Sales is often a game of “what have you done for me lately.” This treatment is where sales employees, including their managers, are treated only as good as the last sale. Such treatment dehumanizes a dynamic set of interactions that are inherently human and as old as sales – building relationships and helping others by solving problems. 

While it’s true that a sales team must be partially accountable for the growth of the organization through their sales efforts, the context in which they do so must evolve. The sales pursuit need not commoditize the very people who make sales happen. Instead, we need more managers willing to create a culture that taps into a fundamental human need – to do something that matters. 

So, what’s a manager to do? The following five items are ways managers can motivate and inspire employees to experience work that matters. Why does this matter? If the goal is to produce more sales, then managers need to relate to sales employees as people and not selling machines.

1. Meaningful Work

Research from The Ken Blanchard Companies on employee work passions, shows meaningful work surfaced as the most important job factor. It ranked higher than autonomy and workload balance. Sales employees need to understand how their work makes a difference for customers and the company. A good manager helps his employees see the connection of doing to its impact.

2. Promote Wellbeing

This isn’t the typical message of manage stress and anxiety. Although important, there are other dimensions of wellbeing. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot explains in her book Optimism Bias this about wellbeing: “[Well-being] is most significantly influenced by the flow of our daily experience.” If employees experience of work leads them to belive they are only as good as their last sale, their wellbeing will take a hit. Consequently, morale and motivation go down, perpetuating a vicious cycle of underperformance.

3. Create Workplace Optimism

Workplace optimism isn’t making sense of the workplace through rose-colored glasses. It’s intentional actions a manager takes to influence the culture showing employees that doing good work is possible. It’s a dominant belief that good work is possible and appreciated. In the world of sales, this means ethical sales are celebrated and failures and losses are used to teach not punish.

4. Play to Strengths

Strengths are often confused with competency. Instead, look at strengths as knowing what lights-up your employees. A good manager learns to leverage her team’s collective strengths profile to achieve desired business results. 

5. Know Your People

The London Business School found that the key determinant of employee performance isn’t money but the quality of the relationship with the boss. Underlying this obvious wisdom, albeit too often ignored, are habits that position the manager to learn about the story of each of his employees. What are their interests? What are their aspirations? 

A fantastic outcome from learning about employees cited in the London Business School’s research was enthusiastic employees about their manager. The measurement? The Net Management Promoter Score. The measure evaluates the likelihood employees would recommend their manager to others.

The accepted sales axiom of, “what have you done for me lately,” is limiting sales growth and the effort employees put forth in their work. 

By syncing our innate drive to build relationships, to help others, and do work that matters, managers can evolve the sales culture to one that motivates and inspires employees to do their best work. This is a long-term motivational strategy that surpasses the short-term motivational influences of money.


Shawn_Murphy2Shawn is the Managing Director of Organizational Development at KAI Partners. Co-founder and Co-CEO of Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Author of Creating Joy at Work. Top ranked leadership blogger and social HR expert by Huffington Post.