The Truth About Motivating Salespeople! - Fileboard

We’ve seen them plastered all over office walls, pasted all over the internet, and repeatedly recited by sales coaches…but motivational sales quotes aren’t enough. Here’s why:

The largest marketing investment for most B2B companies is…

Sales reps.

According to the Harvard Business Review, U.S. companies alone spend more than $800 billion on sales force compensation each year – three times more than they spend on advertising.

And when it comes to motivating those costly sales reps, relying solely on sales quotes and a “you can do it” attitude is a recipe for disaster.

Why You Should Ditch The Sales Quotes And Aim To Soar Rep Motivation

Besides boosting ROI from reps, there’s another equally important reason you should focus on fanning their motivation:

Replacing sales reps is extremely expensive, and can bruise your business.

The average cost of recruiting, hiring, and training an employee is typically 200% of an employee’s annual salary. To put this into perspective, let’s say you lose an average of 3 reps each year. By enhancing sales rep motivation, your employee churn number goes down to 1 per year.

Which means, not only do you get a better ROI and a stronger performing team – you prevent a 400% employee salary from going down the drain, by simply motivating your sales team.

However, motivating your sales team to perform better has always been a tricky endeavour.

Squeezing more selling power out of sales reps isn’t as simple as throwing in one-off prizes, beefing up commissions, hosting sales contests, or stapling sales quotes on foreheads (I’d staple one on my own if it were that easy).

That’s why today’s post will explore sales motivation. We’ll dive into the truth behind motivating salespeople, helping you motivate your sales team to climb the ranks, close more deals, and perform better.

Harnessing The Power Of Intrinsic Motivation

Ever heard of the candle problem?

It’s an insightful study that exposes that harms of using money as a primary motivator. In the study, people are seated at a table against a wall, given a candle, some matches, and a box of tacks – and are told to work out a way to burn the candle without getting wax on the table.

One group was offered money for figuring the puzzle out,  the other wasn’t. We’d intuitively think subjects who had something to gain would perform better, right?

But the study proves the opposite; subjects who were not promised a reward performed significantly better. 

Naturally, we’re inclined to think higher pay will produce better results, but science proves that the link between compensation, motivation, and performance is more complex than that.

Yes, pay – up to a certain level – does affect motivation. But returns in performance from higher pay plateau rapidly.

A meta-analysis by Tim Judge and colleagues studied the link between pay, satisfaction, and motivation. The authors reviewed 120 years of research to synthesize the findings from 92 quantitative studies. The results?

The relationship between pay and job satisfaction and motivation is weak.

Research shows there is less than a 2% overlap between pay and job satisfaction levels. Also, the correlation between pay and pay satisfaction was only slightly higher, summarizing that people’s satisfaction with their salary is mostly independent of their actual salary.

Rewards like commission and salary are extrinsic motivators, making them unreliable indicators of performance. Intrinsic motivation however, has proven to be the stronger predictor of job performance and satisfaction.

Unfortunately – unless you’re a superhuman manager with mind controlling powers – you can’t install intrinsic motivation in reps. But, you can ignite an ember of intrinsic motivation into a warming flame by:

Having a company mission that unites reps. Humans have always endeavoured to contribute to something more grand than us. Deep down, we all yearn to fulfill a greater purpose. If you want more self-determined reps, you should embrace this. Does this mean reps have be selling products that cancer or save endangered rhinos? No. The point here is to stress how your team’s actions contribute to a greater good.  For example, let’s say you sell B2B products and services; you can inform reps on how their efforts are making waves for businesses across the globe.

Create a Teamwork Atmosphere.  Anyone who’s ever tried an exercise routine knows: motivation to exercise can dwindle rapidly. Which is why people like to buddy up and train with a partner. Multiple studies confirm that working out with a partner – even a virtual one – boosts performance, so cultivate an atmosphere of teamwork to heighten the intrinsic motivation of your reps.

[tweet “Research shows there is less than a 2% overlap between pay and job satisfaction levels.”]

Create competitive contests. Sometimes a good ol’e challenge is needed to fire up our motivational furnaces. Take for example Fitbits, the wearable fitness trackers designed to motivate couch potatoes. It’s not the technology that make them so effective, that’s simple and straightford. Rather, it’s the competitive circle it creates…

Fitbit’s app allows you to create a circle of friends that you can watch to see how your last 7 days compare to theirs; they can keep track of you too. If someone wants to encourage you, they can “Cheer” you…or if they want to be cheeky, “Taunt” you.

In the upcoming Fileboard release, many of these competitive and gamified elements will be implemented by:

  • Providing a sales leaderboard
  • Giving the ability for reps to start competitions
  • Using daily goals and tracking progress
  • Displaying self-performance analysis and where reps can improve
  • Giving positive reinforcement with tools like medals, badges and award etc.

