Best Practices for Motivating Salespeople
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There is a common perception that all sales reps are money-motivated. While this is true to a certain extent given the quota-carrying nature of most sales roles, it is far from the only effective source of motivation.
Driving world-class sales organizations today requires more than just carrot-and-stick rewards. To inspire modern salespeople to reach their full potential, organizations need to appeal to both their extrinsic and intrinsic motivations.
“Engage with [sales reps], find their motivators, understand what underpins them, what strengthens their resilience, what gives them grit at the end of the quarter or the end of the year,” said Imogen McCourt, co-founder and chief executive at AndGrow.io. “And then provide them with what they need to be really, truly productive by hitting those motivators, by helping them be strong even when they’re tired at the end of the quarter.”
Helping salespeople to be truly productive and effective is not about threatening consequences, micro-managing time, or solely focusing on extrinsic rewards. It is about appealing to their basic human needs of wanting to feel supported, listened to, and ultimately in control of their own destiny. Here’s how culture, compensation, professional development, and communication play a role in motivating salespeople.
Creating an environment where people are empowered to do their best work is an essential first step to begin motivating all employees. In the fast-paced, high-stakes world of sales, it is a step that can easily become overshadowed by the pressure to hit your numbers. Often, this can lead to issues such as tension between managers and individual contributors, uncertainty of job stability, and lack of trust and transparency.
But rather than scaring people into action, these tactics are massively demotivating for most people. As Daniel Pink explains in his book, Drive, if people are fearful, they begin underperforming. Instead, they will do the bare minimum work necessary to not get fired.
This is not to say that the goals and numbers that sales must hit need to change, or that salespeople should not be accountable to meeting those goals. It is the culture that makes the difference in the tactics sellers will take to meet those goals.
To help foster a healthy culture that promotes transparency, humility, curiosity, and creativity, consider the following approaches:
- Prioritize frontline manager enablement. Managers play a critical role in influencing how salespeople view themselves and their own success. When managers invest in their teams and show them they are valued, people feel empowered to share their opinions, challenge themselves, and try new things.
“For sales managers to elevate and empower their teams, they need to realize that they are the role models, they are the ones who lead their teams all the way,” said Marie-Louise Dalsgaard, head of sales enablement at Pleo. “Their behavior is bound to rub off on their teams in good and bad ways.”
- Create a fail-safe learning environment. As people build new skills and habits, it is important that they are able to practice them in an environment that is free of performance pressure. Push people out of their comfort zone by encouraging them to take risks and providing constructive feedback.
- Provide a forum for best practice sharing. This will help salespeople support each other in overcoming failures or obstacles and achieving triumphs. When peers have a strong sense of camaraderie, they are less likely to give in to toxic competition and can instead help each other learn and grow.
While money is not the be-all-end-all motivational tactic, it is incredibly important for organizations to prioritize fair compensation in order to keep salespeople satisfied in their role.
This comes down to treating people fairly – and it is more than just ensuring people have competitive salaries. If people have compensation structures that are confusing to understand or too difficult to meet, frustration can quickly distract them from their real work. Organizations need to pay people enough so that money is not a roadblock in the way of their ability to do their job.
“Getting the comp plan right is a huge motivator,” said Nicola Bain, global sales enablement director at Infovista. “[In the past], our compensation plan hasn’t been right. It’s been complex, we’ve been trying to make them jump through too many hoops of fire. We’re working to simplify that…they’re going to understand how to get their accelerators so that it can be motivational.”
Sales enablement practitioners can help ensure that compensation structures meet salespeople’s needs by spending some dedicated one-on-one time talking to salespeople about what is working, as well as partnering with sales leaders and sales ops to understand how to strategically tie sales goals to compensation.
People crave momentum in their professional lives. When people feel stagnant in their career, it can cause them to become unfulfilled by their current role and give them good reason to look for other opportunities. One way to help people remain satisfied at work and move forward in their careers is to focus on professional development.
By charting a clear path for success, sales enablement can work with salespeople to develop the core competencies they need to reach the next level. For example, Devon McDermott, VP of global enablement at CM Group, is addressing this need in her organization through robust competency mapping that is used to guide role-specific onboarding and ongoing learning. Here’s how:
- Her team created detailed competency maps with roles, responsibilities, areas of expertise, and leveling, which is shared up-front with each new salesperson that enters the organization so they can clearly see their opportunities for growth.
- From there, new hires enter a 30-day onboarding program tailored to their role and the competencies outlined.
- After participants complete the onboarding program, the ever-boarding programs at CM Group encourage all salespeople to build the skills needed for the next level through skill development, manager training, coaching opportunities, opportunities to engage in external classes and workshops, on-the-job certifications, and mentorship.
“We’re motivating the team by giving them foundations for mastery and success through a very clear roadmap for leveling up, and we provide the enablement and talent development solutions to actually get there,” said McDermott. “It’s the full scope of what we need to do to empower our employee success and to drive a meaningful sales culture.”
Communication & Feedback
Another basic human need is to feel some level of autonomy, that a person is in control of their own life and career. One way to help instill this in salespeople is simply to listen to them and make them feel that their opinions are valued.
To do this in a meaningful way, sales enablement practitioners should create a formal method of seeking out feedback and encouraging salespeople to come to them with questions, concerns, and roadblocks they can help alleviate through enablement.
“I make [sales reps] stakeholders in their own success,” said Jenn Haskell, director of sales enablement at Everbridge. “The second that you enroll them in having a say, right then and there, is inspiring to a sales rep.”
To create an open feedback loop, set a regular cadence for meeting with reps. For example, consider opening office hours once a week for salespeople to stop by and discuss anything top-of-mind. Or, seek out one sales rep a month to interview. Regardless of the format, consider asking them questions such as the below:
- What keeps you up at night that sales enablement can help with?
- What processes aren’t efficient or could be streamlined?
- Where can sales enablement do to advocate for them?
By being intentional and setting expectations for open and honest communication with salespeople, sales enablement can establish trust and make reps feel more in control of their own success.
People are motivated by a sense of purpose, worth, and momentum. Especially in a job as demanding as sales, it is essential for salespeople to feel intrinsically motivated in addition to financially supported. Through a focus on culture, compensation, professional development, and communication, sales enablement can help ensure that salespeople are motivated to succeed and inspired to push the boundaries of performance.