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Key Influences on Sales Motivation

Key Influences on Sales Motivation

blog author
Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

For the best sales results, you need to have a highly motivated team bringing their A-game day in and day out. Often, it's up to sales managers to make sure their team maintains this positive and results-driven attitude.

But it’s not always easy.

According to our Top-Performing Sales Organization research, 55% of Top Performers agree that managers are effective at creating and sustaining maximum selling energy compared to only 32% of The Rest. Of course, management isn't the only key influence on sales motivation. Compensation may be the #1 factor that motivates employees, but high compensation at the expense of any other motivating factor can lead to burnt-out employees and turnover.

5 Fundamentals to Increase Sales Motivation

Companies commonly focus on compensation, bonuses, and incentives to get top performance out of their sales team. However, sellers bring their own intrinsic motivation to their jobs, and it's up to the organization to tap into them. So how exactly can you increase sales motivation for yourself and the rest of your team?

Here are the five areas of focus we recommend:

1. Culture and Company

We’ve seen organizations where selling is respected and other business units and employees consider the sales team vital. We’ve seen organizations in which sellers enjoy tremendous support from leadership.

We’ve also seen the polar opposite.

Ultimately, if you want to maximize sales motivation, your culture and company needs to support sellers as much as possible.

Anyone who has worked in an organization with an unsupportive, chaotic, or toxic culture understands why. It’s difficult to stay motivated when you don’t believe in the place you work or your employer doesn’t seem to believe in you.

On the other hand, a supportive culture and company can give sellers exactly the purpose they need. When sales leaders tap into this purpose, their sellers often:

  • Dedicate themselves to action plans
  • Strengthen their sense of ownership for achievement
  • Find the motivation to persevere in the face of obstacles

Imagine an army of sellers who don't just sell because it's their job; they sell because their own sense of purpose is driving them to reach their potential. They know their company and the people around them have their back.

It’s a powerful thing.

2. Management

If a seller doesn't have a fire in their belly, it's very hard to light one. But if a seller has even a flicker of that fire, the right manager can help it burn bright. Our research has shown that Elite Performers are more than 2x as likely to have managers who make an effort to motivate sellers.

Here are a few ways sales managers can set the stage for seller success:

  • Help sellers see how they can achieve challenging goals: Work with sellers to define goals and build action plans to meet them. Hold sellers accountable to those actions on a weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis.
  • Foster a supportive culture: Enable sellers with the tools, materials, resources, and support they need to win.
  • Create maximum selling energy: Celebrate successes, keep lines of communication open, and help sellers’ fire burn bright.
  • Set challenging but achievable goals: Challenging goals are more motivating. Be sure sales goals and quotas are challenging yet achievable.

In the end, sales management is responsible for creating an environment that motivates its sellers.

Sometimes, it’s all about mindset and perspective. To that end, we've put together 54 of our favorite sales quotes from RAIN Group's best-selling books, research reports, white papers, and award-winning blog that will inspire you—and your sales team—to reach top performance.

3. Intrinsic Motivators

Conventional wisdom holds that sellers are motivated by money. True! But there's a lot more to the story. Sellers can be motivated by many intrinsic factors, such as:

  • Recognition
  • Advancement
  • Winning (not necessarily related to money)
  • Personal development

When you know what motivates any one seller, you can focus on drawing that motivation out on a regular basis.

What’s more, motivation isn’t static. There are specific habits that, when applied consistently, inspire and strengthen motivation across teams. Here are three ways to bring that motivation out:

Recruit Drive

Motivation is a skill more than an innate attribute. You can recruit your drive, building it like muscle. In our Extreme Productivity research, we studied 2,377 business professionals to learn what the most productive people do to manufacture motivation, control their time, and execute at the highest levels.

I'm a very driven person.

Graph: I'm a very driven person.

Interestingly, we found that The Extremely Productive (The XP) are 2x more likely to be driven than The Rest. Driven by what, though? Often, that drive is emotional. You can rationalize it in all sorts of ways. "I want to make more money. I need this promotion to get to the next step."

But why?

