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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. It can also guard against the plague of burnout dogging so many sales reps.
In this article, we’ll break down how to connect to what drives your team, build trust as a sales manager, and empower them to be their best. No sales contest or gamification (or even fixing that CRM) alone can deliver a motivated sales team.
But 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.
Defining what sales team motivation is
Motivation is what keeps us going. As a dad of two small children (four and two years old), this word runs through my head daily. “You can do it, buddy. Sissy, you can make it to the top of the stairs. I believe in you!”
Sometimes they need a little coaching. Sometimes, after a fall off a rock or a craft project gone bad, they just need a little help to see what was good about it or what they learned. (One of the perks of being a parent is that I'm constantly reminded to check in with my own mindset).
This is no different in the world of sales. Motivation positively pushes us (big and small) toward our ultimate goals.
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.
Why would your sales team need motivation?
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.
Now, with teams going remote, 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.
Whether virtual or in-office, your sales team relies on you to keep them excited, encouraged, and empowered to do their jobs. While platforms like 15Five bring some connection and recognition to the digital space, overall, it is lower. So motivation has never been more important. Over time, the stress and rejection can do a number on your staff’s morale — and when they stop producing, you lose more than just revenue.
What really drives a sales team?
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:
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.
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.
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.
How 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:
- Money, money, money
Offer monetary incentives. These could include spot bonuses, contests, or celebrating commissions. 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.
- 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. Showing interest in their goals reinforces your belief and investment in them and their career. But don't stop at just offering career opportunity. Offer your reps the opportunity to truly thrive as whole people while building careers in this demanding profession.
Sales reps are burned out and many 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.
- Offer public praise
Is someone doing a great job? Shout them out in Slack, 15Five, via email, or in the company newsletter. For big announcements, you may want to make sure they feel comfortable before you put them on the spot. But even if you don’t recognize them publicly, be sure to tell them they did a great job.
- Celebrate small wins
This is huge 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.
- Get in the trenches
Collaborate with your team. Send them a lead. Cold call with them. Strategize on a deal together. Be a hands-on leader. Spending time with them will 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.
- Offer benefits
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs says that people can’t focus on much of anything while they’re in survival mode. While their pay may be largely based on sales, their benefits shouldn’t be. Make sure your salespeople don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to their well-being.
- Say thank you
Say it 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.
23 motivational sales quotes
To keep your team engaged and focused, it's necessary to provide different kinds of motivation. Sometimes, the right words can encourage, inspire, and validate your experience like nothing else can. Here are 23 quotes on hard work, sales, and success that are sure to motivate your sales team.
- "Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude." – Zig Ziglar
- “I never lose. I either win or learn.” – Nelson Mandela
- “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill
- “Please think about your legacy, because you're writing it every day.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
- “It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.” – Warren Buffett
- "You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." – Aristotle
- "Don't settle for average. Bring your best to the moment. Then, whether it fails or succeeds, at least you know you gave all you had. We need to live the best that's in us." — Angela Bassett
- “We don't aim high enough with our goals. We all have more in us, and we are all capable of aiming higher.” — Jesse Itzler
- “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him.” – David Brinkley
- “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” – Steve Jobs
- "Always do your best. What you plant now, you will harvest later." — Og Mandino
- “Today is always the most productive day of your week.” – Mark Hunter
- "Become the person who would attract the results you seek." — Jim Cathcart
- "Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday." — Wilma Rudolph
- "Don't watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going." — Sam Levenson
- “Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don’t recognize them” – Ann Landers
- "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." — Thomas Edison
- “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.“ – John Wooden
- “Begin always expecting good things to happen.” – Tom Hopkins
- “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.” – Mary Kay Ash
- "There’s always something to suggest that you’ll never be who you wanted to be. Your choice is to take it or keep on moving." — Phylicia Rashad
- "You’re not obligated to win. You’re obligated to keep trying to do the best you can every day." – Marian Wright Edelman
- “Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” – Dale Carnegie
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.