Sales motivation: 12 proven techniques to motivate your team
Sales motivation runs deeper than quotas and bonuses. Here’s how to motivate your sales team with tried-and-true strategies.
By Donny Kelwig, Contributing Writer
Last updated September 19, 2022
It takes grit and resilience to be a salesperson. Day after day, reps keep plugging away, well aware that their chances of rejection are higher than their chances of making a sale. Meanwhile, their quotas stare them down with a menacing and unsympathetic glare. It’s easy to become deflated or give up.
That’s why sales motivation is crucial. Motivating a sales team is a difficult endeavor, though. As a sales manager, it’s your job to keep up morale while navigating multiple personalities and shifting responsibilities—how on earth are you supposed to do that?
70% of workers say sales motivation would improve if managers just said thank you more.
While financial incentives may help drive salespeople at times, a carrot-and-stick approach alone isn’t sustainable. Finding other ways to reward reps for their hard work can make a bigger difference in boosting employee satisfaction and motivation. You don’t even have to do anything dramatic: 70 percent of workers say sales motivation would improve if managers just said thank you more and noticed good work.
It can be that simple.
It’s important to be open-minded and empathetic, too. Start by learning about the psychology of motivation to understand what drives your sales agents. From there, explore a variety of tactics for building a positive culture that encourages team members to close deals.
In this piece, we’ll take you through various techniques for motivating your sales team. We’ll also explore which types of motivation work best on certain days of the week and in specific situations.
Best techniques for motivating sales teams and reps
Without further ado, here are the top strategies for turning sales teams around. Not every technique will work for every team, but determining the best tactics to use based on your company culture will go a long way toward cultivating a constructive, success-driven environment.
1. Understand the psychology behind sales motivation
To pinpoint what truly motivates your team, you must have a comprehensive understanding of what sales professionals need to achieve success. What makes them tick? What do they value?
The highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety.
A Google study revealed that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety. Psychological safety, in a nutshell, is the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake.
A psychologically safe workplace promotes collaboration because team members don’t feel insecure or embarrassed when they suggest ideas. Interestingly, this means that who is on a team matters less than how team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions. Why? While you can recruit a team of individual geniuses, you’ll never get the best work out of them if they don’t feel safe taking risks.
To create this feeling of safety, focus on positive motivation and engagement tactics while avoiding negative strategies. Well-respected researcher Andrew J. Martin created a “Motivation and Engagement Wheel” to represent what both positive and negative motivation and engagement look like in practice. Consult this wheel to identify where your team members currently fall and what you can do to shift to the positive sections:
2. Remember that your team is made up of individuals
Another important step in understanding what motivates team members is recognizing that everyone is different—your sales motivation strategy should honor that. Individual sales agents may prefer:
- A party in their honor (public recognition)
- The boss’ handshake behind a closed door (private recognition)
- A rotating extra vacation day (convenience)
- A dedicated parking spot near the front door for a month (public recognition and convenience)
In addition to having one-on-one conversations with agents, send out short surveys regularly to determine what energizes each team member. What made them want to work in sales in the first place? What are their career goals?
Personalize your motivation tactics to strengthen your relationship with each individual as well as their relationship with the company.
3. Vary sales activities
It can’t all be SELL, SELL, SELL! Add variety to your reps’ days by encouraging them to structure their time around key sales activities rather than results (like making X sales per day). Focusing on the tasks—not solely on the numbers—will help sustain their motivation.
For example, if one of your goals is to send more sales videos to prospects, set the expectation that agents spend 30 minutes a day brushing up on their video recording and editing skills.
Building habits around activities will likely improve sales results, too, but remember that the inspiration should be firmly in doing the work.
4. Support your sales agents with team-building activities
Your sales team doesn’t need to be the perfect family, but most people work better and more productively when they’re surrounded by supportive coworkers. Especially in an industry full of competition, your sales reps need to feel like they’re working together, not against each other.
Start with outings like monthly lunches or happy hours to promote team bonding. Consider a mentorship program, too. Pair lower-level agents with senior-level agents who can share tips on prospecting, interacting with customers, and closing deals. It’s a win-win: Less-experienced reps hone their lead-nurturing skills, while seasoned reps level up their management experience.
If you’re struggling to encourage day-to-day interactions, try establishing “water cooler chats.” Use Slack or a similar platform to create a #watercooler channel. Set up a bot that automatically pairs team members to meet once every couple of weeks for 30 minutes. Connecting with others gives agents some perspective outside of their own tasks and makes them more motivated to work together.
