(This article was originally published on 7/04/2018 and updated on 8/10/2021)
“Money isn’t everything.” Now there’s a saying that likely isn’t thrown around too much in sales departments.
With deals to close, quotas to meet, and KPIs to track, your sales team needs to be working efficiently to bring in consistent revenue. But there is one area where money truly isn’t everything: sales rep motivation.
Many people think of motivation as a set of extrinsic, or external, factors—like money, fame, and praise—that drive people to work hard and succeed. You probably already have one or more extrinsic motivators in place to encourage your sales team.
To take your sales goals to the proverbial “next level,” you’ll need to make sure that your sales team has the motivation to reach for higher levels of excellence. The most successful sales reps rely on a mix of extrinsic and intrinsic—external and internal—motivation.
What is motivation in sales?
A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Or, that’s what it can feel like. But motivation is not that hard to figure out.
Commissions and quotas are the most common extrinsic motivators used in sales. Essentially, you do this task (close deals or a certain amount of deals) and we, the company, will reward you with an agreed-upon sum of money. This type of motivation usually extends to the whole sales team.
It’s not that using extrinsic monetary motivators is a bad thing; it only becomes an issue when it’s the only type of motivation your sales reps tap into.
Intrinsic motivators, since they’re personal, can be more mysterious. They’re important, though, because they are what tend to light a fire under our butts and keep us going through adversity.
So, what happens when you encourage sales reps to find and optimize motivators beyond money to use in reaching their goals? Productivity goes up, stress and other burnout risks go down, and the whole sales organization gets closer to its individual and collective goals.
And inspirational quotes don't count as motivating your sales team.
To be clear, despite what Tony Robbins and that fitness influencer you follow may think, people can’t magically get motivation from another person. Sure, a person could offer you a reward, threaten you with a consequence, or inspire you to be like them, but the actual motivation part is personal.
Similarly, as a sales leader, it’s not your job to provide your sales reps with motivation. You can, though, help them figure out what factors or combination of factors drive them to do their best work.
Here are some of the most popular motivators to watch for, suggest, and try out with your team that don’t involve salaries or commissions.
How to motivate a sales team (without money)
- Ownership and accountability
- Professional development and advancement
- Work-life balance
- Time management
- Team building
As you now know, intrinsic motivators are internal factors that get your sales reps moving on their own. They’re the personal things that make them want to work hard and reach their goals, without the promise of external rewards.
Strong sense of purpose
To find satisfaction in a job well done, you want to see the value you’re providing. In some professions, it’s easy to make the connections: a doctor correctly diagnoses and helps a patient feel better. Everyone goes home happy.
In selling, some sales reps can sell anything, any day, anywhere to anyone. Others need to sell a product or service that they believe in and find motivation in helping their clients find success by using it.
Do you have a sales person whose customers are off-the-charts happy about working with your company? That rep is probably driven by a strong sense of purpose and finds their sales motivation in helping people.
You can foster that same motivation in all of your sales reps by making sure they’re included in the customer feedback loop. Too often, once the deal closes, the sales rep doesn’t hear back about whether their client is finding success with the product or service. And that can be disappointing to them, because they might want to know how their efforts helped the customer. You can keep reps involved after the close by sharing constructive reactions with the sales team to remind them of what they’re really selling—successful customer experiences.
After all, happy customers tend to come from well-informed sales reps who guide them through the buying process. Nothing beats genuine knowledge and enthusiasm.
Ownership and accountability
When you set your own goals, you’re more likely to go after them. While the company will have overarching goals for the sales team, it’s important to let your sales reps set some individual goals and create a plan for how they will get there. These goals should be specific, realistic, and challenging.
Having personal targets that relate back to team and company-wide goals helps with self-motivation. Think about it like a professional athlete. They are obviously talented and good at what they do. They strive for team goals, like a league championship, but also personal bests, such as improving their points-per-game average.
The athlete has a coach who is there to advise on overall strategy or on-the-fly adjustments, but isn’t constantly in their ear with observations and advice. Be that coach. Give your reps the guidance and support they need to seal the deal, but don’t get in their way.
Speaking of not constantly looking over people’s shoulders...
Trust and independence are great motivators. Sales reps’ daily activities feed into working towards the goals set, but giving them control over how they prioritize their daily schedules or the mix of tools and techniques they use can help them find and wield that intrinsic motivation.
Micromanagement is often cited as a major reason why people leave jobs, in sales or otherwise. Instead, managers should ensure their team has the tools and authority they need to make decisions and problem-solve at an appropriate level, without having to move everything up the hierarchy for resolution.
Rapport between sales managers and reps
Discuss with your sales reps how you will handle supervision and the feedback loop. Some may find it motivating to have a quick meeting with you every day or two to check in and get quick answers. To others, a daily check-in would be agony and a weekly sit-down is more than enough. Have a conversation with your team to figure out what’s best for each rep and their style of work.
If you want to dig deeper into your working relationships with your sales team members, it might be beneficial to engage in some personality testing. While not an exact science, it could provide insight into how they think and are likely to behave and respond in the office.
For those feeling disconnected while working remotely, consider additional team meetings that don’t focus on work. A weekly group social check in or one-on-one virtual coffee meetings can help build connections between reps and leaders and improve overall team morale.
It should come as no surprise that the environment your reps work in can have a significant effect on their output. And we’re not just talking about the workplace. From their WFH set up to their commute, or their personal development opportunities to their coworkers’ attitudes, work conditions are a major motivator for many sales reps.
Think about a time when you were in a rut, either personally or professionally. Where were you spending most of your time? Maybe lazing on a couch in front of a TV or toiling away in a dreary cubicle? These surroundings didn’t inspire much motivation to get out of your rut, did they?
