People & Human Resources

How to manage and motivate a sales team

SmartCompany /

How do you motivate your sales team? There are seven key skills. I was asked recently how to motivate sales people so they reach and exceed targets, initiate new business, and persist when it’s tough.


I believe there are seven key skills:


  1. Select the right people.
  2. Clarify expectations.
  3. Provide resources.
  4. Monitor performance.
  5. Develop skills.
  6. Reward and motivate.
  7. Provide support.




Whether on the phone, or face-to-face work, and whether large or small sales, you need to look for these winning characteristics:

  • Highly motivated and enthusiastic.
  • Good presentation skills, self-confident face-to-face/speaking/written (and a match to your approach/strategy on phone, a face-to-face or education level).
  • Great listening skills, always calm, open.
  • Experience – sales or product or industry – will always be helpful.
  • Eager to learn, develop skills and be challenged.
  • Persistent – copes with rejection, or can handle a long sales cycle if required.
  • Competitive.
  • Attention to detail, accuracy.


So ask a range of questions, try a role play or simulated case study and always check references. Build in a trial of one to three months to ensure a good fit – for you and them.


Sales people will always operate best when they know what is expected of them. Everyone needs performance standards and measures – objective and clear – both quantitative and qualitative (for example, well-defined behaviours, standards, ethics and so on). Involve the sales team in setting goals and quotas – break down overall corporate goals into annual, monthly, weekly and even daily goals for teams and individuals.

  • Set realistic goals that are achievable, and improve on past performance. Daily and weekly goals help provide a sense of accomplishment.
  • Be clear about accounts/territories/products – allocate to particular sales people.
  • Have regular team meetings to communicate expectations and gain feedback. Agree on objectives for the week.
  • Talk to each person 1:1 – get to know them better – go out for coffee, or have lunch – uninterrupted. Clarify expectations and link their personal goals to their work goals.
  • Put expectations in writing – for individuals and the team.



Give people the right tools and equipment to focus on their jobs, so they don’t get frustrated:

  • Mobile phones, laptops, a good headset.
  • Car/travel allowance.
  • Customer entertainment (set clear ground rules).
  • Provide promotional material – price lists/ads/displays/ brochures/website/slides/info/samples. Product and service information.
  • Features and benefits breakdown.
  • Testimonials, FAQ list.
  • Allow sales person to trial item/service – if appropriate.
  • Sample proposals, templates, contracts, quote forms, letters etc.
  • Scripts for presentation or telesales.
  • Data/records management.
  • Good database – up-to-date, de-duped.
  • Extranet or intranet service.
  • Contact management software.




Track results and/or observe the performance, and relate it to the agreed performance measures – and give feedback. Listen – monitor calls, or accompany them, question their approach, and note positives and improvements needed.

  • Display results – charts, stats, visuals. Use a board/graph – update daily, share information and data – open for all to see everyone’s performance.
  • Test strategies – for example, alternative scripts for cold calling – what results?
  • Get feedback from customers – on the performance of the sales people – even as part of a 360-degree evaluation.
  • Encourage feedback from your sales staff – regarding products and services, and insight into customer comments and complaints. They know best what customers want, like and dislike.



Know each person in the team – strengths and skills to be developed, and adapt to their style/language. Give feedback when performance is not good – immediate constructive feedback (not aggressive or punishing), and be specific, provide examples, and make suggestions for improvements.

  • Use skill breakdowns, sales presentations, prepare scripts, AV resources, checklists, and role models (sales managers should be able to demonstrate these).
  • Bring new ideas and speakers, and use visualisation – of achieving the goal, as a rehearsal of the sale, of achieving their own personal goals.
  • Discuss the pain, don’t ignore it (of not reaching target, or losing a sale).Learn from failures and mistakes, share failures, and self disclose. Each failure is a step closer to the sale. Don’t let them get demoralised by a setback, or carry on with contagious negative beliefs, such as generalising, approval or comfort seeking.
  • Study and analyse best sales people – as a group – then mirror and match.

And if their performance does not improve, coach them, pair them with a good person, or help to find alternative role/job.


Salespeople vary in age, family responsibilities, and education – so understand their needs and what motivates them.


They have different needs at different times of their lives – when younger and newer, they require reassurance and encouragement. As they get older they have more commitments, and have a strong need to be successful, want higher rewards, promotions, recognition.


You will need incentives to keep the best sales people satisfied. As they reach their late 30s and 40s, they crave status and formal recognition, respect of peers and superiors, and often have a high need for rewards or status symbols – car, entertainment allowance, etc. As they head towards retirement age they may want to make less effort, work less hours and also have less commitments.


  • Payment and rewards should be simple, clear, and consistent, with easy formulae to calculate commission – not on hours but on defined results. High salary will suit the security conscious, but reps like commission. Bonuses are best based on gross not net – as net profit can have hidden costs, such as overhead.
  • Use team bonus as well as individual, for example, an extra $10,000 for whole team – and get them to decide on an even split or a percentage proportional to effort and results (they soon manage each other).


Sales people are very motivated by recognition – so give lots of praise. Celebrate wins as they happen – give mini rewards like movie tickets, dinner, surprise gift, cash. Celebrate a big win, or end of a project.

  • Offer opportunities for growth. Give challenges – additional tasks, new areas, training.
  • Plan social events for the team – relax together.
  • Break from the grind. Keep the energy up – sports/trivia challenges. For seated sales people – get them standing and stretching.
  • Balance or minimise pressure tactics. Motivating through fear may only be useful for short term results.
  • Don’t reward underperformance.


Protect them from attacks from other parts of the business. Provide support for your team – and collaborate with other departments such as production, marketing, administration – so it is all made easy for the sales people.

  • Deliver on all promises. Build trust.
  • Do their job, at least once a week – so you stay in touch, and can demonstrate the skills. Show passion, confidence and persistence – model these behaviours.
  • Care about their lives outside. Be supportive, understand the pressures, including customer rejection.


If someone is flat and burnt out, talk with them and discuss the reasons. Show you care. They might need more challenges to motivate them – different territories, new team, new products, bigger accounts, coaching new recruits, developing products.





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