How To: Motivate Your Sales Staff

Get creative with contests, commissions and bonuses to inspire your team.

By Emma Johnson, Success Magazine

Selling is a tough job—tough on the ego, tough on the energy level—which explains why sales reps are often some of a company’s highest-paid employees. But even a fat salary is usually not enough to combat steep competition, finicky customers and grumpy prospects.
“If compensation were a sufficient motivator, your people would already be performing,” says sales consultant and executive coach Mark Palmer. Instead, it is critical to identify what excites your people—maybe it’s cash, certain gifts, prestige, peer recognition or job satisfaction. But there is one unifying quality of all leading sales reps: “They want to be on top, and they want to be unique,” Palmer says. “They want to win.”

However, it’s critical to find ways to ignite an entire department, not just identify your leading sellers, says management consultant Doug Johnson. “Otherwise, the top three or four people work like crazy to win, and the rest of the people who are just regular good salespeople—not superstars—figure they can’t compete so they just give up,” Johnson says. “You have to create a program that allows everyone to win at some level.”

Consider these strategies to fire up your sales force:
Make commission a driving force. To get the results you want, shake up your commission structure. If you want to push a new product, offer a higher cut for that model. Make sure staff members are encouraged to land the big fish with proportionally big payoffs. Johnson once worked for an insurance company where the receding commission structure discouraged sales reps from going after the big, tougher-to-sell policies. The midsized policies were the reps’ sweet spot, and cost the company lots of lost, big, profitable policies.

Build winning teams. Creating sales teams—in which there is an incentive for each member to support, mentor and encourage the other members—has proven valuable in many ways.

Build in peer pressure. Publicly posting sales, margins and conversion rates lights a flame under everyone.

Get the whole company behind the sale. After all, the whole organization’s survival depends on the sales department’s success. Announce contests and campaigns to the whole firm. Encourage supporting departments—such as customer service, engineering and marketing—to be supportive of the sales staff’s efforts.

Find out what motivates. Ask your sales team what they want. Experiment with different bonuses and prizes. Often, cash is king. Sometimes highly luxurious items that are reluctant self-purchases might be big winners. Other times, less tangible prizes—such as the ability to telecommute once a week—can resonate with staff.

Mark Faust, business consultant and author of Growth or Bust: Proven Turnaround Strategies to Grow Your Business, advises clients to award performers with a day off, which might include a golf course pass. “Giving a vacation day is one thing, but a vacation day that includes the fee for the pay lake or greens fee is another,” Faust says. “They are being paid to fish or golf, and they have to do it—they aren’t stuck at home with a ‘honey do’ list or just a boring day off.”

Keep it frequent. The key to successfully motivating sales staff is to build a strategy into the daily work. Small but frequent tokens of accomplishment might include a can of soda for making a daily quota, or an early out on a Friday for a week well-done.

Another of Faust’s ideas: “hour power coupons” granting a contest winner a pass to play games in the company break room or hit the gym in the middle of the workday. “The key is to give them out in multitude and frequently, and let the rep choose the exact time,” Faust says. “The one hour off has an excellent ROI, since the employee returns to their desk refreshed and hits the ground running.”