How to keep your sales team motivated

Michael Simonyi Davison

Many – I’d argue most – businesses do relatively little to address motivation in their sales team through anything other than financial reward.

For most businesses operating in the B2B (business-to-business) space, remuneration of the sales team is the single biggest marketing expense.

Business owners are, therefore, always looking for how best to keep members of their sales teams motivated and at the top of their games. In addition to commissions and bonuses, there are no end of internal competitions, with prizes such as trips away to exotic locations, dangled in front of salespeople to incentivise them.

But stop and think for a minute. Isn’t that sales team of yours made up of individuals?

And aren’t those individuals typically at different levels of experience, competence and performance? Does it make sense to treat them all the same, then?

How might we more effectively address this?

Let’s start with the 20/60/20 approach, which suggests that 20% of your sales team are stars, 60% are core performers and 20% lag behind.

Motivating the stars

Start by not putting a cap on commissions. Having a ceiling is common practice, but discriminates against your best performers, actually encouraging them to stop selling.

Instead, offer additional ‘over achievement’ commissions, paying at a higher rate once a threshold is reached. These people aren’t just hitting budget, they’re overachieving, and there’s little reason not to have them share in the financial benefit the business gains.

Motivating the core

Having commission triggers in place can be effective with this group. Review the percentage of budget historically achieved by core performers, individually and as a group. Set thresholds at which commissions are progressively earned, so that that individuals can see attainable targets continually ahead, encouraging them to keep stretching, rather than demotivating them by being unreachable.

Motivating the rest

Those lagging behind can be made up of various types: new hires still in ramp-up; experienced but complacent salespeople; and those who simply don’t have the ability of their peers. Fundamentally, we’re looking to move the good underperformers up the curve, whereas a different conversation is likely to have to happen with the others.

Research shows that paying bonuses more, rather than less, frequently can help lower performers up the pace, or intensity, at which they work – quarterly payment schemes, rather than annual, have been shown to be more effective.

Having a bench of talent can exert social pressure on this group. For instance, having a development program in place for members of your internal sales team and making it known that you actively promote from the internal sales team to the external one, lets underperformers know that there is potentially a rising star ready to replace them.

Another social pressure tool is to ensure high visibility of performance across the business. Nobody wants to be consistently viewed by their peers as an underachiever – those who are motivated to do something about it are likely to act. Those who aren’t, well…

And finally, while I’ve focused largely on compensation plans, but there is another, critical facet to motivation. Dan Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us argues that humans are more motivated by intrinsic than financial reward. Yet, even though the jury is largely in on this, many – I’d argue most – businesses do relatively little to address motivation in their sales team through anything other than financial reward.

I think I’ve found next month’s topic!

Michael Simonyi, Senior Consultant, Davidson Corporate