Clarity Of The Sales Task

When talking about motivating salespeople, most of us fall into the trap of thinking of compensation or extrinsic incentives. Prizes, bonuses, competitions, and contests typically spring to mind.

But there’s an overlooked element that is rarely mentioned: task clarity.  A study by Harvard shows that one of the most powerful sales motivation elements is task clarity. Task clarity can be defined as:

“The degree to which there is a clear and positive relationship between exerting effort and attaining results.”

Now, the clarity of a task is heavily depends two things:

  1. How long it takes to receive performance feedback
  2. How accurately the results of individual salespeople can be identified

Researchers found a strong relation between clarity of the sales task and the performance and effort of salespeople.

Sales reps in a business products company reported how easy it was to describe their job and its impact. They happily told researchers that they all went by the numbers, got feedback every week, and easily see performance results.

However, sales reps in a transportation services company revealed the opposite. They reported that it takes months for them to get feedback. And even when they do, their sales reports are only 50% accurate. “I guess you could say no one really knows how well his or her territory is doing at any given time.”

The study found that motivation and effort were significantly higher in companies with clearer sales tasks. Mainly because the reps could identify the results of their efforts. (The other companies they analyzed revealed the same results.)

[tweet “You prevent a 400% employee salary from going down the drain, by simply motivating your sales team.”]

So, we know task-related ambiguity can kill a rep’s motivation, so how can managers boost the clarity of sales tasks and responsibilities?

  1. Limit responsibilities. Usually salespeople are given a certain location and told to “go get em”. But not only does this lead to overwhelm and confusion, it makes reps feel like they’re lacking priorities and have no control. Limit the number of accounts each rep is responsible for and give them specific goals for each account. This will allow reps to actually sell to those targeted accounts, not just pitch to hundreds.
  1. Give controllable goals. Reps must be given clear goals which they are able to control. This can include total sales goals or specific activity goals. It’s important to note that control is essential here. For example, making reps responsible for product shipping schedules or delivery isn’t wise. They have no control over those things. However, charging them with the responsibility of making x number of pitches or getting x product promotions is a stronger goal.
  1. Feedback Loops. Feedback is essential to clarifying a sales task. To stay motivated, reps need see the fruits of their labour. A lack of feedback can cripple even the most resilient of reps. Think about it, who wants to pour their time and energy into something that might not even be working?

  1. Reduce mental load. Having a quota or target to complete can be stressful. And stress –  as we know, can dampen motivation. You want your reps to worry as less as possible. Because for them to perform their best, they need to be focused on the task at hand. And that’s not easy when their brain is boiling with thoughts of how good/bad their last few pitches went. With Fileboard, reps get to view how their prospects react with their presentations and collateral, and prioritize their days based on the hottest leads. This leads to higher motivation and a reduced mental load, because they can view how they’re performing.
  1. Use an efficient sales process. An efficient sales process leads to clear sales tasks. Most reps don’t have an efficient sales process, which leads to mental stress as they don’t know what to do next.

Gamification and Progressive Wins

Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer asked hundreds of employees to maintain a diary recording their peaks and valleys in motivation at work. Amabile and Kramer analyzed 12,000 diary entries in total and what they discovered was totally contrary to conventional managerial wisdom.

In fact, Amabile and Kramer talked with 600 managers about what they thought was the single-most important motivator for employees at work. And guess what? A startling 95% of them answered wrong.

It’s wasn’t money, safety, security, or pressure that pushed employees at work.

The most important motivator for employees at work is what Amabile and Kramer call “the power of small wins“: employees are highly productive and driven to do their best work when they feel as if they’re making progress every day toward a goal that matters.

Selling successfully requires various committed actions. Reps have to approach cold leads, warm them up, nurture them: it’s a complicated procedure sometimes, and  requires multiple steps. This makes small wins even more important for reps, because they’re constantly brushing shoulders with rejection – which can extinguish motivation.  And a great way to incorporate small wins is to gamify the sales process.

Research shows that:

  • 31% more first year-reps achieve quota when supported with game mechanics
  • 9 out of 10 companies report that their gamification initiatives were a success
  • 71% of companies that used gamification saw 11-50% boost in sales performance

In this case study from the Fantasy Sales Team, implementing a gamified sales measuring and rewarding system significantly boosted sales rep motivation and performance.

“No longer was it a single carrot that was put out there for a sales executive to chase with a single goal. We could now put several metrics in place and the prize is more than monetary; because of the style of the game – winning amongst your peer group in a teaming design is also a motivator.”

Have you tried making small wins more measurable with gamification? If not, give it a shot.

What motivates you to win more sales and push through dull days? Tell us in the comments below

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on the Fileboard Blog in June of 2016 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.