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Beyond bonuses: How to motivate your sales team

With the right process and strategies, you can motivate your team.

By Josh Bean, Director, Marketing

Published February 28, 2019
Last updated September 14, 2020

Motivating a company sales team is an inherently difficult task. You can't depend on what motivated you as a sales rep to also motivate your team. Not only must you be sensitive to the personalities you're working with, but you must also use more than monetary rewards to encourage your team. A carrot-and-stick approach used alone is ultimately unsustainable.

In fact, motivating your team starts with you, not them. Though you may think you're hiding it from them, your entire team can sense your disappointment, frustration, and stress during a difficult quarter. A positive mind-set is crucial and must often be intentional.

Start by being genuinely positive and authentic on the sales floor. Only then can you begin to motivate your sales team.

Find out what motivates sales reps

To understand what truly motivates your teams, you must first know your employees. What makes them tick? What do they value?

Everyone is different, and your motivational strategies should honor that. Different reps may prefer:

  • The boss's handshake behind a closed door (private recognition)
  • A party in their honor (public recognition)
  • An extra vacation day (convenience)
  • A parking spot near the front door for a month (public recognition and convenience)

Along with informal conversations, send out quick surveys to determine what motivates each team member. What made them want to work in sales in the first place? What are their career goals?

Make sure your sales managers also understand what motivates their team members. Managers too should have positive mind-sets to inspire their teams.

Use non-monetary strategies to motivate sales teams

Team motivation does not have to be expensive. Assuming you already offer fair pay and benefits, nonmonetary strategies can be just as effective. Use this to your advantage.

It's not all about the money

According to a 2009 survey conducted by McKinsey & Company, nonfinancial incentives were rated as more powerful motivators than financial incentives.

Keep motivational efforts simple and aligned with both your company goals and your rep's personal goals. Below are seven nonmonetary examples of how to motivate a sales team.

1. Motivate your team by celebrating wins in creative ways

Publicly acknowledge the efforts that reps are making to help the company succeed. And don't focus on celebrating only major wins, such as reaching quota; celebrating small wins can significantly increase motivation as you assign value and recognize great underlying behaviors (e.g., quality customer interactions).

One way that Zendesk's sales management celebrates sales rep wins is through a champagne campaign. Anytime a rep reaches their target number, a bottle of champagne is placed on their desk. It's a small but effective strategy.

Another simple yet encouraging method is buying gold balloons. Every time a sales rep achieves a certain goal, tie a gold balloon to their office chair. It's noticeable to the rest of the team and gives people a sense of winning. Even if certain reps are behind, watching people around them win is a motivator to push forward.

Compile a list of rewards that make sense for your company, and ask reps individually what they prefer to receive.

2. Motivate sales teams with team building exercises

team building exercises

Empower reps to build interpersonal relationships and encourage a culture of trust and collaboration.

Host team outings, such as monthly lunches.

To get reps interacting with one another on a regular basis, set up a mandatory water cooler time. Use Slack or a similar platform to create a #watercooler channel. Set up a bot to automatically pair up reps to meet once a week or once every two weeks for 30 minutes. Reps are given context outside of their own tasks and are more motivated to work together.

Another idea is to host a friendly sales contest, such as reps teaming up to reach a certain quota.

Sales contests work

According to one report, 80% of global sales executives offer goal-oriented competitions, and 47% of them find these contests highly effective.

Use prize ideas like Access to Leadership, where you take winning reps out to lunch or offer a top parking spot for a month.

Don't overlook individual mentorship as a team building exercise, either. Pair lower-level reps with senior-level reps. Experienced reps can share how to set realistic goals, what strategies have been effective, and how to speak to customers. Lower-level reps can increase their skill level and professional development.

3. Send motivational emails to your sales team

Motivational emails are especially effective before a quarter or month close. The right messages can get people in the mind-set to prepare for those final few days.

  • A couple of weeks out, send more directive emails. Here's the gap before our big quarter close, and here's how we're going to get there. Share top tips such as how reps can get real with their pipeline or where they can best spend their time.
  • Closer to the final date of the close, send lighter messages. Reps already know what they have to do—now, get them motivated to cross the finish line. Include GIFs or short, lighthearted videos you create with your managers. This blend of communication styles gives actionable ways to succeed and gets your reps excited about completing the quarter.

