Sales Motivation: It’s Not Just About the Benjamins

The age-old question: What motivates people?

In this post, I’ll examine what motivates your sales team and how to design compensation, recognition, contests and social pressure to work in your favor.

I’ll lean on experience from running NetTel, a lead generation and appointment setting firm I founded back in ‘08. During that time, I tried everything imaginable to motivate my team.

Sales Motivation for Your Team: Where to Start

The first step for most organizations when trying to generate sales motivation is to look at the commission plan. While it’s true that a well designed commission plan is one way to get the most out of your team, commission alone is not sufficient enough to achieve a state of peak motivation for your team.

Different people are motivated by different stimuli. There’s a common theme of breaking up your team into stars, core performers and laggards (call them what you want).  Lumping each of these three levels of performers together helps you to make more sense of their performance, but doesn’t really help when looking at what motivated them to perform the way they do in the first place.

I’ve always been a believer that different people are motivated differently. Some want to win at all costs, others are purely motivated by money, others by recognition, by power, by being part of something.

But how do you motivate all of these different types of people in a way that gets the most out of your entire team? Here are the ways in which I found I was able to get the most out of the teams that I’ve managed:

Phase One: Commission Structure

When designing a commission structure for your team, you should first think about what it is that you want to motivate them to do. Keep in mind, if you incentivize your team to do something, they will do it. That means it better be what you want/need them to be doing, or it will be detrimental to your results.

At NetTel, I wanted my team to book as many completed qualified appointments as possible. I had some reps who booked tons of appointments with a low occurrence ratio, which could annoy our clients and decrease the value of our services.

In an effort to combat this, we added a kicker of $250 for each appointment over a 75 percent occurrence ratio. In order to get the best meetings possible, we also included a kicker for any appointments that received a feedback score; reps received between $100-$200 in incentives per month, based on their score. We found that by adding these kickers, our team thought not only about quantity but also thought about the quality needed to keep our clients happy.

I’ve talked to many companies that want to control costs and in turn apply a cap to the commission structure — that’s a great way to get your team to stop working or start sandbagging when they hit the cap.

Strongly consider having an uncapped commission plan that motivates your team to keep selling, booking and servicing your clients, if you want to get the most out of top performers.

Phase Two: Social Pressure

Sounds like a negative — like you are picking on someone — but it’s not. I’ve found that using a variety of methods to get your team to compete helps you get the most out of them.

For example, some reps just aren’t as motivated by money as you’d expect. But those same reps might hate to lose or at least hate to be at the bottom of the pack.

The three biggest areas I’ve seen impact performance are sales leaderboards,  sales contests and activity in the bullpen. Here are guidelines on each:

1. Sales Leaderboards

I’ve used this method to get my team to not only hit bigger numbers, but also to do things not on the comp plan, like gather data on calls.

Each week I would produce the “Data Noodle” report…super simple idea. Using a Salesforce report and some magic from my SFDC admin, I was able to track how many pieces of new data a rep gathered and put into Salesforce each week. From there I would export the report and color-code it. The top rep was named the data champion, with no prize, and the bottom rep was named the Data Noodle. I then posted the list all around the office and put a copy on each rep’s desk, all the while walking around giving them congrats and in some cases a hard time.  

This approach helped us increase our data gathering by more than 150 percent in just a few weeks. The point is: They were already getting the data on calls, but they were not putting it into Salesforce because they didn’t see an immediate benefit to themselves. By gathering this data, we were able to turn around lists of direct dials, which were then given back to the reps who gathered the most data.

2. Sales Contests

I’m a huge believer in sales contests. I was an early adopter of technology that automates it.  

First using Hoopla as one of their first customers and then LevelEleven, which I still use to this day.

Check out this article from the The Wall Street Journal that talks about our legendary March Madness contest.  I ran this same contest at RingLead last year to increase qualified demos booked by almost 200 percent.

To some, sales contests may seem corny, while others think you need extraordinary prizes to have contests work. Think about a simple game of basketball or ping pong against a friend or colleague. Is there an enormous prize at the end?  Would it be more fun to just volley or shoot around?  No…why? Because most people like to compete, and win!

Some people like to win more than they like to make money. It’s not rare these days to see an NBA player take the veteran minimum just to play for a winner, when they could easily get paid more to play for another team. Not all players will do this — some will just take the highest paycheck — but this illustrates why it’s important to have multiple forms of motivation, so you can get the most out of everyone on your team.

3. Sales Activity 

At one point I had over 30 reps on the phone, on the same floor (not simultaneously talking, but dialing at least). Our training process included new hires spending time shadowing each of the top reps in that group.

The best new reps were champing at the bit to get on the phone, because the energy in the room was contagious. It’s nearly impossible to sit at your desk and not hit it hard, when 20+ other reps are making calls, booking appointments and going up to the board to mark another appointment.

I had one top rep come in at 9 a.m. (some guys had been there since 8 a.m.), and if one of the other top guys was already on the board, he would be melting down. He was so ultra-competitive that it would drive him nuts that someone else was beating him for the day/week. If you have a core group of performers who hit the phones hard, have fun and break some stones, you will see great results, as it will motivate the rest of your team to perform.

Don’t be afraid to try different things to get your team going. I’ve tried lots of approaches — some worked, some failed miserably. If something doesn’t work, then don’t give up. Just try something else to get them going, and make sure to maintain variety.

About the author:

Dan Ceravolo runs the Sales Development team, as well as Sales Ops for RingLead. Dan founded and led NetTel Partners, a technology appointment-setting firm, for six years prior to joining RingLead. 

Want more expert advice from other top sales leaders like Dan? We put 101 tips all together in a single eBook for you. 

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