How to motivate your sales team effectively using 5 scientifically proven tools

Are you sick and tired of motivating your sales team? Frustrated and over why they’re not performing at a higher level despite your best efforts? Failing to engage with them with your messages not getting through? Banging your head against a wall and feeling fed up and demotivated yourself?

Don’t worry. You are not alone.

Being a Sales Manager is one of the hardest jobs because you are managing the humans who are the ones responsible for paying the bills and generating the income for the rest of your company.

If they don’t perform, you’re not performing either. And that’s when the pressure really comes on.

There is a simple explanation.

The reason this is happening is because you haven’t correctly identified what motivates your sales team as individuals and you’re using the wrong tools to motivate them.

Why Money Isn’t the Right Motivator

There is a lot of research that suggests extrinsic motivators has an adverse affect on people’s intrinsic motivators and offering sales employees more money over-rides meaning.

We already know emotional well-being levels increase with salary levels up to a salary of $75,000 but then plateau afterwards (Daniel Kahneman and Deaton 2007).

If money was such a big motivator why would people cover $75,000 not be more satisfied and loyal to the companies they work for?

The fact is they aren’t. This Harvard Business Review study proves it:

”The authors reviewed 120 years of research to synthesize the findings from 92 quantitative studies. The combined dataset included over 15,000 individuals and 115 correlation coefficients. The results indicate that the association between salary and job satisfaction is very weak.”

The problem with money is when you offer more of it after a while your sales team will come back and ask for more. It becomes an expectation you’ve set. Then they might ask for a better vehicle or more annual leave. It’s a short term fix because their true and deeper psychological needs aren’t being met. The extra cash is a band aid and only buys a bit of time before they move onto another company who repeats the same mistake, offering them more money to move across to them. And so the cycle, and wage bill, goes.

Humans at a basic level want to be feel secure and safe. Abraham Maslow told us about that. Pressurising your sales team with more monthly targets won’t get the result you need. Simon Sinek talks about the importance of leaders making their people feel safe and why leaders eat last in his 99U video.

Your sales team will also crave being valued and recognised. It’s the oxygen they breathe and status they need. Having status is one of the highest human motivations along with survival and relationships. In order to motivate people, you need to understands what drives them at a deeper, psychological and individual level. Only then can you tap into what truly motivates them.

Instead of money, how about more flexible work arrangements if they face a heavy commute? You could be more family friendly. I know one enlightened rural firm whose policy is “never miss a kids sports day”. Good on them I say. Give them their job anniversary day off or at the very least their birthday so they can spend it rejuvenating with family and friends. Have pet days. The list goes on.

Because when you care, they care. You’ll see the rewards and paybacks in spades.  

When you are more creative, flexible and supportive you can drive higher levels of engagement with your sales team that will give you higher productivity and profits.

If you don’t, you won’t with less productivity and profits. Gallup’s Global Engagement Survey Monitor has tracked employee engagement for decades. In their latest 2017 poll they reporting the following results:

  • 26% of employees are actively disengaged

  • 50% of employees are not engaged

  • only 30% of the workforce are engaged

  • 51% of employees are looking for a job or watching for an opening

These are worrying facts for any employer who’s hoping to lift performance and sales results. It gets worse:

”Only 25% would strongly agree their performance is being managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.”

These findings mean 75% of your sales team are not currently motivated to do their best and highest work.

So how can you motivate your sales team more effectively?

Here are 5 proven steps you can take as a Sales Manager to better manage, engage and inspire your sales team:

Step 1: Identify The Right Motivational Levers

Your people are not resource units with big numbers floating above their heads. They are emotionally wired, complicated beings. They, like you, have bias, fears and anxieties which blind their judgement and world view. Your job is to show them you understand these things and what make them them.

They need to feel like they’re on your side and have their back. This is where professional sales training, courses and coaches kicks in. They need tools to help them perform at the next level. Asking them do this without them is like asking them to climb Everest without the climbing gear.

People don’t companies leave because of money. They leave because of managers. How you manage and motivate your sales team will dictate how successful you and they are.  

Step 2: Use The Right Questions To Understand Their Motivations And Desires

Every member of your sales team has different drivers. Each have unique needs that need to be met. Taking a one-size fits all approach won’t work. Take the time to sit down with each of them individually and work out what they actually want.

Sometimes they won’t know the answers to what drives them themselves, so here are some questions to help you help them:

  • what do you want most?

  • what will that do for you and your family?

  • how will you know when you have it?

  • what stops you from having this already? (this will help you and them identify drivers of disengagement, distractions and barriers)

  • what resources do you have already that will help you obtain this? (increasing self awareness and confidence that they already possess some skills)

  • what additional resources do you need to obtain this? (elicits their buy-in and commitment to make changes to up-skill and plug knowledge gaps)

  • how are you going to get there? (puts the responsibility on them to outline the process to achieving what they want to which increases the likelihood they will commit to it)

  • how we can we help you get there faster?

