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 sales performance in two dimensions: Their skill set (what they can do) and their motivation (how repeatedly or passionately they do it).
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. Not only are there are many external factors that affect motivation, every person requires different incentives and motivational tactics. In my decades as a sales leader, I’ve used the following strategies to successfully motivate my team and drive motivation through the roof.
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. Make sure they’re covering the basics.
A salesperson’s motivation always suffers when they’re not taking care of themselves. Your team’s results are influenced by — may even depend on — consistent sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet.
Robert Yao, the founder and CEO of EpiFinder, so strongly believes in this idea he’s created a “Robert Yao Hierarchy of Needs.” Whenever someone on his team seems disengaged or demotivated, he shows them the pyramid and asks, “What do you need more of?”
If they point to “food,” he’ll buy them lunch. If they point to “sleep,” he’ll tell them to take a nap. If they point to “exercise,” he’ll say, “Go for a walk.”
While you don’t have to take things this far, stressing the importance of a balanced lifestyle will make a sustained difference on your salespeople’s motivation levels.
At HubSpot, we offer employees access to a gym, plenty of healthy food and snacks, and a nap room.
5. Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals.
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.
Here’s how you should think about each type of goal and SPIF (sales performance incentive fund):
- 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.
- 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.
6. Figure out where the issue lies.
There are two main aspects of motivation every sales manager must handle: Individual motivation, and group-wide motivation.
Before you do anything to boost motivation, ask yourself, “How many people seem like their spirits are flagging?”
If the answer is “just one or two,” you’re dealing with outliers. If that number is three or more, there’s a problem with the entire team.
7. Let people pick their own rewards.
Salespeople always do a great job choosing prizes — after all, they have the most insight into what they want! Plus, this makes your job easier.
I use a three-step process to getting people to design their own sales contest.
First, I ask them if they need motivation. I’ll say, “How do you feel? Do you need a kick in the pants?”
They’ll either say yes — in which case I’ll move to the next step — or “No, we’re fine.” If it’s the latter, I’ll say, “It doesn’t sound like you’re motivated today, but if you can hit [activity or monetary goal] without an extra boost, that works for me.” The team will always respond, “No, no, Tyre, we need the motivation.”
Then I’ll ask, “Okay, what do you think the objective should be?”
After they’ve decided on a target, I’ll ask them to pick a timeframe.
Lastly, I’ll ask, “What reward do you want [within X budget]?”
This strategy is straightforward yet highly effective. My reps love it.
8. Give great rewards.
Sometimes, you may need to give your salespeople some inspiration. Here are my favorite personal SPIFs to suggest:
- Prospect for them
- Buy them (and maybe a few friends) lunch or dinner
- Cook them lunch or dinner
- Clean their house (or hire a company to clean it for them)
- Babysit their kids
- Walk their dog
- Wash their car
- Give them the full day off
Unlike a traditional cash prize, these rewards are motivating to the entire team. Everyone will be rooting for the individual rep — because who doesn’t want to see their manager cooking their coworker dinner?
When you’re offering a team-wide SPIF, use these ideas:
- Take everyone out to the movies in the middle of the day
- Go bowling
- Attend a sports game
- Throw a pool party or BBQ
- Volunteer at a soup kitchen or local philanthropic organization (great for bonding)
- Play paintball or dodgeball
- Visit a go-cart facility
And when you want to truly rally your salespeople and show how committed you are, get a little wacky.
- Dress like a taco
- Shave your beard or head
- Grow your mustache
- Go in a dunk tank
- Sing at karaoke
- Perform a dance
- Pledge to give up coffee for a week
- Eat your least favorite food for lunch
- Wear a funny shirt to work
The goal: Do something playful and memorable.
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.
9. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
As we previously established, trust is paramount to establishing a relationship with your team and getting their participation, buy-in, and motivation. In order to establish that trust, take a look at how you communicate with your team, both on an individual level and team-wide.
You can easily conduct a stand-up meeting in the morning to get your reps’ blood pumping, using your energy and enthusiasm to bring up the temperature in the room and start the day off right. You can also conduct one-on-one meetings to really get to know each team member on an individual level and help coach them toward their goals.
It also helps to have mini check-ins during the day, whether that’s with a short motivational email or an encouraging word when they’re not busy.
Touch points like these serve as external validation that can be a big motivating factor.
Examples of a Motivational Email to Sales Team
If you the next step to improve the level of your sales leadership is more touch points with your team, consider sending them a motivational email from time to time. This is an especially good tactic for remote sales environments where you might not get that face-to-face interaction between calls or at the water cooler. The goal is to acknowledge the hard work they’re doing and encourage them to keep their energy up.
Sometimes, the times that your team needs encouragement the most is when their numbers are down. Your reps will be looking to you to provide leadership, which includes an action plan and rallying energy. Here’s how you can do this in an email:
Good morning, team!
As you know, we’ve been trending X% below goal since [Date]. This is due in large part because of [challenge or problem]. Given these challenges, I’m proud of how we’ve performed so far. For example, [Provide an example of a win].
As our leadership team looks into solutions for the factors outside of our control, we can do [action plan] in the meantime.
Ebbs and flows happen, and it’s up to us to see ourselves through the dip. This week, we’ll be revisiting some of the fundamentals by [action plan] to shake things up and get some results.
Looking forward to approaching this puzzle with fresh eyes.
Keep up the good work,
At the same time, you might want to motivate your team to reach new highs even when sales are up. It’s all to easy for reps to pull their foot off the gas when goals are being met and exceeded. However, it’s actually good to help them lean into those headwinds. For example:
I’ve just received word that we just hit [milestone], exceeding our targets by X%. Each one of you should feel proud for getting us to this stage. That’s why I’m excited to announce [how the team is being rewarded for their performance].
In the meantime, let’s continue to ride this wave. I encourage you all to stay focused and continue the great work you’ve been doing. We have momentum on our side, and we can take advantage of it to have a record-breaking quarter!
Keep up the good work,
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.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July 2017 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.