5. Celebrate wins, both big and small
Always acknowledge the work sales agents are doing to help the company succeed. Don’t just focus on celebrating major wins, such as reaching quotas. Celebrating small achievements, like a high-quality customer interaction, will also motivate agents and make them feel like their efforts aren’t going unnoticed.
At Zendesk, sales managers celebrate wins with a champagne campaign. Any time a rep reaches their target number, a bottle of champagne is placed on their desk. It may seem like a small gesture, but it’s an effective strategy.
Another simple yet encouraging method is buying gold balloons. Every time a rep achieves a certain sales goal, tie a gold balloon to their office chair. It’s noticeable to the rest of the team and gives people a feeling of achievement. Even if certain agents are behind, seeing others around them win is a motivator to push forward.
Some companies ring a bell to signify an agent making a sale. Hearing the bell ring can be satisfying for those who contributed to the success, generating a shared feeling of accomplishment among team members. It might also be great sales motivation for a rep who’s having a slow day. For remote teams, establishing a #kudos Slack channel is another way for agents to recognize each other’s wins.
Compile a list of rewards that make sense for your company, and ask each of your reps how they prefer to receive recognition. It goes a long way.
6. Set up a friendly competition
Sales contests work. According to an Ambition report, more reps are motivated to sell by contests than by awards programs.
Sales contests don’t need to be individually competitive; agents can also team up to reach a certain quota. Sales can be isolating outside of talking to prospects, so group-based professional challenges may help to alleviate that loneliness and build camaraderie.
As a prize idea, consider taking winning team members out to lunch or offering a top parking spot for a month. Just don’t push it too far. Friendly competition is healthy sales motivation, aggressive competition is isolating and deterring.
7. Share motivational sales quotes or messages
Motivational emails, while thoughtful at any time, are especially effective before a quarterly or monthly close. The right messages can get team members in the right mindset to push through during those challenging final days.
A couple of weeks out, send emails that communicate the gap between current sales and the final goal. Include advice for meeting the quota as well as any sales tactics that have been working well.
When you’re closing in on the final day, send lighter messages. Agents already know what they have to do—it’s your job to get them motivated to cross the finish line. Include sales tips, memes, sales quotes, GIFs, or short videos for some extra inspiration.
Need some inspiration of your own? Here are our five favorite sales quotes:
“Success is never owned; it is only rented, and the rent is due every day.” —Rory Vaden
“You are what you repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” —Will Durant
“Don’t watch the clock; do what it does. Keep going.” —Sam Levenson
“Pressure is a privilege—it only comes to those who earn it.” —Billie Jean King
“Always do your best. What you plant now, you will harvest later.” —Og Mandino
In addition to motivational team emails, send individual notes to let your reps know you recognize and appreciate their efforts. Keep in mind that messages are often more motivational when they’re personalized, so curate your emails around each rep’s work.
8. Focus on the right metrics
Introduce sales metrics that focus on the quality of activities rather than on the quantity.
For example, activity metrics (like the number of calls made or emails sent) don’t take into account the quality of those calls or emails. Were they effective in moving a potential customer down the pipeline? What was the value of winning that customer?
Lead response time, lifetime value, and stage-by-stage conversion rate are excellent examples of metrics that motivate your agents toward high-quality customer interactions. Emphasize sales metrics that are customer-centric and geared toward long-term sales success.
No one ever said you couldn’t use numbers for sales motivation—you just have to use the right ones.
9. Implement a quarterly standup
Sales meetings are often seen as time-wasters, but they don’t have to be. Take, for example, quarterly meetings that are used by teams to review results and realign their goals.
Hold a quarterly meeting with all team members to share what’s coming up for the quarter. Energize the room by speaking passionately about the information you’re presenting. First, focus on the overall goal for the quarter. Then, break down the individual sales goals needed to reach that number.
Highlight individual and team benchmarks, or have team members present their numbers to promote accountability for future meetings. How have your agents met their daily, weekly, and monthly sales goals? Where did team members shine in the last quarter? Acknowledge their wins, and detail how the successes can act as a roadmap for the upcoming quarter.
The involvement of your sales reps in these meetings is crucial. Ask questions and get feedback on how they feel about the quarter. Your goal is to identify challenges, offer actionable solutions for the coming months, and provide a safe and supportive space where all are working to help the team succeed.