You want money for freedom. You want money to do what you want to do with your time. Promotions bring prestige. They bring hope of career advancement and fulfillment. These are desires. If you want your desires to come true, you need disciplined action to help you get there.

Pay attention to where your sellers thrive in their roles. With a bit of time, you can determine the source of their drive and help them maximize it.

Ignite Proactivity

How you manage your calendar and your expectations of what you'll get done every week drives whether you accomplish it or procrastinate. Proactivity drives productivity and motivation and procrastination kills it. The Extremely Productive (The XP) are 2.7x more likely to be proactive than The Rest. This is a key driver of productivity.

I am very proactive.

Graph: I am very proactive.

Yet everyone procrastinates—even the most productive people. When you need to do something difficult, it requires a lot of energy to get started and you avoid it. If you avoid getting started on difficult things, it doesn't mean you aren't working. You can fill your days with work. That's easy. Sit back and react to email? No problem. Show up to the meetings on your calendar? Check.

On the other hand, turning off your email, putting your phone in the drawer, and diving into your Greatest Impact Activity (GIA) isn’t so easy. The most productive people have it figured out:

  1. They start their day focused on their GIA.
  2. They put their GIA in their calendar.
  3. They stay focused on their GIA, and, even when pressed to do so, don't react to other people's agendas.

In fact, only 4% of The XP feel like they react to other people's agendas instead of driving their own. Igniting your proactivity is about making the effort. It’s about getting started on the actions that'll get you where you want to go.

And when you’re making progress on your goals, it’s motivating!

Reengineer Habits

Understand your habits and you can change them as you wish. Our research shows that 63% of The XP agree that their work habits contribute significantly to their productivity.

My work habits contribute significantly to being extremely productive.

Graph: My work habits contribute significantly to being extremely productive.

Fortunately, you can change even the most embedded habits if you know how. When you understand how habits work, you can replace those that don’t support sales motivation with ones that do. We call this the 4 Elements of Habit:

  1. Trigger: Something happens that cues action. For example, your email alert dings while you're working.
  2. Thought: The cue triggers a thought, even if it's fast or subconscious. The thought might be, "I should check the new email."
  3. Response: Following the thought, you take action by toggling over to your email to read the new message.

Reward: This is your gain or payoff. "Oh great! That report I'm waiting for is in. I'll stop what I'm doing and take a look."

The Four Elements of Habit

Why is habit change so important for motivation? Your habits either drain you or give you energy, and it’s hard to stay motivated when you’re drained. Employ the habits that will fuel your energy to maintain motivation.

4. Execution

Execution is affected by many factors. There’s a person’s talent, skills, and intrinsic motivations. There’s operations and enablement. We’ve found that defining the right goals and strategies is a critical step toward maximizing sales energy, focus, and engagement—essential ingredients for better sales execution.

One study, for example, looked at assessment results of 400,000 sellers and compared the top 5% of sellers to the bottom 5%. Interestingly, of the top 5% of sellers, 100% have personal written goals. Of the bottom 5% of sellers? Only 16% have personal written goals.

This data tells us that the most motivated sellers make sales execution tangible. They write down their goals. They have a roadmap in place to achieve those goals, including hard action items and timelines. Most importantly, they and their sales managers have an accountability framework in place to make sure this roadmap is executed.

5. Value

In our research report, The Value-Driving Difference, we looked at the differences between companies that are value-focused and those that aren’t. One of the most surprising correlations was the relationship between value and sales motivation. Companies that have a true focus on value for buyers are much more likely to have highly motivated sales forces.

Perhaps nothing is more demotivating to sellers as needing to hit quota and selling as much as possible regardless of whether it adds value to buyers. That's not to say that having a quota isn't important. From our research we know that companies with achievable sales goals are more likely to have motivated sellers. But having goals alone isn't enough.

Too many organizations focus on motivation directly. Focus on value and you'll unleash the sales motivation you’re after. In fact, Value-Driving Sales Organizations are 2.5x more likely to say their managers and leaders are effective at creating and sustaining maximum selling energy from sellers, and they’re 2.2x more likely to say their culture drives and supports sellers' motivation to succeed.

