, you can implement practices to increase it. And when employees are more motivated, they’ll be satisfied with their jobs and engaged with their work. That’s good for everyone. 

Moving forward

No matter who you are, we all suffer from a lack of motivation at times. However, this is especially common among sales teams. As a leader or a manager, you’ll need to know how to motivate your team to get through sales calls, follow up with customers, and ultimately, close deals. 

At BetterUp we believe that while tools, training, and incentives are important elements for the field, companies must also prioritize investment in the mindsets and behaviors that impact sales performance for individual contributors and sales team leaders.

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Published July 20, 2022

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