How to Motivate a Sluggish Sales Team

Sales is a high-pressure field, and maintaining motivation, energy, and drive is incredibly important for success. It is normal to feel discouraged when a deal doesn’t work out, but the ability to stay upbeat and productive when the going gets tough is what sets apart truly great salespeople. Sales team leaders and managers have a responsibility to help their teams stay motivated even during difficult pushes and slow seasons.

Psychologists who study motivation speak in terms of two general categories of motivation that influence everyone: intrinsic motivation, and extrinsic motivation. Career analyst Dan Pink does a great job explaining how these affect business in his TED Talk, “The Puzzle of Motivation.” Understanding these motivation types can be a great tool for sales leaders.

1. Intrinsic Motivation is driven by a desire to learn, grow, and master skills, and by the belief that by pursuing an activity, it is possible to reach personal goals.

2. Extrinsic Motivation comes into play when money, social acceptance, or negative consequences like punishment are the main drivers behind a given activity.

Everything from a pat on the back to a structured financial reward system can be used to increase both the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors for a sales team. The best sales leaders should always be learning more about what motivates every individual on their team, but there are a few basics that tend to be consistent across sales teams in every industry.

Invest In Your Sales Team By Providing Coaching

It is so easy now to quantify everything and get obsessed with optimizing sales processes through automation and calibration. What is hard is remembering that these processes still require smart, dedicated people, and those people won’t excel if they aren’t happy in their jobs.

Paying attention to the individual needs, the career aspirations, and the unique motivations of each member of a sales team is one of the best ways to keep a whole team motivated.

Sales experts Trish Bertuzzi of The Bridge Group and Steve Richard of VorsightBP wrote an excellent ebook on the topic, entitled “How to Lead, Motivate & Retain Sales Reps.”

The book outlines in detail some of the most important ways of motivating salespeople, and one of their primary recommendations is to provide regular coaching for every member of the sales team. Providing coaching shows that the company is willing to invest time and effort in each salesperson’s career development, which can help them earn more money now and in the future. Sales coaching taps into both the intrinsic motivator of career advancement, and the extrinsic motivator of added earnings, making it a heavy hitter for motivating top sellers.

The Bridge Group’s blog offers more excellent advice for sales leaders in another post entitled “Making Room for Sales Coaching.”

Customize Your Monetary Incentives for Your Team

While coaching appeals mostly to the intrinsic motivators that push sales reps to excel, a well designed monetary incentive program is one of the most tried-and-true ways to offer extrinsic motivation to a sales team. Sales commissions are the classic way to encourage salespeople to close more bigger deals, but commission is just the first step towards a great incentive program. Offering tiered incentives, in which the percentage of commission or size of bonus steps up after hitting certain benchmarks, can encourage average sellers to really push themselves to reach the next level with their sales performance.

As outlined in an excellent post by Suzanne Paling from Entrepreneur.com, tiered compensation plans offer superstar sellers a reward for consistently blowing past quotas, while also giving lower performers an attainable reward for pushing themselves a little further.

Although there’s a growing body of research, concisely summarized in the Harvard Business Review, that says that money isn’t the primary motivator for most people at work. Offering monetary incentives should never be the only way you try to get your team motivated, but at the end of the day, the possibility of financial gain can absolutely encourage people to work harder.

For more excellent tips on how to motivate every segment of your sales team, check out Inc’s great post, “Motivate The Middle: Getting a High Yield from Sales Reps.”

Sales Contests

A great way to offer additional compensation on top of regular commissions and bonuses is to hold a sales contest involving all team members. Running a sales contest can foster friendly competition between members of a sales team while also boosting sales. These can take many forms, but a few factors can really help them work well as a motivation tool.

  1. Clear, attainable goals and parameters, so everyone knows the rules, and what they need to do to win. This means picking a timeframe and sticking with it.
  2. A real time leaderboard encourages competition and lets people know where they stand.
  3. Prizes for different levels of success prevents one clear leader from demotivating others from continuing to participate.

An excellent blog post from Les Lent on the Sales Gravy blog outlines a few other features that make sales contests a great way to pull a sales team out of a slump.

Give Plenty of Recognition & Praise for Success

Finally, one of the easiest and most often overlooked ways to keep a sales team motivated is by recognizing success, and praising progress. Public recognition for success on a sales team can be spontaneous, but it is also possible to build a system for regularly recognizing reps who meet or exceed certain goals.

Sincere, personal praise from a manager or authority figure can be an incredible motivator for sales reps. Any sales leader who takes time to recognize and acknowledge the successes of anyone on their sales team will find that it positively affects the bottom line.

This blog post from Selling Power outlines how recognition and praise can be among the most motivating factors for sales teams.

Wrapping Up

In the end, it takes a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivating factors, including financial rewards, recognition, and investment in career growth to keep any salesperson motivated and excited to keep selling.

The best sales leaders know how to balance these motivating factors to keep an entire team cohesively motivated. With these tools, a great sales leader can whip even the most sluggish team into shape.


Need some added motivation? Check out 50 Motivational Sales Quotes To Get You Pumped Up. Like what you’ve read? Visit our resources page to view our latest sales and productivity ebooks, webinars and sales tools.

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