Probably not. But over the past year, there wasn’t much of a choice. The pandemic and ensuing restrictions meant that many of us were stuck working in suboptimal environments. Bouncing between the couch, kitchen table, and a tiny desk in the living room has become all too common, but it’s far from ideal.
Science says the environment you work in plays a big role in employee motivation and success. Whether it’s at home or in the office, workspaces with things like lots of natural daylight and places to get privacy, some quiet time, or even a quick nap promote productivity.
You might not be able to add windows or build walls, but you could try other scientifically-backed motivation initiatives like adding greenery, encouraging breaks, and regulating the office temperature. (In case you were wondering, multiple studies have found 70-77° F or 21-25° C ideal for peak productivity.)
Professional development and opportunity for advancement
Momentum is an effective motivator. Good opportunities for advancement, whether it’s a promotion or the ability to lead special projects or teams, and a positive forecast for company growth can inspire sales reps to go that extra mile.
Mentorship and sales coaching, especially for younger or less experienced reps, is another way to help reps move forward in their careers and keep them motivated to perform well.
Sales reps at all stages and skill levels can benefit from the power of sales training, particularly on sales process and lead qualification. There might be some push-back (“I already know how to sell!”), but bringing in outside trainers can provide fresh perspectives and keep reps from falling into unproductive routines.
Continuous internal product knowledge training is also a must, since it’s harder to sell what you don’t understand inside and out. And it’s a great way to share and celebrate company successes, like new products or upgrades, with other departments.
Striking a good work-life balance has always been difficult in sales, but ever since the pandemic hit, it’s become nearly impossible. With constant access to work phones, email, and little to no separation between office and personal space, it’s easy for reps to get burnt out.
It’s important to make the distinction between work and personal time, but many reps struggle with it. As a sales manager, it’s not your responsibility to decide how reps spend their time, but helping them establish boundaries is good for everyone involved. With a clear line between work and... not work, your reps will feel more energized to chase down sales targets and will have a much lower risk of burnout.
It’s easy to lose motivation when you’re not making any headway on reaching your big, lofty sales goals. Where do you even start?
A salesperson looking at a monthly stretch goal might feel like they’re standing at base camp at Mount Everest. Whether it’s climbing a mountain or meeting your sales quota, at the core it’s a series of steps. It’s easier to see progress when you’re climbing a literal mountain.
Breaking big work goals down into smaller goals and checking off these steps as you complete them makes you feel more productive, better shows your true progress to motivate you to keep going, and allows for any recalibration along the way.
The content and social media team here at Proposify are fans of the Productivity Planner, which promotes the Pomodoro method of breaking goals down into tasks and then working on those tasks in 25-minute periods. It helps you plan your week and then focus each day on exactly what needs to be done to meet your weekly and monthly targets.
Whether it’s writing tasks down or having a digital calendar that sends reminders and alerts, the main thing is to avoid the “there’s no time!” stress, maximize time spent on-task, and keep pushing toward the long-term goals.
Alright. So now that we’ve addressed the more invisible motivators, let’s talk about the more obvious ones. The extrinsic motivators. These are what most people think of when they think of the word motivation. They offer an explicit incentive (though not always tangible) in exchange for the completion of a task.
There’s a reason that most of the apps that help you learn something, like coding or a new language, are set up like games. That reason is dopamine. As you win badges or level up, you get a hit of that neurotransmitter, which controls your brain’s reward and pleasure centres. It’s what helps us identify rewards and moves us toward them.
Gamification in sales takes natural competitiveness and turns it into collaborative, constructive contests. If you’re adding gamification to your sales environment, start by picking one area (maybe lead generation or upselling) and building a game around it. Your game will need clear rules, goals, a timeframe, and rewards.
As an example, identify a few different ways to generate new leads. Assign each rep (or small group of reps) a lead generation tactic to use, and track their progress over the next month. The method that brings the most quality leads into the sales funnel wins the prize.
Remember, rewards don’t just mean financial rewards. Try replacing monetary bonuses with something more tangible. It doesn’t even have to be anything of enormous value. Think about the sports teams that have a hard hat, or some other goofy ‘prize’, to award to the hardest-working player on the team. It’s not the prize itself that is valuable; it’s the sentiment behind it. People like winning, and a small prize can create a more competitive atmosphere that motivates your reps.
Try implementing a small award for metrics other than closes or quotas, ones that show initiative and drive. Maybe the sales rep who makes the most cold calls in a given month gets a free lunch of their choice delivered to their desk next month. This gives the winner the added reward of enjoying their winnings in view of the rest of the team and could provide some extra motivation for next time.
Team building and support
Of course, a bit of gloating only works as a motivator if you already have a strong, supportive sales team. Team-wide competitions can get cutthroat if there’s not a feeling of camaraderie.
If things get a little too aggressive, refocus some of that competitiveness into motivation with team-building activities. Instead of working in silos, set up your competitions so sales reps need to work together in small groups to foster cooperation and support.
You can also add in traditional team-building activities, like outings, team meals, silly games or ice-breakers, and workshops. As an added bonus, the focus on teamwork can help improve workflows and speed up your sales process.
Ah, the classic motivator. Who doesn’t like some validation?
Recognize the big and small wins your sales team earns. Share kudos from the executives, other departments, and happy customers. Provide opportunities at internal meetings or other company forums for reps to talk about their recent accomplishments or what they’re excited to be working on. A little encouragement doesn’t cost a thing.
With more people working from home, where the environment might not be the most stimulating, keeping your team motivated is absolutely essential. Though implementing some of these motivators might take an investment of time and other resources, motivation beyond money can help boost your sales team’s morale and sales success.