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I recently read a sales manager comment on a LinkedIn group that the topic of motivating salespeople was meaningless. His point was that if you have to motivate a rep to achieve more, the rep probably shouldn’t be in sales. Salespeople should motivate themselves.

The problem with his attitude is that it absolves him, the manager, from even broaching the subject of motivation with salespeople. Fortunately, his opinion is not shared by all managers I work with.

When I conduct my sales management training seminars, many participants often lament upon the difficulty of motivating their sales teams. They all want to know, how can their teams be made to become more focused on their sales goals?

It isn’t really surprising that this is such a common question, given the frequency of reported “will” or attitude problems, as well as the comparative difficulty of resolving will deficiencies. And, at the same time, one team member with a poor attitude can be contagious, lowering total team performance by as much as a third according to recent research. But, what can be done?

To begin with, it is important to understand the motivators that drive each member of your team. Each individual will generally have a primary and secondary motivator, each of which can help you. Generally, frequent motivators include achievement, recognition, the challenge of the work, opportunity to move up, and money. If you incorporate these into goal planning and coaching conversations, as appropriate, you can drive your team toward greatness.

A good starting point might be to ask your salesperson to identify what their “money goal” might be for the next year and how they might reach it. Remember, this isn’t just a dollar amount, but something specific they want to achieve with the money. Then, as the conversation continues:

Check for understanding of the compensation plan

I once had a sales rep who had a definite money goal in mind and thought that he also knew what he needed to sell to get there. He envisioned gaining 20% more income via a 20% increase in sales. Yet, our company pay structure actually meant that a 20% increase in sales would net him a 30% increase in income for the year. That is a lot of extra money that he did not even know about, and served as an excellent motivator.

Find out why the money goal matters

This is the heart of why the money goal is not just a dollar amount. People want money so that they can do something with it, whether that be investing or buying a dream home. Learn what your salespeople’s goals are. Often, you will find people saying they are motivated by money because it’s what you want to hear, but they will not have connected that dollar amount to a personal goal.

I once asked a sales rep this question, and he couldn’t answer. He had a wish for a set dollar amount, but not a goal for what to achieve. Yet, after thinking about it overnight, he came to me and announced that he wanted a BMW 5 series. Then, he had a goal to work towards.

Learn what motivates them

Money is not the only motivator which may be at work, and it’s not wise to make the mistake of assuming that it is. While many will be motivated to some extent by the financial aspect of the job, true motivation is intrinsic. It is thus important to learn if achievement, recognition, promotion potential, or the inherent challenge of the work play a primary role instead. The best way to do this is to ask them what they think is rewarding about their job.


After having your motivational conversation with each of your salespeople, remind each of them often about their money goals and offer them your encouragement. In the case of my salesperson who desired a BMW, I got him a brochure for the car, which he taped to his mirror to see every morning until the day he obtained his brand new BMW.

Satisfy their motivational desires. A desire for achievement might be satisfied by noting their successes to the team as a whole, while recognition could be offered by having them offer a presentation to the senior leadership. A desire for more responsibility or promotion might lead to involving them in hiring or having them serve as mentors and guides for new salespeople. Be creative in finding ways to satisfy each of your team member’s needs.

Be proactive. There is no motivator which cannot be addressed via proactive sales coaching. This offers your team greater achievement potential, while also offering the recognition of your time and attention. It also serves to make you a positive role model while letting your team better understand what they are doing well and how much they have yet to learn, even as they come to desire learning it from you.

To be a motivational sales coach, you must also be a proactive sales coach, using your newfound knowledge of what motivates each member of your team to continuously drive them toward greater success.

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