how to motivate people in sales

Here Is What You Should Do to Motivate Your Sales Team

Every no brings me closer to a yes. --Mark Cuban; Self made billionaire, Mark Cuban is known for telling it how it is. One of his most famous motivational sales quotes, “Every no brings me closer to a yes.” Rings true to anyone in sales. But let’s face it. Sales reps hear NO more often than not and sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated. So when reps aren’t motivated, several options arise and among them are: leaving their job or getting asked to leave. Leading us to one of the most difficult tasks sales managers and sales executives have to face, employee retention. The average sales rep turnover is 34% according to Trish and Matt Bertuzzi of The Bridge Group, who conducted a survey of 342 software as a service (SaaS) companies. Another alarming statistic is that one in ten companies have sales rep turnover rates above 55%. These numbers are troubling not only to sales managers but also to the entire company, since it costs a lot to replace employees. Statistics on the cost of employee turnover greatly vary. Add in the cost of missed sales and this ends up being even higher. These numbers demand for a better sales management processes.

A Carrot Isn’t Good Enough: How to Motivate Your Sales Team

The heart of the problem is motivation. If teams stay motivated during good and bad times, sales have a way of balancing themselves out. So in an effort to motivate employees, managers devise incentive programs like trips, gift cards, and cash rewards. Of course the opposite may also happen, like imposing consequences such as docked pay or being given a smaller sales area for not meeting quotas.

But there’s a problem with these traditional sales motivation strategies: they don’t work.

The answer to the question ‘how to motivate people’ lies in training sales leadership to understand the social science behind motivation. Motivation strategies tied to external rewards or penalties are not the answer for forward-thinking businesses. “Traditional management is fine if you want compliance,” explains business analyst and best-selling author, Dan Pink. “Twentieth century motivators do work but only in a narrow band of circumstances.” The “narrow band of circumstances” Pink refers to are basic straightforward tasks that require little flexibility, critical thinking, or problem solving abilities. Unfortunately, most sales situations don’t fall into the narrow band; today’s sales situations require being able to apply critical thinking, business and sales acumen, and product knowledge to a wide range of situations. Luckily, these are skills that can be taught. Twenty-first century sales require twenty-first century skills and motivation. However, businesses still try to motivate with extrinsic rewards (money, prizes, cash) when the focus should be on intrinsic rewards. Pink points to numerous studies over the past 40 years which show that rewards tied to behaviour, or contingent motivators, actually decrease performance.

Compensation Plans Matter

Before further explaining intrinsic rewards and how to motivate your team, let’s make it clear that compensation plans matter. And they matter a lot. Pink advocates paying employees enough so that they don’t worry about money because ultimately, what will help your team stay motivated isn’t the carrot. It comes from within.

When people are allowed to focus on tasks in a way that matters to them, the outcomes are greater than within the traditional reward system. Pink explains what social science says regarding how to motivate people: intrinsic motivators.

Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose.

Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. And when that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives. -- Daniel Pink

Pink asserts businesses have largely ignored the past 40 years of social science research on how to motivate people. Learning the value of intrinsic motivators “is one of the most robust findings of social science and also one of the most ignored,” emphasises Pink. “The solution is not to do more of the wrong entice with a sweeter carrot or threaten with a sharper stick.”

The question of how to motivate people—especially how to motivate salespeople—has long been a puzzle. The way to motivate people, explains Pink is to use intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is not just a new buzzword. Pink cites study after study to prove people need more to be motivated than simple rewards. The three key elements advocated by Pink are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Pink explains these three traits are the new principles of motivation.


When businesses give their employees more flexibility to set their own priorities, schedules, goals, and work habits, teams feel a greater sense of ownership and therefore motivation. Examples of autonomy in the workplace include the ability to telecommute, the freedom for sales reps to set their own hours as long as the work gets done, or offering unlimited vacation days as long as quotas are met.

While autonomy over schedule may be more difficult in a call centre or customer service setting where hours need to be covered, there are other areas where autonomy can be integrated. Allowing sales or customer service reps to set their own goals and choose their own metrics are examples of intrinsic sales motivation techniques.


The second tenet of sales motivation Pink advocates. People don’t want to be robots. They want to feel achievement. They want to succeed. Oftentimes, however, they don’t know how. It’s not that companies don’t spend lavish amounts on training their salespeople in sales training seminars, explains Jason Jordan in his book Cracking the Sales Management Code.