10. Show confidence in agents
Inevitably, some quarters will be harder than others. Whether it’s one agent feeling the pinch or the entire team, you must maintain a confident and supportive atmosphere during tough times.
Zendesk’s sales leaders use the analogy of a ship out at sea when overall numbers are down. They present two slides to managers: One slide depicts a yacht on calm waters; the next shows a ship in the middle of a storm. Sales leaders let their managers know that it’s their job to navigate the waters when the seas are rough.
Demonstrate trust in your team, and empower agents to take control of what they can to effect change.
No matter how difficult, own the current state of the quarter. Don’t pretend everything is great when it’s not. Communicate an optimistic path for the future, and let your sales team know, “This is what we are up against, but this is how we can overcome it.” Demonstrate trust in your team, and empower agents to take control of what they can to effect change.
On an individual level, be authentic and empathize with reps who are putting in the work but not seeing sales results. It’s best to have these conversations one-on-one through a video call or an in-person meeting. Share an analogy or a personal experience about a time you were behind on your quotas as a sales rep.
Even if numbers are low, continue to celebrate value-building underlying behaviors and innovations. Let team members know that you have confidence in their abilities.
11. Refine your sales processes and tools
Salespeople won’t be as motivated if they don’t have the right tools to get from point A to point B. Make sure that your sales processes are efficient and that your team has the necessary tools for various sales situations.
For example, is your current follow-up process with customers simple, or are conversations spread out across channels and departments? Review what processes are inefficient and what areas need improvement.
A sales CRM is the best tool for managing customer relationships. It saves time by automating busywork and prevents communication from falling through the cracks. If a sales rep discusses a deal via email and then via live chat, for instance, the CRM will document all those conversations and make them available for review later. Streamlined communication helps agents close deals.
You should also ensure your team has the right sales enablement materials. The marketing department might provide your reps with informative white papers and ebooks that they can present to prospects, increasing the chances of sales success.
12. Create monetary incentives
Although most salespeople don’t work solely for the money, financial incentives remain a strong motivator.
Consider the needs of your sales staff to determine monetary incentives. Do your reps prefer a base salary plus extra compensation that climbs higher as margin levels increase? Do they prefer getting rewarded as a team when they hit their quotas? Would they like to receive a percentage of their total monthly sales?
Speak with your team before adopting any monetary reward structure. Their input will help you build a compensation plan that feels inspirational and fair.
How to motivate sales teams by day of the week
A lot of people in sales are familiar with Mark Hunter’s quote, “Today is always the most productive day of your week.” But we also know that while inspirational, Hunter’s words are rarely true. Just like sales themselves, sales reps go through cycles. Delivering the right motivation tactic at the right time can be just as important as the motivation itself.
Monday sales motivation
Mondays are a balancing act. On one hand, your team is returning from their weekend and might feel unexcited about returning to work (everyone experiences a “case of the Mondays” from time to time). On the other hand, the start of the week is crucial for setting an energizing tone.
It’s tempting to gather everyone together and immediately dive into what needs to be accomplished that week—but hold off. It’s better to kick off Monday with an acknowledgment of what was achieved the previous week. Congratulate both the team and the individuals who stood out. Jumping into work after the weekend is hard, so make it rewarding.
There’s always time to get into the nuts and bolts of your goals once everyone is back in the right mindset.
Tuesday sales motivation
It’s beneficial to know which days are best for which sales activities. Tuesday is statistically the worst day for calling to make contact, so avoid your cold calls.
Instead, your agents can engage in more conducive activities (like qualifying leads) so that when they get to the calls, they’re more likely to be successful. Tuesdays are also ideal days for following up with prospects from the previous week and planning the best strategies for conversion.
Wednesday sales motivation
Wednesdays are your go, go, go days. They’re one of the best days for calling to make contact and calling to qualify. Prospects are settled into their work week and possibly looking for a conversation to shake off the fatigue of hump day.
This is when you need to increase your team’s adrenaline. Set up a team meeting to reiterate the goal, and offer a tangible reward at the top of the day. If your reps respond well to this tactic, up the reward every week of the month. Continuously calling prospects is exhausting, but a clear goal and a tempting incentive make it easier to push through.
Thursday sales motivation
In the sales world, Thursdays are Wednesdays 2.0. Thursday is a 49.7 percent better day than Tuesday to make contact with a lead over the phone. If you want to switch up the calls from Wednesday, dedicate one day to cold calling and another day to follow-up calls. If your company sticks to a verbatim sales script, your team is going to need a bit of variation to stay focused.
