You Can’t Motivate Your Sales Team! But…

How to Motivate Your Sales Team

Tap into the WHY!

Sales leaders agree that a highly motivated and engaged sales force drives greater performance. So one would naturally ask the question “how do I motivate and engage my salesforce?”  As we all know the answer is not so easy.  Many sales managers ask me how to ensure that they have a highly motivated and engaged team.  I usually ask them “WHY”? The reason I do this is that if you understand “WHY” someone is putting in a high level of effort to attain a specific goal, then you know how to motivate them.

The Business Dictionary defines motivations as;

“Internal and external factors that stimulate desire and energy in people to make an effort to attain a goal.”

Attain a Goal:

It is important to realize that when we talk about motivation we are referring to a specific goal and the level of effort the individual sales rep is going to make in achieving that goal.  A sales rep can be motivated to land a big account but not motivated to hand in his paperwork on time. Our salespeople have many goals, and we would like to ensure that they are motivated to attain all their key goals.


Motivators are different for each sales rep. Therefore it is important for sales managers to understand the motivators for each of their salespeople. As the definition above stated that there are both internal and external factors that the sales manager must be cognizant of. The sales manager must also be aware that each rep has different motivators.  When we look at both external and internal factors, we need to understand the impact and challenges that are inherent with each.

1.  External Factors

External factors include financial rewards such as bonuses, commissions, contests, etc.  Many sales managers are quite comfortable with the use of financial rewards to stimulate rep motivation. They understand the clear link between rewards and results. Financial rewards do help stimulate salespeople to improve their performance and productivity in achieving a goal.

External factors have a place in motivating reps. The challenge is that when they are overused, they become difficult to sustain. By using mainly financial rewards for motivation (i.e., incentive programs and contests), it creates a vicious cycle of having to top the last program. Management must keep upping the ante to keep sales reps motivated to perform.  At some point, a limit is reached on how many financial resources are available for rep motivation. However, sales reps get conditioned into a sense of entitlement and expect greater and greater rewards.

What happens when you can’t keep upping the ante? What do sales managers do to motivate the sales force? What happens when your top performers decide to leave for better rewards with your competitor? It becomes unsustainable!

2.  Internal Factors

Internal factors include empowering your sales reps, recognizing them for a job well done, pride in their work and personal growth.  The beauty of using internal motivators is that they have a more compelling and sustainable impact on rep performance. By tapping into the internal factors that drive each sales rep to attain a certain goal, the sales manager can have a much greater impact on their sales rep’s motivation and engagement.

The challenge is that many sales managers have difficulty seeing a clear link between internal factors and rep performance. Managers find using internal motivators much more difficult as they have to understand the internal motivator for each rep. Once the manager determines the internal motivator, it requires a degree of finesse for the manager to reinforce the source of motivation.

Motivate Your Sales Team

How to Motivate Your Sales Team 

So how do you tap into the internal motivator for each rep? How do you then leverage that knowledge to improve performance?

My simple approach to effective communication is “if you want to know something just ask.” Asking is a great starting base. Ask your rep “what is the motivation to attain a specific goal?” In some cases, the sales rep will be able to verbalize their source of motivation. However, in many cases, the rep just doesn’t know or can’t verbalize it. What I have found works extremely well is asking “WHY would you like to achieve a specific goal.”

Sales managers who can understand the “why” are much more tapped into the specific motivator.  Once you know the “why” then the next step is to determine what you as the sales manager can do to leverage that knowledge and stimulate these internal factors.


Sales rep motivation is a critical factor in achieving objectives. Many sales managers/companies lean too much on external factors and get themselves into an unsustainable situation. External factors have a place and impact on short-term performance. Sales managers who understand the power of internal motivators and can tap into each sales rep’s “why ”will inevitably have a more motivated sales team.

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