Motivation is more than Vince Lombardi quotes and quirky posters on the wall. It’s one of the most important components of sustained sales success over time.
As a sales manager or director, you can only influence your team’s individual sales performance on two axis — their skill set, and their motivation. Improving your team’s skill set is a largely objective process. By evaluating current performance metrics and comparing them to a successful end state, you can diagnose what areas need improvement and act accordingly.
But motivation is far harder. It’s about individual, team-wide, and organizational momentum. There are lots of external factors that affect motivation. Every person responds differently to stress and adversity, and should be approached differently to get them to overachieve or break out of their funk. I’ve used the following four strategies in my decades as a sales leader to successfully motivate my team and drive motivation through the roof. Now, you can use them too.
4 Strategies to Motivate Your Sales Team
1) Build trust with the people on your team.
The foundation of motivation is trust. If your team doesn’t trust you and doesn’t believe you have their best interests at heart, it’ll be difficult for them to feel inspired and driven by their work. When salespeople are unmotivated, you won’t be able to re-inspire them unless you have an open and honest conversation about their challenges and goals — something that simply won’t happen without trust. It’s a vicious — or virtuous — cycle.
Managers have to create trust and then maintain it by engaging with their team in a consistent, nurturing fashion. The best way to build trust is to be completely transparent. Simply discussing trust can be a great way of starting off on the right foot.
In my 30-year career, I’ve used one simple soundbite to kick off this conversation. It might seem like a squishy question, but it’s never failed to work. I simply say, “Julia, I want to make sure we are in a trusting relationship. How can we build trust between us?”
It’s pretty direct and it’s a great way to explain to the team that I am interested in working on a business relationship, rather than being their boss.
2) Ask your direct reports how they like to be managed.
I always tell new team members three important things:
- Everybody’s personality is different.
- I want to be an effective manager for your work style and personality.
- I can modify my behavior to fit your needs. How do you want to be managed?
Just as different prospects will require different selling styles and effective salespeople understand how to adapt to those styles, effective managers understand that the best way to get results out of their team is to fit into their reports’ worlds, instead of forcing one method of communication or strategy on everyone else.
Here are some questions I ask my direct reports to help them figure out what their work style is like:
- What is the pace of interaction that you prefer? Do you want to meet with me once a week, every other week, or multiple times a week?
- How do you want me to give you feedback?
- Do you prefer public or private praise and feedback?
- What type of feedback do you prefer?
- If I hear something amiss, do you want me to tell you, email you, wait until our one-on-one, or something else?
- If something I do gets on your nerves, will you let me know?
3) Understand your direct reports’ personal and professional goals.
You can’t motivate someone unless you know what drives them. Understand what your direct reports each want to accomplish in their personal and professional lives. This will not only show you the type of person they are, but also give you insight into what things will motivate them the most.
Once you understand their goals, ask them the following questions:
- Are you motivated right now?
- What motivates you long term?
- What can you do to motivate yourself?
- How will I know if you are not motivated?
- What do you want me to do if you don’t appear motivated?
Even if it seems obvious, you always need to ask. If they can’t tell you the answers to these questions, give them 48 hours to figure it out. Forcing your reps to be self-reflective makes it more likely they’ll give you thoughtful answers, which will be better for you both in the long run.
4) Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals.
Managers need to understand that different salespeople are motivated in different ways. Some people are motivated by team-wide sales contests. Some are driven by quota achievement. Some are motivated by qualitative improvements. Some people are motivated by their impact on the organization. Some people are motivated by money.
The key to motivating your sales team is getting their input so they believe that the contest is fun, exciting, and rewarding. Let your direct reports set their own SPIFs (sales performance incentive fund) for daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Here’s how you should think about each type of goal and SPIF:
- Daily: This is a very short-term goal designed to break a rep out of their funk. The SPIF should be something fun but lightweight, since the rep isn’t doing that much to earn it. Let them set the goal! It costs you $10 to have some fun and get better results? Everyone wins! I make them email it to me, so I don’t forget. (Brian Bresee, I still owe you 50 breakfast sandwiches.)
- Weekly: This is a more tangible goal with defined business impact. Set metrics for improvement, then work with your reps on a plan to applying the necessary skills on a daily basis to achieve this goal. This should be a slightly more involved reward such as a round of golf that will influence meaningful results.
- Monthly: The largest of the three goals, monthly goals are accompanied by higher-value rewards based on extraordinary performance. I prefer not to give cash, because once you spend it, it’s gone. Instead, I’ve given physical SPIFs like speakers and TV sets. Every time your rep looks at that item, they’ll remember the process they went through to earn it.
Interestingly, sometimes the best SPIFs aren’t ones that seem to have any value at all to an outsider. I used to work with Don Bulens at Lotus, and we had a plastic doll we called the Tiny Little Baby Award. It got passed around to the best rep on a monthly basis and was displayed at the winner’s desk. People loved it — the doll had no inherent value, but it was a way of recognizing people’s achievements, and reps cared more about the accomplishment of getting the baby than the baby itself.
Ultimately, inspiring motivation is about finding the thing that makes your reps willing to go the extra mile. People who aren’t motivated won’t suddenly become top performers if you offer them $1,000 cash. Find the thing that makes your reps tick, and the ones who have the self-discipline and inner talent to work for a reward will shine.