Motivating a sales team is a lot more complicated than slapping a motivational quote on the wall and running a few contests. You need to find the right people with the right skills, equip them with the right tools and processes, make sure that they have strong leadership to guide them, and set them up for a successful (and lucrative) career. So how do you keep your salesforce engaged, motivated, and delivering the revenue your business needs?
First and foremost, you’ll need to design attractive and competitive compensation packages that incentivize success. In software sales, that usually means a base salary, plus an on-target-earning component that gives the rep the ability to double their base. Beyond the compensation package, it’s important to set your sales team up for success, equip them with the tools and resources they need, and to keep them motivated during the grind of the sales cycle.
Here are the top ways you can ensure that your sales team stays motivated:
1. Design Effective Processes
A lot of advice for motivating sales teams hinges on leveraging the competitive nature of most sales people—and that can be effective advice. However, before you start gamifying, running contests, or updating the leaderboard in the conference room, have a good look at the processes that are in place and remove any points of friction.
Are sales getting stalled by lengthy legal compliance issues? Does your system for generating quotes and contracts empower your sales team to move quickly, or is it forcing them to jump through unnecessary hoops? Does sales need to rely on other departments in your organization (who aren’t as deadline driven) that are slowing them down? Are your sales people spending a ton of time updating your CRM, when they should be selling?
Talk to your top performers, and ask them to share anything that’s frustrating them—what parts of your sales process end up pulling them away from what they’re great at? How much time are they spending on activities other than selling?
Work across departments to streamline as much as possible, and remove the barriers that are getting in the way of closing sales. Where obstacles can’t be removed, look to create defined processes and clear communication so that each sales rep knows the timeline they are working with.
2. Invest in the right tools.
While you’re examining your process, have a look at the tech stack your sales team uses. Do they have all the tools they need to sell effectively? The tools you provide should be in place to make your sales team’s lives easier, not more difficult.
This may mean updating the software you use, investing in collaboration tools, making sure that your office is equipped with the furniture, hardware, and materials each team member needs to succeed (and definitely don’t skimp on the coffee!). Don’t forget to include any remote reps in your evaluation of the team’s needs—do they have the tools they need to do demos onsite for clients, to stay in touch with the team, and optimize their own workspaces?
It’s also important to remember that every team member will have different preferences and needs when it comes to the ways they work. Check in with each team member to ensure that they have the tools they need to focus on selling.
3. Be thoughtful about how you grow your team.
In early-stage, high-growth companies, it’s common to scale the sales team quickly. You’re setting aggressive targets, adding reps, re-carving territories (more on that below), and expanding into new markets. With all that growth, it’s easy to lose sight of the effects of expanding on your existing team, and on the other departments who need to keep up.
As you scale your sales team, are you investing in sales operations, pre sales, and customer success to keep up? Is the marketing team delivering enough leads to keep your growing sales team busy? Are your new hires being properly onboarded, trained, and equipped to succeed?
In the hustle of rapid growth, it’s easy to lose track of the details, but it’s important to control the chaos enough to keep your sales team motivated. Make sure that they continue to have the support they need to continue closing sales, even as the organization is changing and growing around them. And be thoughtful about how growth cascades throughout your organization—sustainable growth is balanced, and you need to keep growing in healthy ways.
4. Great managers are vital.
Few things will motivate an employee like an effective manager—just as there are few things that will de-motivate a strong employee like a bad manager. Make sure that your teams are well supported by caring, thoughtful leaders. Look for managers who are quick to celebrate wins, and slow to assign blame for losses. They should be invested in the success of each individual on the sales team, transparent when it comes to assigning territories and promotions, and fair when it comes to performance evaluations.
Watch out for bad managers, and move them out of leadership roles as soon as possible. A bad manager can very quickly demotivate even the most professional sales reps. One thing to watch for, is what we’ve called the “swoop and poop” sales manager. This manager is hands off during the month/quarter, doesn’t offer ongoing support, and generally hides in their office. But, when the month/quarter/year is about to end, they swoop in and—for lack of a better word—poop all over the sales team, berating them for not generating enough activity. This style of management will have a detrimental effect on your team, and demotivate top performers.
5. Be respectful and transparent about re-carving territory.
As a sales team grows, re-carving and redistributing territory for your sales reps will be inevitable. But you should approach this process carefully, be transparent with your reps about your decision making, and make sure that you recognize the efforts of the veterans on your team.
It can be incredibly demotivating for a sales rep to work an account for months, get the client close to buying, and then have to hand over their commission to an incoming rep. Think about ways that you can split commissions or implement hold overs to recognize the hard work of the reps who have been pursuing those accounts.
It’s also important to be clear and transparent about which reps are assigned to each territory. Assignments that are based on performance and seniority, and communicated openly, will be respected by your sales team. Decisions that are made based on favouritism, or that have your team guessing about the motives behind assignments can be incredibly demotivating.