Vibrant, proactive sales organizations have value at the core.

Differences between Value-Driving and Non-Value-Driving Sales Organizations

A chart representing the differences between Value-Driving  and Non-Value-Driving, including the sellers' attitudes toward culture, organization, role, and manager effectiveness.

Sales Motivation Techniques and Tips

Set Meaningful Development Goals

A bit of forethought goes a long way, and tailoring skill development with motivation in mind can help sales managers coach sellers in areas guaranteed to have the biggest impact.

This approach works best with sellers who already have a strong drive to achieve. If they’re already invested in their own development, just giving them a direction can often be enough to get them started and sustain motivation.

For other sellers, it can be more complicated. A performance analysis might feel more like scrutiny or criticism for them. In these cases, collaborate with them to learn what would help them build these skills and feel personally invested in their work.

Also consider the timing of these goals. Many sales organizations take a short-term approach to sales, so setting long-term goals is important to giving sellers something larger to work toward.

As with any other form of upskilling, a sales coaching plan helps define success and establish a rhythm for sales managers and sellers.

Strive for Transparency and Trust

Even if sellers are intrinsically motivated and sales managers have created a culture that sustains motivation, clear communication is essential.

If your sellers know their place in the organization’s broader strategy, they’ll be more confident undertaking sales activities that drive that strategy forward. Organizational changes should be communicated clearly and in a timely manner. Even if sellers aren’t happy with these changes, sharing the rationale behind them builds mutual trust and respect.

Plan Around Sales Actions

Motivation can only be sustained if supported by healthy habits. While many sales teams are results-oriented, a singular focus on results can be discouraging if sellers don’t have a strong sense of how to get there.

Instead, motivation comes from planning sales activities that make the greatest impact on results. You can’t control your buyers, but you can build the habits and key skills most likely to contribute to your sales metrics.

Remember, goals are important, but sellers need clear steps to take to achieve those goals.

Not sure where to start? Try benchmarking yourself and your sellers against the areas where Top-Performing Sellers excel.

Give Sellers Ownership

For sales managers, think of yourself as an enabler when it comes to motivation. It’s your job to give sellers the tools and direction necessary to stay motivated and hold them accountable.  

Giving sellers ownership is a matter of collaboration. You’ll need to first understand their intrinsic motivations and guide them in a positive direction. From there, you’re serving as a guardrail, reminding sellers of the path they’re on and keeping them from straying in an unwanted direction.

Sellers should have as much leeway as possible here. They’ll be more motivated if you give them the chance to provide feedback, define their own rewards, and set their own goals with your help.

Track Impact

No single metric can sum up the impact of a motivated seller. Instead, examine the metrics for which sellers are directly responsible. Compare to the seller’s personal metrics rather than a given benchmark for the whole team. Encourage your sellers to focus on outdoing themselves, not their colleagues.

Celebrate Wins

Lastly, recognize and celebrate progress! Whether a seller has won a major deal or simply increased the number of personalized prospecting emails sent, it’s worth acknowledging their efforts.

If the win in question is tied to a specific incentive or benefit, great. If not, it’s still worth expressing appreciation, whether privately or openly. This is an easy way to celebrate small wins in particular. Even just a simple “thank you” can be meaningful.

Not every seller will feel comfortable with public praise, so learn their preferences before giving them a shout-out to the whole office.

Ultimately, Sales Motivation Goes Deeper than Money

Organizations that only use money to motivate sellers are now finding that true sales motivation requires a more comprehensive approach. The numbers don’t lie: organizations with an immature approach to sales motivation tend to experience poor performance and high turnover.

The framework we’ve laid out above—Culture and Company, Management, Intrinsic Motivators, Execution, and Value—is a great place to start.

Remember: purpose and value. If you want to boost sales motivation, you need to look beyond changing compensation and the challenges that come with it. Instead, work towards building a value-focused sales organization that gives sellers real purpose.

Published January 31, 2024

Topics: Sales Performance Improvement