10 sales motivation tactics to energize your team
Sales motivation is more involved than just shelling out bonuses. Here’s how to motivate your sales team with tried-and-true strategies.
Published February 28, 2019
Last updated December 14, 2021
Motivating a sales team is an inherently difficult task. It takes grit and resilience to be a salesperson—day after day, you have to confront the reality that your chances of rejection are higher than the potential to make a sale with a prospect. As a manager, you also have to navigate multiple personalities on your sales team.
While financial incentives may help drive salespeople, a carrot-and-stick approach alone isn’t sustainable. Finding other ways to reward your reps for their hard work can make a bigger difference in boosting employee satisfaction and morale. You don’t have to go over the top, either. According to Reward Gateway, 70 percent of workers say that motivation would improve if managers simply said thank you more and noticed good work.
Yes, something that simple can be effective.
The key to fostering sales motivation is to be open-minded and empathetic. 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.
10 ways to motivate your sales team
1. Understand the psychology behind sales motivation
To understand what truly motivates your team members, you must first have a basic understanding of what sales professionals need to achieve success. What makes them tick? What do they value?
According to a Google study on what constitutes high-performing teams, the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety, which is the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake.
Team members feel psychological safety when they’re comfortable speaking up—they don’t feel insecure or embarrassed when suggesting ideas. Interestingly, this means that how the team interacts, is structured, and views their contributions is more important to success than who is on the team.
The highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety, which is the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake.
How do you create this feeling of safety for your team? Focus on positive motivation and engagement tactics, and avoid negative strategies.
Based on his findings, 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:
(Source: ResearchGate, Andrew J. Martin)
Another key step in understanding what motivates team members is recognizing that they’re all different—and your sales motivation strategy should honor that. Individual sales agents may prefer:
- The boss’ handshake behind a closed door (private recognition)
- A party in their honor (public recognition)
- A rotating extra vacation day (convenience)
- A 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 motivates each team member. What made them want to work in sales in the first place? What are their career goals?
You can also encourage your employees to structure their days around key sales activities rather than results (like making X sales per day). Building habits around activities will likely improve sales results, but remember the inspiration should be firmly in doing the work—versus working for the end result—for sustained motivation.
For example, if one of your company's goals is to send more sales videos, set the expectation that agents spend 30 minutes every day brushing up on their video recording and editing skills for a personal outreach to prospects.
2. Support your sales agents with team-building activities
Empower agents to build interpersonal relationships and promote a culture of camaraderie and collaboration. What does this look like in practice?
It could mean hosting team outings, such as monthly lunches or happy hours. Or, consider starting a mentorship program. 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 agents hone their lead-nurturing skills, and senior agents level up their management experience.
To encourage regular interactions, try establishing “water cooler chats.” Use Slack or a similar platform to create a #watercooler channel. Set up a bot that automatically pairs sales agents to meet once a week or once every two weeks for 30 minutes. Connecting with others gives agents some perspective outside of their own tasks. It also makes them more motivated to work together and fosters a sense of community.
3. Celebrate wins, both big and small
Publicly acknowledge the efforts sales agents are making to help the company succeed. Don’t just focus on celebrating major wins, such as reaching quotas. Celebrating small achievements, like a quality customer interaction, can also motivate agents.
One way Zendesk’s sales managers celebrate wins is through a champagne campaign. Any time an agent 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 sales 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.
Other companies might 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 camaraderie among team members. It might also motivate a rep who’s having a slow day to hustle for sales. 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 agents how they prefer to receive recognition.
4. Set up a friendly competition
Sales contests work. According to an Ambition report, more agents were motivated to sell by sales contests than by award 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.
As a prize idea, consider taking winning agents out to lunch or offering a top parking spot for a month to celebrate their hard work.
5. Share motivational sales quotes or messages
Motivational emails, while thoughtful at any time, are especially effective before a quarter or month close. The right messages can get team members in the mindset to push through during those final days.
- A couple of weeks out, send emails that communicate the gap between current sales and the final goal. Also include the tactics for meeting the quota.
- When you’re closing in on the final day, send lighter messages. Agents already know what they have to do—now, get them motivated to cross the finish line with some extra inspiration. Include sales tips, memes, sales quotes, GIFs, or short videos.
(Source: Sales Humor LinkedIn)
Here, we’ve hand-picked our top five sales quotes to pump up your salespeople.
- “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 agents 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.
6. 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 actually 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. Focus on sales metrics that are customer-centric and geared toward long-term sales success.
7. 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 being passionate about the information you’re presenting. First, focus on the overall goal for the upcoming 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 upcoming meetings. How have your agents met their daily, weekly, and monthly sales goals? Where did team members shine in the last quarter? Walk through the wins they’ve had, and detail how these successes can act as a roadmap for the upcoming quarter.
The involvement of your agents 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.
8. Demonstrate confidence in agents
It’s inevitable: Some sales quarters will be harder than others, either for the entire team or for individual agents.
Zendesk sales leadership uses the analogy of a ship out at sea when overall numbers are down. They show two slides to managers: One slide pictures 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.
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 confidence 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 agents who are putting in the effort but not seeing sales results. This communication is best done 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 numbers as a sales rep.
Even if numbers are low, continue to celebrate great underlying behaviors and innovations. Let team members know that you have confidence in their abilities.
9. Refine your sales processes and tools
Salespeople won’t be as motivated if they don't have the tools to get from point A to point B. So, make sure that your sales processes are efficient and that your teams have the necessary tools for a variety of 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 an excellent tool for managing customer relationships and ensures no communication falls 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, too.
You should also make sure your team has the right sales-enablement materials. The marketing department might provide your teams with helpful white papers and ebooks to show potential customers, increasing the chance of sales success.
10. Set up monetary incentives
Although most salespeople don’t work solely for the money, financial incentives still remain a strong motivator.
Consider the needs of your sales staff to determine monetary incentives. Do your salespeople 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 sales team before adopting any monetary reward structure. Their input will help you build a compensation plan that actually works.
Collect input about your motivation techniques
Revenue and sales forecasts are important indicators to review, but don’t overlook qualitative ways to determine whether or not your motivational strategies are working. Two such measures are in-person feedback and surveys.
Collect feedback from agents on a regular basis, especially in monthly one-on-one meetings. Are they feeling confident that they can improve their sales performance? Or are they discouraged? Learn how they're feeling about the quarter or sales month.
Surveys are also helpful for gauging whether sales motivation tactics are working. Zendesk sends out surveys twice a year with seven basic questions, including the following:
- How inspired are you 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. Read through the comments to pick up on other feelings or issues outside of the standardized questions.
Compile the results or feedback, and act swiftly on it so your team knows their opinion is valued. Make improvements if necessary, and communicate to employees what is being done. Acknowledge what they asked for and explain how sales managers plan to meet those expectations, along with what isn’t changing.
Motivate your sales team to succeed
Both you and other sales managers need to empower your teams in ways that go beyond the carrot-and-stick approach. Offer support to your sales agents but show faith in their abilities. Employees will feel like their work and goals are valued—your company’s revenue will improve as a result.