Three Ways to Motivate and Manage Your Sales Force for High Performance

by / 0 Comments / 124 View / March 6, 2024

Every business owner wants to have a highly motivated, top-producing sales team, regardless of who is responsible for performing the sales management function. The pressing question is how to achieve that goal.

While many factors contribute to sales management success or failure, there are three basics to consider. They are:

1. Understanding what motivates an individual

2. Developing skills and providing the effective tools necessary to succeed

3. Establishing a collaborative environment that fosters engagement, teamwork, creativity, and innovation

Understanding Motivation

Psychologists and others have studied what motivates people for hundreds of years. The question at hand was always to try to understand and explain why people behave the way they do and what leads them to make decisions.

Abraham Maslow, a noted 20th-century psychologist, published the famous “hierarchy of needs.” In his motivational model, physical needs are at the bottom of a pyramid, followed by safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization at the top. The idea is that each succeeding need cannot be addressed until the one(s) below it have been satisfied.

Roy Chitwood, the president of Max Sacks International, an international sales training and consulting firm, looked at it a different way. His theory focused on “universal buying motives.” These include desire for gain, fear of loss, comfort and convenience, security and protection, pride of ownership, and satisfaction of emotion.

Contrary to popular belief, money isn’t the only incentive that motivates an individual. While the strength of a buying motive varies for each individual (buyer or seller), being able to tap into this information helps the sales manager know how best to appeal to and support the salesperson — in much the same way that a salesperson should understand the buyer’s motives.

Developing Skills and Providing Effective Tools

Just like there is no single motivation that will appeal to the entire sales force, every member of the sales team has vastly different skillsets. Some are more tech savvy; others have stronger interpersonal skills.

Regardless, it is the sales manager’s job to continually assess salespeople and help them become better listeners, presenters, or speakers.

Daniel Pink, TED speaker and author of Drive, The Surprising Truth About Motivation, advocates for mastery, which builds confidence and self-reliance. His premise is that people want to feel achievement. They want to succeed, but often, they don’t know how.

Sales managers who teach their sales teams with patience, creativity, and compassion, rather than judgments, measurement, and badgering, will inspire their sales personnel to want to learn and get out there and close more sales. “How can I help?” will win more loyalty than, “How come you’re behind?”

Similarly, it is important for sales managers to provide their teams with the tools they need to excel. Whether those tools come in the form of laptops, mobile devices, iPads, high-quality presentation materials, CRM systems, and other means of tracking the sales process and progress, all are necessary for continuous improvement.

Creating Collaborative Environments

Collaborative goal setting addresses two needs: the company’s and the salesperson’s. Goal setting by itself is a double-edged sword. Sales objectives provide a highpoint to aim for, but they need to be fine-tuned for differing individual performance IQs.

“Rainmakers” (top sales performers) may not need the same incentives as the core performers. From a Harvard Business Review article, “Motivating Salespeople: What Really Works,” authors Thomas Steenburgh and Michael Ahearne say, “Core performers usually represent the largest part of the sales force, and companies cannot make their numbers if they’re not in the game.” The right culture will inspire both groups.

While money is one form of motivation (desire for gain), salespeople at all ends of the rainmaker spectrum need to feel valued (satisfaction of emotion) and rewarded (security and protection) for who they are and what they bring to their profession (pride of ownership). That’s why a transparent, collaborative environment of trust, creativity, and innovation is paramount.

Even in a collaborative environment, however, sometimes salespeople are in a position for which their skillsets and personality are no longer a match for today’s business development. If a sales rep has the desire, contributes to the team, works hard, and is committed to the company’s success, maybe there’s a way to retain them in a different capacity.

How Can We Help Each Other?

Sales managers need to be champions of encouragement, support, and validation for the teams they manage. One way to start is to make sure every salesperson knows the company’s mission and vision and their role in achieving those aims. When salespeople know and understand the “why,” they are likely to become more performance-driven.

Second, sales managers need to demonstrate their support consistently, even when sales don’t meet expectations. It’s especially tempting to point fingers at times when sales fall short, but doing so serves no useful purpose.

A better alternative to playing the blame game is to have open dialogues, review sales individuals’ motivating factors, hone old skills and embrace new technologies, and implement positive changes that will make it rain sales dollars in the months to come.

For those who have lost their commitment to the company’s mission and vision and who aren’t dedicated to improving their skills, they will probably realize it is time to go. If they don’t, management will make the decision for them.

Gerri Knilans is president of Trade Press Services. As marketing communications strategists, serving organizations of all sizes and types since 1995, the company provides writing, media outreach, and general marketing support to help clients accelerate growth and generate more visibility, credibility, and name recognition in their marketplaces. Visit or email

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