Sales managers have been searching for the magic formula for sales motivation for decades. Many companies offer incentives such as cash bonuses or trips, but these are generally won by the few superstar salespeople in the organization, leaving the middle- and lower-performers out of the loop and unmotivated.
The truth is that sales professionals are all different and are motivated in different ways. What helps you keep your star performers happy may be reducing motivation in middling performers who need more encouragement. To build a high performing sales team, managers need to customize sales motivation and compensation plans for each member of the team.
According to Thomas Steenburgh and Michael Ahearne for Harvard Business Review. “A few progressive companies have been able to coax better performance from their teams by treating their sales force like a portfolio of investments that require different levels and kinds of attention… (and) some salespeople have greater ability and internal drive than others, and a growing body of research suggests that stars, laggards, and core performers are motivated by different facets of comp plans.”
Luckily, there are a few things you and your team can do to improve motivation in every aspect of your sales process.
1. Effective Sales Motivation Means First Collecting Individual Metrics
Most sales organizations measure individual metrics around number of calls made, emails sent, opportunities opened and volume of deals closed. But a one-size-fits-all approach to evaluating sales metrics is limiting. A lower-level performer may improve his stats dramatically from one quarter to the next, but since his numbers still aren’t as high as those of the stars, he may come in at the bottom of the pack. It doesn’t mean his achievement shouldn’t be rewarded. Garden-variety sales metrics don’t allow managers to see the kind of metrics that provide a real picture of the performance of individual salespeople.
“Measuring sales exclusively on results and the underlying cost structure is certainly a clean approach, but forces sales leaders to rely on intuition as to how to improve sales performance,” explains analyst group SiriusDecisions.
Unfortunately, you’re not going to find an “intuition” report in your CRM solution. Hence, the importance of measuring the less obvious, “fuzzier” metrics that directly drive performance.
Here are a few individual dimensions that sales managers can measure to paint a better picture of their team’s mood:
- lead and pipeline quality
- work ethic
- product knowledge
- closing skills
CRM or marketing tools can help you find some of these metrics. By simply surveying your team at regular intervals, you can obtain these, too. Once obtained, you should be in a better position to see what motivates each sales person on your team.
2. Use Your Metrics to Determine What Motivates Each Salesperson
Once you’ve got your customized metrics, it’s time to evaluate each salesperson’s motivators. This is particularly important if you’ve got a multi-generational workforce. Monetary compensation may drive some people. Others will put more value in a better work-life balance ( ex. an opportunity to work from home now and then). Motivation by pressure from sales managers may work for others or, by a more hands-off approach.
Here a four dimensions of a sales machine that can have a big impact on motivation:
- the attractiveness of your compensation plan and system
- the quality of the sales tools and marketing content
- the competitiveness of your products features and price points
- the depth and frequency of your training and coaching programs
Sales productivity apps like Cien help companies make connections between performance and these less tangible aspects of sales motivation by applying machine learning and sentiment analysis to a sales person’s activities and individual mood. With these compelling connections in hand, sales managers are able to motivate their team and build a better sales playbook.
3. Implement a Customized Motivation Plan
With individual metrics and the intelligence they yield in hand, sales managers can now design a motivation and compensation plan that will translate in greater performance and retention. The key to effective motivation is finding the right time, channel and frequency of feedback for each member. While superstars seldom need a lot of guidance, moderate and lower performers will need more intermittent goals and regular feedback from managers.
Sales leaders can effectively implement a sales motivation plan by:
- Encouraging team level goals
- Consistently recognizing team members
- Providing personalized coaching
- Organizing informal team building events
Sales performance management platforms (our favorite is Ambition) can help managers recognize rep performance based on individual or team goals by making visible TVs that celebrate milestones. These platforms also run spiffs and contests between teams — with a strong incentive in place, many sales reps love capitalizing on the competitive nature of sales.
When it comes to compensation, some companies have had success with allowing team members to choose their incentives and rewards as well as their frequency, within reason. This may include options for prizes, or days off and perks instead of cash bonuses.
4. Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Motivation and coaching are based on communication, so the best sales playbook in the world won’t work if everyone operates in a silo. The tone of communications they need will also vary from person to person, just as salespeople are motivated by different compensation plans. Some people might respond well to inspiring messages. Others may benefit from a more educational tone or a virtual kick in the pants. Repeated reminders may be annoying to some salespeople yet others may welcome them to keep them on track. Everybody benefits from regular updates on activities and opportunities on their smartphones.
Motivating a sales team to rise to the challenge of your sales playbook can’t be generic and automated. Salespeople are humans, and humans are all different. When managers can provide individually customized plans for sales motivation, they can get the best performance possible out of each person in the team