6. Set ambitious but attainable targets.
If your targets are too low, you can end up with a lazy, demotivated salesforce that does the bare minimum. But if they’re too high, even your top performers will be stressed out, miserable, and unmotivated. Your targets should also account for the differences in territories and verticals.
When looking at your targets, we recommend that you aim to have 60 - 80% of your sales force regularly hitting their on target earnings. You’re always going to have some lower performers (which may be a territory issue), and some rock stars who routinely smash their quotas each quarter. New team members will need some time to ramp up, and uncontrollable forces in the market can interfere with the best laid plans.
Of course, whether or not individuals are hitting their targets is a clear way to evaluate their performance—those who routinely miss their targets might not be the best fit for your team. Keeping an overall ratio in mind for the sales force can help keep your objectives in perspective, help you better understand where to allocate resources, and avoid knee jerk reactions to a single bad month or quarter.
7. Create a culture of (healthy) competition.
Sales people are often driven by the urge to be the best. They want to compete, and they want to win. Public rewards and acknowledgement can be incredibly motivating for top sales professionals. For the most part, this impulse can be harnessed and leveraged for the good of the team.
However, it’s also important to keep an eye on how the competition is playing out in team dynamics, and how it is affecting the bottom line of your organization.
Reps who are drawn to “win” by any means necessary can have a toxic effect on the rest of the team. It’s important to find the balance between competition that motivates, and competition that leads to back-stabbing, lead stealing, or signing on clients who they know will churn quickly. Your entire sales team should ultimately be working together to achieve the same goal—helping each other when they’re able, sharing resources and best practices, and generally getting along.
In some sales teams, it’s common to have one or two team members who are “toxic closers.” They’re typically jerks, but because they are able to land sales, they are more or less left alone. But these individuals can have an outsized effect on your culture, and you should value the overall health of the team over one individual.
8. Gamify the monotonous parts of your process.
Ok. So now that you’ve set your team up for success, removed any friction points in their process, put rock solid management in place, and carved out fair territories, you can look to creative ways to motivate your team.
Sales can be incredibly unpredictable—deals get delayed or cancelled for any number of reasons, regardless of the skills of the salesperson. To keep your team motivated, we recommend that you look at building contests and games around the more monotonous parts of your process. Things like prospecting, cold calling, or setting up initial demos are often necessary steps in the sales process, and are good areas to build contests around. By separating activity from outcomes, and running contests around the activity, you can keep your team motivated and active.
Remember that salespeople are often competitive, and tend to thrive on public recognition. They want to win, and they want others to know that they’ve won. The prizes for winning don’t need to be expensive—a gift card along with a public announcement will go a long way. Take the winner out for lunch. Give out the branded swag your marketing team brings to conferences. Offer a half paid day off. Get creative, and ask your team for input.
9. Empower your team to solve complex problems.
In the hustle to drive activity and close sales, it’s easy to overlook the intrinsic motivators that draw people to sales in the first place. Sure, plenty of people enter sales to make lots of money, or for the thrill of closing deals—but that’s rarely why professionals stay in sales for the long run.
The ability to solve complex problems for clients—to design solutions that ease their pain and to help them excel in their business—can be incredibly motivating. While it’s important to have a process in place for most sales, encourage your reps to get creative and mix things up if they feel that the usual process won’t apply to a particular client. Encourage them to brainstorm and execute alternatives, or to apply your software in a new way to solve a particular problem for a client. Tap into the creative problem-solving abilities that your team brings to work. Remember that no one wants to be treated like a robot, and being given the opportunity to flex those creative muscles can be highly motivating for sales teams.
10. Ask your team what motivates them most.
When in doubt, ask the people who are directly affected. One approach may be incredibly motivating for some members of your team, while others are completely indifferent to your efforts. Get to know each member of your team individually, and figure out what will be most motivating for them.
Some people will be motivated by opportunities for flex time, others want their names up on the wall, and others will want private encouragement from their leaders. So ask your team for input—they’re probably just down the hall, or a quick phone call away. Don’t waste your time trying to guess what would be most motivating for them—if you’ve built a baseline of trust, provided them with the tools they need, and invested in fair and transparent managers, then they will likely be comfortable sharing the additional things that will keep them motivated.
Ultimately, keeping a sales team engaged and motivated is all about setting them up to succeed. Most people enter sales because it’s a profession that incentivizes results—and they stay in organizations that enable them to achieve those results. To motivate and retain your top performers, use these 10 tips to make sure that you’re setting your team up to succeed, and the sales will follow.
Are you getting ready to grow your sales team? We've created a free checklist to help you refine your requirements, plan the interview process, and get aligned on competitive compensation.