Motivation is one of the biggest challenges the sales managers face in leading their teams. We teach our sales reps the skills they need to be successful. We give them specific goals and make our expectations clear. We follow up with them to ensure that execution happens. We strive to do all the right things to motivate them to achieve. But still many of our team members don’t follow through. So what are we doing wrong? Why won’t our teams perform? Why aren’t they motivated to achieve?
The answer to what creates motivation is not an easy one. Traditionally, the business world has employed carrot and stick approaches, creating rewards for achievement and consequences for non-achievement. When tasks are relatively straightforward and the focus is just on execution, this type of motivation works well. However, as more research is done on motivation, it is becoming clear that when goals are complex and require more planning, thought or analysis, simple rewards and consequences can actually hinder productivity.
In his groundbreaking work on motivation, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink examined four decades worth of scientific research into motivation. The data and Pink’s finding’s reveal that the more complex the task being executed the less effective traditional carrot and stick motivation methods become. This is because rewards can keep people from looking for new and necessary solutions because they are too narrowly focused on just executing the task. Instead, research shows the real key to staying motivated in a more complex environment is finding the opportunity to direct our own lives (autonomy), the desire to get better and better at something that matters (mastery), and the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves (purpose).
Research on Sales Rep Motivation and the Role of the Sales Leader
Interested in the research of Pink and other experts, EcSELL Institute decided to further explore motivation, specifically in relation to the needs of sales reps in today’s selling environment. Just like with every other aspect of business, driving sales is no longer as simple for sales reps as it once was. As consumers and businesses have become savvy, selling to them requires more in-depth knowledge, critical thinking and problem-solving skills to understand their needs and devise solutions. No longer is just making dials, getting meetings and holding closing calls sufficient for a rep to meet their sales goal. With the selling environment becoming more complex and requiring more critical thinking and problem solving from our reps, it stands to reason that popular carrot and stick approaches can diminish a sales rep’s motivation. But if traditional rewards and consequences don’t work, then what can a sales manager do to keep their reps fully engaged and driven to succeed? By using the data gathered in our Through the Eyes of the Sales Rep study, EcSELL Institute sought to answer this question.
In our study, we asked questions of nearly five hundred front-line sales reps to understand the various factors that help them achieve better sales results. Specifically, we examined which sales management skills were most relevant to keeping reps motivated. We first measured how effectively the reps felt their managers were at motivating them to achieve their sales goals. We then asked the reps to rate their manager’s skillset across a variety of areas. Using this data, we compared the reps’ responses to identify the most significant correlations between the reps’ ratings of how effectively their manager motivated them to achieve and their ratings of their managers’ skills.
What these correlations showed was that a sales manager’s ability to coach (defined as helping reps improve their skills) and help reps in their career development are the two most relevant skills that managers can possess to motivate their reps to perform. Now, consider these correlations in relation to Pink’s research. According to Pink, having a sense of mastery (as well as autonomy and purpose) is the key to an individual’s motivation. What is interesting is that the sales management skills that reps identify as most correlated to their motivation seem to also be the sales management skills that would help the reps develop mastery. That is, when a sales manager is adept at coaching a rep to improve their skills and achieve their career goals, the manager is helping the reps create mastery of their role. Overall, there seems to be a strong consistency between Pink’s findings that people are motivated when they are able to develop mastery and EcSELL Institute’s findings that sales reps are most motivated by managers who are adept at helping them improve their skills and achieve their career goals.
What is of further interest in this study is the disparity between the skills that the reps identified as most important for their managers to have and the skills of their manager that actually motivated them to perform better. When asked to rank the skills of their sales managers in terms of importance, the reps identified their managers’ leadership, product knowledge and industry/market knowledge as most important. However, product knowledge and industry/market knowledge were the management skills with the very lowest correlation to actually motivating a rep to achieve their sales goal. What this disparity shows us is that even sales reps may not have a clear idea of which of their managers’ skills are the most relevant to driving their motivation to improve sales. The reps simply know that they are more motivated when working with certain managers and less motivated when working with others. So reps may say that having a sales manager who understands the industry and products is most important to them, but in reality, they describe their manager as more motivational when that manager is adept at coaching the rep to develop their own selling skills and their career overall.
Strategies to Develop Coaching Skills that Drive Rep Motivation
Knowing that a manager’s ability to coach reps’ selling abilities and help in the development of their careers are the sales management skills most closely linked to the motivation of their reps, it is important that sales managers focus on furthering their own skills in these areas. Here are some strategies to consider employing:
1. Pre-Call Planning
Oftentimes reps go into a sales call without clear objectives and plan of how to accomplish them. This ends up leading to one of the biggest sources of frustration for prospective customers, that is, wasting their time. By having your reps use a consistent pre-call plan (that covers areas like agenda, roles of participants, company research and major areas of concern), you can ensure they have an effective strategy to meet both company and prospects’ needs.
2. Post-Call Feedback
After riding along with reps on sales calls, it is essential for a sales manager to provide coaching on how the rep could further develop their selling skills. In our Through the Eyes of the Rep studies, one of reps’ most consistent complaints is that their manager doesn’t offer direct and specific enough feedback. By using a consistent post-call feedback process (that covers the major skills of needs analysis, presentation and closing), the manager can ensure they are giving consistent, in-depth feedback.
3. Professional and Personal Goals Discussion
In order to help a sales rep develop in their career, a sales manager must first understand what goals they would like to accomplish. To do this, we encourage an annual discussion that covers topics like a rep’s interests, under-utilized talents, personal objectives and professional dreams. By having a standard series of open-ended questions, the sales manager can ensure they understand where the rep wants to go in their career and how to support them in achieving these goals.
In conclusion, the aging of sales forces, the changes in our markets, the rapid evolution of products and technology, all create the urgency and need for sales managers to grow as leaders and coaches of teams. Given this, the understanding of motivation is both good and bad news. It is bad from the aspect that we can no longer use the excuse “my reps just aren’t motivated”. And, it is good to know we can control not just short term motivation, but with the right skills sales leaders can create teams where motivation is sustained.
For more information on best practices to motivate your sales team, join us at our upcoming Sales Coaching Summit