The Secret to Sales Rep Motivation

The Secret to Sales Rep Motivation

Last week I was speaking with a VP of Sales at a well-known software company. George was not pleased with the performance of his sales team and was under intense pressure from the senior team to turn things around. Sales were off in 4 out of 5 regions, and he felt that the sales team was just not motivated.

I asked him what he was going to do about it. He was at a loss and started rambling about adjusting the comp plan to provide greater focus and upside to his sales team. He felt that changes made to the comp plan were one of the reasons his team was not performing as they did last year.

We can all agree that

  1. A highly motivated sales team will outperform one that is not motivated
  2. A high-performance sales team will outsell the competition

The question then becomes “how do you significantly increase the motivation of a sales team?”

Sales rep motivation

The answer that traditional sales leaders have used in the past is to throw more money at their team to drive performance.

The research on motivation and performance is telling us a completely different story. The researchers at MIT in a 2005 study for the Federal Reserve Bank concluded that:

  • As long as the task involved only mechanical skills, bonuses, and rewards work. The higher the pay, the better the performance.
  • But once the task required “even rudimentary cognitive skills” a larger incentive “led to poorer performance.”

Other studies have supported these findings, yet sales leaders have continued to use higher incentives to drive performance.

The Business Dictionary defines motivation as:

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

Science is telling us that by increasing financial rewards (external factors) will lead to poorer performance, then why do we continue to up the ante by throwing more money to drive performance?

Why are innovative sales leaders not focusing on intrinsic factors?

The answer is simple.

Firstly intrinsic motivators are specific to the individual. There is no way a VP of Sales can design a comp plan that will be able to create the desired impact across an entire sales team.

The key to driving internal motivation of salespeople is the responsibility of the direct sales manager. Yes, your front line sales managers are the key to unlocking the performance of each member of their team.

Secondly, frontline sales managers need to effectively coach their salespeople to understand what motivates each member of their team. Coaching works from the inside out. The coach is focused on the individual’s agenda not their own.

George looked at me skeptically and asked what proof I have that sales manager coaching works?

I shared with him the research on sales managers coaching and sales rep performance. The CEB conducted a coaching study and found that sales teams that receive coaching significantly outperformed their counterparts that received little or no coaching. They also found that highly effective sales coaches drive 19% more sales than their less effective counterparts.

I could see the light bulb going off. The challenge is not throwing more money at his reps but developing a culture of great sales coaches.

Here is a 5 Step Process to develop the very best front line sales coaches:

  1. Benchmark your sales managers coaching effectiveness
  2. Train your sales managers to teach them how to be great coaches
  3. Coaching your sales managers to help them perfect their coaching skills
  4. Develop tools to help them be more efficient
  5. Set coaching metrics to hold them accountable

Coaching is the most cost-effective way to improve motivation and the performance of your sales team. By investing in the development of 10 great sales coaches, you can impact the performance of 100 salespeople. That is a great bang for the buck!

Remember, if creating a team of great coaches was easy to do then every other company would be doing it.

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Steven Rosen 2022

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Steven Rosen - Executive Sales Coach


Steven A. Rosen

Steven helps companies transform sales managers into great sales leaders. His focused coaching helps clients achieve greater personal and professional success. Steven is the author of 52 Sales Management Tips - The Sales Manager’s Success Guide.

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