Motivating sales people shouldn't be hard - but it is!
Keeping a sales team motivated should be easy. Most sales people are goal focused and many are paid more if they sell more. Surely that should be enough when we talk about how to motivate sales people. So why is sometimes so hard to motivate sales people then?
The strategies in this article will help you increase the motivation levels across your team – and that will produce improved results.
However, be aware that you may need to change some sales management approaches to make these strategies work.
Accept that you can’t motivate people
Wait! Before you shut down this article and look for something that doesn't criticise your personal skills, that comment isn’t a personal attack on you. It is a general observation about the way people are wired.The simple fact is that one human being cannot motivate another one.
Motivation is something that occurs within each individual as a response to a stimulus – which may be internal or external. If you doubt whether this is true, ask yourself why those incentives you come up with have some people buzzing, others indifferent and some in the middle (and often the ones in the middle say they are excited by the idea but don’t seem to back that up with action). The reason for this variance is that the stimulus (your incentive program) is meaningful to some people but not to others.
If motivation was something you could ‘do’ or ‘impose’ on other people, it would have the same impact on every person. As a sales manager, what that means for you is that you should focus on creating an environment that includes things that people respond to in motivated ways
Action: forget trying to motivate people directly. Put your energies into creating environments people will respond to in a motivated way. The following tips will help.
Motivate sales people and not sales teams
As the previous tip hinted, each of your people is motivated in different ways. This becomes awkward for the sales manager who is putting together an incentive program and expecting it to have the same positive impact on every one in their team.
Along with the shift in focus to creating the right environment, you will need to adjust that for each individual. As a sales manager one of the most critical bits of knowledge you can have about your team members is what switches them on – and what switches them off. In other words, what do they respond to in motivated or demotivated ways?
Think about your team. Do you have at least some of these people in the team?
- Someone who gets slack until you have a stern talk with them and then they are motivated for a while – but it wears off and you have to go through the same process again
- Someone who just needs to be told they are special every now and then – when you give them the 'stroke' they need, they go out and perform.
- Someone who would crawl over broken glass to win an award
- Someone who loves the money
- Someone who always does OK but never sets the world on fire – they are like the drummer rather than the lead singer
- Someone who seems to be consistently mediocre and nothing seems to change that
You probably have more knowledge about your people than you realise – motivation is relatively stable so if someone has responded to something before, there is a fair chance it will work again.
Action: take five minutes to think about each person in your sales team. What seems to be motivating to them? What de-motivates them? Instead of asking how to motivate a sales team as a whole, ask how to motivate sales people individually.
What do sales people find motivating?
We recently wrote a series of articles about ten factors that motivate – from two different perspectives: the managers and the employees. This was based on a study done by a researcher called Kovach.
The top motivator according to the manager was wages – but what employees said they responded to was doing interesting work, being appreciated and feeling like they are ‘in on things’. Employees ranked the money fifth.
Are sales people different to the average employee? Possibly they are in some ways, but should we really assume that they are ‘wired’ differently to other people?
Go back to on one of the opening questions in this article – why aren’t people who are paid more for making more sales easy to motivate? Maybe the answer is that they are like other people – money is in their top 5 but not there are more important things.
What are your incentive programs and other methods of creating motivation based on? Are they purely focused on money or do you build in some recognition? Is that attainable only for the top performers or do you reward growth and effort rather than sheer volume?
Do you include the non-tangible aspects of motivation such as helping people feel included, showing appreciation and making the work interesting?
Action: make sure that the environment you create includes a broad range of approaches to motivation
Pleasure and pain
Every person is ultimately motivated by two things – pleasure and pain. We are motivated towards pleasure and away from pain.
However, it is more complicated than that – sometimes achieving something can be both painful and pleasurable. To get the long term pleasure we need to go through some short term pain.
In a sales environment, that can mean a sales person:
- Wants the pleasure associated with more sales: recognition, success, money, etc
- Doesn’t want the pain they need to go through to get there: cold calling, facing rejection, etc
The prospect of pleasure is sometime in the future and they have to push through some pain to get there. This means the pleasure needs to be meaningful, believable and attractive enough to make the pain worthwhile. This explains why you have some team members who want to get results but aren't prepared to do what it takes.
To complicate it further, there may be factors in the current environment that tip the balance one way or the other.
- A sales manager who is not happy with the current performance level – a bit of ‘pain’ that helps move them towards the objective
- Other tasks that they enjoy doing but that aren’t productive in a sales sense – a bit of ‘pleasure’ that anchors them where they are.
This is why you sometimes have people who seem to consistently perform at the same acceptable but not outstanding level – the balance of pain and pleasure is holding them there.
As a sales manager, you need to be a master of pleasure and pain. That doesn’t mean inflicting physical pain on your people! If you have someone you want to perform better:
- Build more pleasure in the objective – you could make sure that the objective is created with the specific person in mind (see the previous two tips)
- Reduce the pain in getting there – perhaps through training, support, mini steps, etc
- Increase the pain with not making the change – perhaps by discussing the likely negative outcomes and by holding people more accountable more often
- Decrease the pleasure associated with the current situation by removing some comfortable things from the environment
A word of warning – any time you make people uncomfortable, they may leave. As long as you are only making them appropriately uncomfortable and you are losing an under performer, that is usually OK.
Action: if you want to see positive change, make it less comfortable for people to stay the way they are, more desirable to be the way you want them and easier to make the transition.
If you are good with the carrot, you won’t need a very big stick
The one message that you shouldn’t take from the previous tip is that you should focus on the stick (pain) more than the carrot (pleasure). In fact, take a look at the top three motivators identified by Kovach and you will see they are mainly about the carrot – being appreciated, doing meaningful work and being included.
Obviously, withholding these things can be a form of ‘the stick’ – but it is a dangerous and often inappropriate strategy.
One of our Real-isms (the beliefs, attitudes and sayings that define us) is that a leader should have a 90%-10% balance:
- 90% encouraging, acknowledging, relating, having fun, etc.
- 10% insisting upon standards, holding people accountable, having firm respectful discussions with team members who aren’t working within team expectations
This balance is really important – the 10% ‘tough stuff’ is highly effective, assuming it is done appropriately and respectfully, because it is done in the context of a broadly positive, supportive and inclusive climate. If the leader has the respect of (and respect for) each team member, when difficult discussions need to be had, the message gets through.
When the balance is reversed – 90% tough stuff – it becomes so regular that it loses it’s impact - and the other 10% is seen as a superficial effort to make up for being too hard.
Action: make the ‘carrot’ your default approach and only use the ‘stick’ when other options haven’t succeeded.
Keeping these messages top of mind
We know how hard it can be to keep focused on these strategies during a busy day balancing the needs of a sales team, the demands from above and the requirements of customers. That's why we have created these inspirational leadership posters that you can download and print in colour. Display them somewhere prominent - the meeting room, your office wall or even the back of the toilet door if that will help you keep how to motivate sales people top of mind!
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