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Three Keys to Igniting Sales Team Motivation
Harness reps' drive to win by teaching skills for improvement.
Posted Dec 13, 2013
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"Money isn't everything...as long as you have dough."

Iconic songwriters Rodgers and Hammerstein expressed this sentiment 65 years ago, but they may as well have been modern executives talking about how they motivate their sales reps.

Indeed, despite a growing mountain of evidence to the contrary, many companies still view salespeople as coin-operated. Of course, sales reps work for money like anyone else and often are among the highest-paid employees in a business. But are those businesses spending their money wisely?

As the role of the sales rep has changed with the times, the traits that make for a great rep have changed as well, and not all of these characteristics are encouraged merely by cash incentives. Recent research into the psychology of motivation has shown that commissions, long the bedrock of traditional sales compensation structures, can sometimes do more harm than good. While money remains a key aspect of motivation, sales managers should be asking themselves what more, beyond cash incentives, they can do to motivate their sales teams.

In today's challenging business climate, these questions are more pressing than ever. CSO Insights reported recently that even in the most successful sales organizations, only 63 percent of sales reps attain or exceed their quota. According to a Harvard Business School study, seven out of eight companies fail to achieve profitable growth, although more than 90 percent have detailed strategic plans.

For a sales manager, finding the motivation sweet spot can be tricky. It turns out the foundation of an effective, well-rounded sales force motivation program is to be something more than just a manager, as outlined in the following three steps.

Be a coach

A survey conducted by the TAS Group asked sales reps what motivates them: recognition, compensation and incentives; the thrill of the chase; or making progress and winning. Compensation took 17 percent of responses, the thrill and recognition got 8 percent each, and making progress hauled in the remaining 67 percent. Salespeople have spoken loud and clear.

The most successful sales team leaders harness their sales reps' drive to win by teaching skills for constant improvement. They offer mentorship and foster one-on-one relationships with each member of the sales force. They cultivate a cohesive team by setting ambitious but achievable goals. Successful team leaders, in other words, are coaches. As sales teams participate in professional development, they improve skills that make them better at their jobs. When sales organizations make a small change in approach in just one area, the number of sales reps achieving or exceeding quota increases by an average of 30 percent. How does this work? With slight alterations, a sales team will experience significantly larger and more meaningful results over time. By simultaneously increasing the quality of the engagement between sales managers and sellers, these results will be even more compounded.

Train managers how to coach

Most companies aren't training their sales managers to become great coaches. A study by ASTD found that only 11 percent of companies train their sales managers to a high extent, while 22 percent don't train them at all.

Managers typically come from the sales ranks themselves and, after receiving a promotion, suddenly find themselves managing a team. Absent support and mentorship, they often must figure out how to manage and coach on their own, resulting in a disconnect between what they think their reps need and what those reps really want.

Most sales managers today believe their effectiveness hinges on the traits they model by example for the rest of the team—communication, organization, confidence, and time management skills. However, in studies where sales reps are asked what they need most from their sales managers, reps identify a wholly different set of qualities. They say they need someone who a) understands their individual needs and can help them improve in the behaviors necessary to meet and surpass their quotas; b) can identify and share team best practices; and c) will provide predictable, reliable, and proven in-the-field mentoring and coaching tailored to address their specific needs and gaps, so they can grow skills and boost their performance.

As a result of this disconnect, many organizations struggle to hold onto their reps. Indeed, 70 percent of the time, a sales rep leaves a company due to a poor relationship with his front line manager.

Equipping sales managers to make this shift successfully will have a significant impact on sales performance—and ultimately, on the overall performance of the company.

Leverage your CRM system

Many sales organizations use their CRM system primarily as a sales accounting tool, which probably explains why sales rep adoption rates for CRM are very low. What many sales leaders fail to realize is that their CRM system is fundamentally the most powerful tool ever invented for expanding a sales manager's ability to guide, coach, assess, and analyze rep behavior.

CRM systems, when properly used, provide unparalleled capability to identify performance gaps in sales process and sales skills, plan/execute coaching and mentoring sessions, deliver follow-up reinforcement, and ensure steady performance improvement for the whole team.

Once your CRM system is properly utilized and your sales leaders and sales managers become skilled at how to leverage it to effectively coach and motivate their team members, you have the foundation of a high-performance sales management system that will revolutionize the way your sales organization performs.

Your sales team requires more than a paycheck to keep them motivated, refreshed, and supported. Investing in professional development, improving communication between sales reps and managers, and, finally, leveraging your CRM system are just a few ways companies can better motivate their sales teams.


Walter Rogers is the CEO of CloudCoaching International. Nick Stein is the senior director of marketing at Salesforce Work.com.


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