    Asking these questions will allow you to have a different, more meaningful conversation with your sales team. Perhaps it’s a conversation you’ve never had with them before.

    Use these questions as a discussion guide to discover what their underlying drivers are. You’ll be surprised with the truth, insights and answers you’ll uncover. 

Step 3: Stop Treating Symptoms And Start Treating Root Causes

Here’s an example you might be experiencing right now: your sales rep always dodging your weekly catch ups. Why is this? What’s causing it? Why are they not engaging?

Rather than being critical, be curious. Ask questions like: “how come?”, “what else is there?”, “how can we help?” or “is there something else?”. You need to understand the real reasons why they’re not engaging. To do this, you’ll need to dig deep to get to the truth and root cause. Often you’ll have to cut through the false reasons or objections - just like you do with customers - to get to the the underlying issue.

By the way - don’t do this remotely. You need to do it in person. You’ll know once you’ve hit gold when you see them excited and aroused. Their body language will tell you but only if you pay close attention. Look for their breathing patterns, watch their pupils, skin tone, perspiration and posture. 

Step 4: To Increase Motivation Remove The Demotivators First

When you need to increase staff or customer engagement, you need to get remove the drivers of disengagement first.

A bit like when you want to increase sales. You reduce customer churn before you pour more water in the bucket or it’s a wasted, expensive exercise that doesn’t get you any further.

As a Sales Manager, what’s the crap you can clear that’s holding your sales team back? What distractions or interruptions are getting in the way of them being able to perform at their full potential? What can you protect them from? Maybe they’re spending too much time recording and reporting sales leads instead of actually selling (studies prove 65-80% of the time sales team aren’t even selling!). Maybe it’s too many meetings cutting into the time they need to be out selling? Maybe it’s a lack of formal training or induction at the start? Maybe it’s a lack of mentors or coaching?

Identify what’s demotivating your sales team first before you think about how you can motivate them more.

Step 5: Manage Sales Individuals, Not Sales Teams

Every sales rep is different so a one-size fits all approach will never work.

Each of your sales team will have different competencies and capabilities. They will have come on different personal and professional journeys from where they’ve been to where they are now with you. They will have have different learning styles - some will be auditory, others visual or even kinesthetic.

A blanket approach, tempting as it is because of the obvious time and cost efficiencies, will never be as effective. You have to get inside their heads so you can tap into their drivers and motivations.

All of us want to be treated and recognised as an individual human beings with unique qualities and attributes,  not a number. We want to be recognised for our individual merits and strengths.

Don’t lose sight of what motivates them personally by blurring it into a convenient team based approach.

The 3 Intrinsically Proven Human Motivations


Daniel Pink in his Book Drive (The Surprising Truth About What Motivate Us) talks about three key intrinsic motivators:


We all want to master something. Perhaps it’s a sport or an instrument. Our passion is what drives us. It’s also a reason why so many of us coach our children’s sports teams on Saturday mornings. There will always be a professional area of our lives we want to own and master too. Because it’s motivating to us we will dedicate more time to it.

As Andrew Carnegie said “I don’t listen to what men say, I watch what they do”.

Where people spend their time will tell you what their priorities are. Tap into what they naturally are trying to master. They might need a bit of help identifying the area they want to master. Watch them go when you do.


None of us likes to be micro-managed as it signals they’re not trusted to do their job. Some aren’t and for good reason. For the majority though, they want autonomy to do what they’re good at and be left alone. Tell them what they need and let them work out how to get there. This allows them to create, own and control the process or strategy so their commitment will be far higher than if it was dictated to them.


People, just like companies, need to have a higher purpose. They need to know what they do makes a difference. If it doesn’t it can be a massive demotivator and hurt productivity and profits.

A social study (Adam Grant, Wharton University) was conducted using a college scholarship fund contact centre. Grant divided the groups into three with the first group being exposed to the benefits of the job ("personal benefit"), the second were exposed to letters written by students who had received scholarships ("task benefit") and a third as the control being exposed to nothing at all. The result? The group that were exposed to the stories of the students who were the benefactors of the scholarships earned more than twice the number of pledges and twice the amount of donations from $1,288 to $3,130

So what happens if you don’t use these 5 steps?

If you don’t use these 5 motivational steps, you’ll continue to waste precious time, money and energy motivating your sales team with tools and methods they don’t engage with or respond to.

They might even leave you. There’s the opportunity cost too.

Give these 5 steps a try and let me know how you get on. I look forward to hearing about your results and more ideas on this important and frustrating sales challenge.


I hope you these ideas useful that you can put to use straight away with your sales teams to help you and them get better results and higher performances.

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