Cheese, Check-ins, and Cheers: Engaging Your Sales Team

Scott Yates
Scott Yates



beer-cheeseSeasoned sales managers know there are three basic tips for engaging a field sales team: cheese, check-ins, and cheers.

In the old days, that used to mean money, accountability, and praise -- but today we know it's more complicated than that. Pavlov's dog only works to a point on a carrot-and-stick system. Getting your team engaged enough to "buy in" to every sales opportunity every day requires more thoughtful strategy.

Find Their Cheese

Money is the heart of the sales team's motivation, of course. No one goes into sales without a craving for that cool, crisp taste. That being said, money alone is rarely enough. There's typically a motivating factor beyond money that drives a person to sell, to grow, stretch, and succeed at selling. Or at anything. They have to have the carrot, but ultimately, they want cheese. Fulfilling, personally satisfying, comforting, cheese.

As a manager, it is important to get to know your sales team, and especially what motivates them. Why do they want the money? The answer to that is often your salesperson's real cheese. Finding out each team member's cheese will help you keep them moving toward a goal, rather than away from fear (of losing money -- the typical sales fear). Think of any group of people running toward something -- they are focused, engaged, and all going in the same direction. Think of a crowd running away from something. They are going every which way. You get the picture.

Let's say your team consists of a variety of cheeses: One person thrives on praise; another wants to be the Big Dog someday; and a couple of them are motivated by their ideas of the perfect retirement. This information does three things: It helps you to motivate them. It helps you pick them back up if they're sales are falling. And arguably most important, it helps build trust and loyalty between you and your team. Want to know a secret? Trust and loyalty from your team is probably your cheese. Yep. The carrot isn't enough for you, as a manager, either.

You can easily find ways to tie the carrot you have to offer -- money -- to the cheese your sales team really wants. Give different levels of praise for each new sales goal met; offer a week as the  team leader to those with the highest sales that week; provide a piece of the company as a reward for increasing sales, loyalty, and longevity.

Be careful, though, that you keep the winning of the cheese as a goal, not a reward, and be clear that not winning it is not a punishment. Cheese beats fear every time.

The Regular Check-In

This may seem obvious, but it's worth repeating: Your sales team must keep you updated regularly on their progress. Regular check-ins provide an opportunity for:

  • holding each team member accountable;
  • giving them clarity on the task at hand;
  • giving them motivational inspiration;
  • helping them solve problems; and
  • sharing newly created best practices developed

Whether through forums, daily team calls, or weekly in-person meetings, the regular check-in will keep your team accountable, motivated, and engaged.

Choose Your Cheers

Of course you use recognition to reward your team -- it's a proven motivational tool that engages your staff and inspires them to succeed. But there’s a new flavor of recognition that’s becoming more and more established known as “gamification.” One of the clear thought leaders in this developing methodology is Gabe Zichermann, author of three books on gamification. His research makes it clear that motivation with badges, levels and points really work for an breathtaking array of business goals. 

The best sales team managers, though, are choosy about the cheers they give. Knowing your team's cheese gives you an opportunity to be authentic in your praise. Go ahead and invest in the more material rewards, but a kind word from you that shows your confidence they will win their cheese is the best kind of praise. You're not just cheering them on to succeed in the firm, but to succeed in life.

"You don't close a sale; you open a relationship if you want to build a long-term, successful enterprise." – Patricia Fripp

Just as it’s the job of your team to open up those relationships, it’s your job to open up the relationships with your team. You need to always be selling to them their own value to the organization. They’ll see how well that works on them, and that will translate into their own sales efforts.

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