Friday sales motivation
Leave Fridays alone. Friday is the worst day for calling to qualify a lead. Your reps are looking forward to the weekend, and so are all of your prospects. While you might close deals on Fridays, it’s rare to get new sales conversations started.
Instead, focus on wrapping up and preparing for the week ahead. Anyone with follow-up meetings should focus on them, but reps without anything specific on the docket should shift toward preparation and development. What did they learn from that week? What is one thing they want to bring into the week ahead? Do they have a list of prospects they can follow up with on Monday? Are they fully prepared for those follow-ups?
Take advantage of this time as a sales leader. Friday is a great opportunity for sales training and coaching that’s built into your reps’ week. It’s a rare chance for intrinsic motivation that doesn’t need any bells and whistles.
End-of-month sales motivation
The end of the month is always the most stressful time for a sales team. Like it or not, the days are winding down, and you’re going to have to face your quota failure or success head-on. For sales representatives, this is make-or-break territory. In many companies, too many months of not meeting targets can mean penalties or termination. But is that really the best way to motivate your team to succeed?
By removing the sales reps’ earning cap and eliminating quotas, they were able to increase sales and revenue by 9%.
A UCLA and Stanford study on sales motivation found that by removing the sales reps’ earning cap and eliminating quotas, they were able to increase sales and revenue by 9 percent. That’s a sizable jump—all it took was reducing panic and stress in the workplace.
Rather than cracking down and screaming because the clock is counting down, use the end of the month to look at the team holistically. Where were the successes, and how do you build on them? Are there certain reps who seem to be better at certain types of sales? Instead of punishing reps for their weaknesses, highlight their strengths. Also ask yourself: What processes can be more efficient? How much time does my team spend on tasks that might be expedited by sales software?
By looking at the end of the month through the lens of success, you can easily find ways to motivate your team.
Techniques for supporting your sales team at the end of the month
- Always acknowledge success.
The initial response to a closed sale should never be, “Great, now close the next one.” When you don’t acknowledge a win, you dampen that sales rep’s enthusiasm and drive, which creates tension. Remember that recognition matters: 55 percent of workers would leave their current job for a company that recognizes its employees’ efforts and contributions, so don’t gloss over gratitude.
- Focus on the KPI you’re closest to reaching.
While individual reps might be working toward a single quota, your team usually has multiple sales KPIs they’re striving to hit. It’s important to focus on the right ones. For instance, if there’s no chance you’re going to meet your KPI for overall revenue but you might meet the number of sales, shift attention to that KPI. Your team won’t be motivated to chase the impossible, but they will band together to reach for a win.
- Stay on the sales floor.
You’ll often find your sales reps working overtime at the end of the month to try and up their numbers. One of the best ways you can support them is by staying on the sales floor as long as they do. If you want to reap the rewards of their long hours, then you should be supporting them. Answer questions, troubleshoot, and take reps off the phone if they start to burn out.
Track your sales motivation success quantitatively and qualitatively
Revenue and sales forecasts are important indicators to review but don’t overlook qualitative ways to assess your motivational strategies. While you need the numbers, they only go so far in making long-lasting improvements. Along with your data, gather feedback through in-person meetings and surveys.
Collect feedback from agents regularly, preferably in monthly one-on-one meetings. Are they feeling confident that they can improve their sales performance? Are they discouraged? Learn how they’re feeling about their sales cycle and where they might need help.
Surveys are also helpful for gauging whether your sales motivation tactics are working. Zendesk sends out surveys twice a year with seven basic questions, including the following:
- Are you inspired by your manager?
- How likely are you to refer Zendesk to a friend?
- How likely are you to be working here a year from now?
Each question can be answered in 30 seconds or less. Reading through the comments lets you pick up on other feelings or issues outside of the standardized questions.
Calculate your KPIs faster with a strong CRM
A focus on quality doesn’t mean you can completely ignore quantity. But calculating end-of-cycle sales data doesn’t need to consume all your time. With a CRM like Zendesk Sell, generating sales data and creating your monthly reports is a breeze.
Fast, accurate, and easily accessible KPI reporting means you can leave the numbers to technology so you can focus on the human aspect of your sales team. Request a demo of Zendesk Sell today to give your team—and yourself—the tools to succeed.
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