In addition to motivational team emails, send individual emails to let team members know that you recognize and appreciate their efforts. According to Reward Gateway, 70% of employees say that motivation and morale would improve 'massively' with managers saying thank you more.

4. Motivate sales by focusing on the right metrics

traditional sales metrics

Introduce metrics that focus on the quality of activities rather than on the quantity. Too often, sales managers focus on misaligned metrics, including sales cycle, activity metrics, and win rate. Although not inherently bad (just used incorrectly), these metrics motivate reps to achieve quick wins rather than build quality customer relationships.

For example, activity metrics (e.g., number of calls made), do not take into account the quality of the calls, emails, or meetings. Were they actually effective in moving a potential customer down the pipeline?

Aligned sales metrics are customer-centric and focus on long-term wins. Lead response time, lifetime value (LTV), and stage-by-stage conversion rate are excellent examples of metrics that motivate your reps toward quality customer interactions.

5. Implement a quarterly stand-up to motivate your team

Sales meetings are often seen as time-wasters, but they don't have to be.

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 goals needed to reach this number.

Also, highlight individual and team benchmarks. How have your reps met the daily, weekly, and monthly goals? Where did team members shine in the last quarter? Walk through the challenging wins they've had, and detail how this success can act as a road map for the upcoming quarter.

Most importantly, involve your reps in the presentation. Ask questions and get feedback on how your team feels about the quarter. Speak to their pain points, and address any issues they bring up. Your goal is to identify challenges and offer actionable solutions for the coming months.

6. Demonstrate confidence in reps to motivate them to sell

demonstrate confidence

It's inevitable: Some sales quarters will be more difficult than others, either for the entire team or for individual reps.

Zendesk sales leadership uses the analogy of a ship out at sea when overall numbers are down. Two slides are shown to managers. One slide pictures a yacht. The water is calm. The next slide shows a ship in the middle of a storm. Sales leadership lets their managers know that it is 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 teams know, This is what we are up against, but this is how we can overcome it. Demonstrate confidence in your team.

On an individual level, be authentic and empathize with reps who are putting in the effort but not seeing results. Stop by their desk or send a quick email. Share an analogy or a personal experience about a time you were behind on your numbers as a rep. And don't cease recognition just because numbers aren't there. Continue to celebrate great underlying behaviors and innovations. Let team members know that you have confidence in their abilities.

7. Provide the right tools to motivate sales teams

Reps won't be as motivated if they don't have tools to get from Point A to Point B. Make sure that your sales process is efficient and that your teams have the necessary tools for any sales situation.

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 CRM is an excellent tool for managing customer relationships and ensures that no communication falls through the cracks. If a rep discusses a deal via email and then via live chat, all conversations will be documented and available for review later. Streamlined communication helps reps better close deals.

Also make sure that your teams have the right sales-enablement material. Is the marketing department providing your teams with helpful white papers and e-books that can be presented to potential customers? Do they have the information to maximize every sales opportunity? The right tools reduce inefficiency and increase motivation.

Motivate your sales team to succeed

Remember that motivation is a long-term strategy. 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.

In-person feedback is an informal way to gauge effectiveness. Chat with people at their desk, or start a conversation in the elevator. Are they feeling confident that they can reach their quotas? Or are they discouraged? Learn how they're feeling about the quarter or sales month. Empower your reps to give you feedback.

Surveys are good to get a baseline of motivation tactics. For example, Zendesk sends out surveys twice a year to sales, 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 work here a year from now?

Each question can be answered in 30 seconds or less. Read through the comments to pick up on feelings outside of standardized questions.

Compile the results/feedback and act on it so your team knows that their opinion is valued. Make improvements if necessary, and communicate to employees what is being done — here's what you asked for, here's what we are going to do, and here's what's not changing. If the answer is no to certain suggestions, help them understand why.

Successful motivation of employees starts with a positive mind-set from you. It's then a balance of understanding what makes your team tick and figuring out how to rightly apply this knowledge.

Both you and your sales managers need to empower your sales teams in ways that go beyond the carrot-or-stick approach. Show faith in abilities, and offer support to your teams. Employees will feel like their work and goals are valued. Your company's revenue will improve as a result.

This post originally ran on the Base blog. Please visit www.zendesk.com/sell if you’d like to learn more about Zendesk Sell.