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How to Motivate Salespeople

By David Jacoby

salespeople-motives

As a sales leader, you want your salespeople to be motivated about the sales goal, to work toward the goal, and to go the extra mile to reach beyond goals.

You also want them to be motivated about their overall performance on an ongoing basis.  The hard part is identifying how to motivate salespeople.  There are a number of obstacles to overcome when influencing others through motivation.

First of all, not only is everyone different, but we have different motivations.  Secondly, those motivations can change very quickly, as can their intensity.  You may feel charged up and ready to face any challenge your job offers after a raise, bonus, or some other form of positive recognition.  That intense drive may not be there all the time.

Additionally, although motivations vary between people and can change within the salesperson, there are usually one (or two) dominant motivating factors that drive(s) a salesperson.  If you can key into the factors for each of your salespeople, you’ve got a foundation for creating a motivation strategy.

To be a successful sales leader, you must be adept at identifying dominant motivations and recognizing motivation signals.  No leader has ever been able to motivate everyone 100 percent of the time. 

Your objective is to increase each of your salesperson’s motivation to at least achieve sales goals.  That might mean taking someone who is operating at 85 percent and getting them to a 90 percent level, or it may mean increasing a salesperson’s motivation from 40 percent to 80 percent.

Six common factors that motivate salespeople are: 

  1. Money
  2. Opportunity
  3. Teamwork
  4. Independence
  5. Visibility
  6. Excellence

MOTIVE is an acronym for remembering the sales motivators. 

Money 

This is the most obvious motivator.  Money, or what money can buy, is important to most salespeople, but it isn’t necessarily most important to everyone.  Other motivators may be equally or more important. 

Ways to impact and/or support money as a motivator include:
  • Relate sales results to money
  • Set up special incentives for superior performance
  • Discuss and reinforce personal and financial goals for the future.

Opportunity

Many salespeople are driven by opportunity.  What constitutes an opportunity varies from person to person.  However, motivational opportunities usually fall into the categories of challenges, and the possibility of improving one’s situation on the job or in life in general. 

When you’ve recognized this motivation in members of your sales team, you should try to create an environment that offers opportunities.

Ways to create/foster opportunities include:

  • Show how success leads to advancement
  • Provide for career pathing where possible
  • Delegate responsibilities that prepare the person for a future role in your organization

Teamwork

Many salespeople are perceived as hard-working go-getters who prefer to work alone to go after what they want to be successful.  The nature of a sales position attracts people who are independent and prefer working by themselves. 

However, there are many salespeople who do not fit neatly into that stereotypical image.  They are motivated by the social aspects of being part of a team and contributing to the team’s success. These people may get satisfaction from group problem solving, contributing to a co-worker’s success, or even playing a major role at a sales meeting. 

If you identify this motivator as a factor for several of your salespeople, you may:

  • Hold frequent sales meetings or social functions
  • Get them involved in team projects
  • Use “teamwork” and related ideas in your speech
  • Build in team incentives

Independence

While some salespeople are motivated by teamwork, many salespeople prefer to be and are motivated when left to their own devices. This involves empowerment, independence, and freedom, enhancing feelings of power and control. This motivator should not be ignored or minimized because people belong to a team. Instead, use it to motivate your salespeople to be successful. 

You can:

  • Delegate special projects or assignments (and then keep your hands off)
  • Provide added responsibilities and authority (as it is earned)
  • Have the salesperson conduct a segment of a sales meeting or lead the entire meeting

Visibility  

Recognition, approval, or a need to stand out from the crowd drives some salespeople. Whereas opportunity comes from internal recognition of achievements, visibility involves recognition from others.

When a salesperson is motivated by visibility:

  • Give lots of approval for even small accomplishments
  • Applaud successes with a personal note and/or publicize to salesforce/ upper management
  • Be sure salesperson knows accomplishments are recognized

Excellence

Most people want to perform well, even if they aren’t currently doing well.  The difference between the “excellence” and “opportunity” motivators is that the excellence-motivated person wants to excel at what he does and is not necessarily seeking higher and more challenging goals and opportunities.  Excellence means the person takes great pride in achieving or surpassing personal and professional expectations.

The key to motivating this person is contained in a behavioral theory called the Pygmalion effect, or self-fulfilling prophecy. This theory states that your feelings about or confidence in a person’s abilities will unconsciously be communicated to him or her via body language, actions, tone, and verbal interactions. 

If you are convinced that your salespeople are all capable of achieving their goals and you let them know it, this will reinforce their desires and motivation, and they will very likely achieve and perhaps surpass goals. On the other hand, if you are doubtful that they can do it, that will come across and could lower your sales team’s confidence in themselves.  This lack of confidence may prevent them from performing well.

To move the self-fulfilling prophecy in a positive direction, you could:

  • Establish personal and professional development goals and action plans together to enhance confidence that the salesperson will be able to fulfill them
  • Try to build on strengths
  • Ignore minor mistakes
  • Congratulate people on their achievements and progress toward goals

We all are motivated by different factors, including salespeople.  Identifying these factors using the MOTIVE acronym and then managing those factors is a crucial step for a sales leader to maximize the potential of his or her team.

Learn how to transition star sales reps into high-performing sales managers

About David Jacoby

David Jacoby
As a Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group, David helps large B2B sales organizations improve sales performance. Previously, David was a Principal at Linear Partners, a sales consulting firm providing sales strategy, sales operations, talent management, and interim management services to emerging growth companies. In the past, David has served as Vice President of Business Affairs of Xylo, Inc., where he was responsible for the Company's business development, sales operations, legal affairs, and financing activities.

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