The problem of mastery comes when sales managers are not equipped with the skills to help their sales teams set and meet the right goals. ”With extremely rare exception,” teaches Jordan, “the best sales managers we’ve encountered are unconsciously competent scientists. They hold formal meetings with formal agendas on formal schedules. They set rigorous expectations for their salespeople and track progress against those goals with equal rigor. They manage by analysis rather than anecdote and by measurement rather than gut. They are continuous-improvement experts with action plans galore.”

A great sales manager, who actually teaches sales teams rather than simply inspects them, can motivate their team to master the skills needed to achieve.


The last key to motivating people is purpose. Largely, says Pink, people will achieve more when they serve a purpose larger than themselves. As a company, seek to define a purpose bigger than achieving profit. For example, aim to deliver the best product or service for your customer. Embrace values such as excellence, service, and teamwork. A sense of purpose becomes even more clear when companies team up with charities.

Creating a business environment of cooperation is another way to achieve purpose. Gamification can add to a culture striving for a larger purpose. Some companies have used their CRM dashboards to track personal goals for department-wide or company-wide contests, solidifying relationships in the company. When gamification is used to help charity, sales incentive programs take on a purpose higher than increasing the bottom line. Eighty-five percent of reps attain their quota and 51 percent of new reps make their goals when gamification is part of the culture, according to Aberdeen Group’s statistics. Without gamification, the percentage of reps and new hires that reached their quotas are 78 percent and 42 percent respectively.

Inspirational Sales Quotes Are a Good Jump-Start

The more we overcome our reluctance and take action, the more we realise just how often things can go well for us.--Caterina Rando

You probably have your favourite motivational sales quotes. Daily quotes can remind sales reps why they set goals, this helps in staying motivated and reaching company targets. The way to stay motivated in the sales process, however, is to teach sales reps to be engaged in reaching their own goals. (There’s that autonomy again.)

While it’s a good idea to use motivational sales quotes and to have a sales quote of the day to inspire your team, motivating sales teams also requires informed goal setting. The compensation and the passion isn’t enough unless your sales team has the tools to improve their skills.

Goal Setting is a Skill

Obstacles are things a person sees when he takes his eyes off his goal. --E. Joseph Cossman

Any sales training ideas should include training in goal setting. Effective goal setting is a skill and skills require practice. Done right, setting goals increases motivation and achievement of more goals. Motivated people set objectives and these targets actually increase motivation. This self-reflexive idea is a huge insight into the study of how to motivate your team of salespeople. Just as confidence breeds more confidence and success breeds more success, achieving goals means achieving more goals.

The trick is to teach sales reps to jump into the cycle. But be careful to set the right kind of objectives. Sales leadership is key in helping teams set the right kind of goals.

Goals should focus on behaviour you can control. For instance, you can control the number of calls your outbound marketing team makes. If you know that 100 calls produce 5 number of sales, when you increase the number of calls to 200, you can double your qualified leads. Through customised CRM dashboards, sales teams can track their personal progress towards their goals.

A Harvard study showed that going through a goal-setting intervention actually increased results by 30 percent. Imagine if every sales rep on your team improved by 30 percent! That’s a powerful lesson in the need to learn goal-setting skills.

Every goal-setter knows that goals should be specific, time limited, achievable, and measurable. What most goal-setters don’t realise is that goals can have unintended negative consequences. Jason Jordan explains that choosing the wrong metrics and wrong goals “creates a culture of inspection” and if goals—especially the wrong goals—are focused on too intently, an atmosphere of “compliance and anxiety” results. A setting where goals, sales metrics, and KPIs are used without skill creates a culture without the autonomy, mastery, and purpose which are crucial to motivation.

The lesson: let your sales team choose their goals (autonomy), train the sales managers to coach--—not inspect—their progress (mastery), help the entire organisation become excellent at serving the customer or community (purpose).

In the end it pays to be motivated

Intrinsic motivators—the motivations that come from within—are THE motivators. Unfortunately business practice doesn’t often mirror the research. “There is a mismatch between what social science knows and what business does,” argues Pink. Money is important to salespeople, but if your company wants to do well, money or any other carrot shouldn’t be the motivator.

In setting goals and using CRM dashboard metrics to monitor objectives, businesses need to avoid creating a culture of anxiety and inspection over the metrics. Skilled sales leaders will understand how to train their sales force to set effective goals and achieve great things.

People are motivated by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. And when people are put in a situation where they have some control over their circumstances, they have the chance to excel at their tasks, where they find a larger, unifying purpose, causing sales to flourish.


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