7 Questions to Find Out How to Best Motivate a Sales Rep

Dave Kurlan
Dave Kurlan



couple_cheeringThe motivational tactic that resonates best with one salesperson might actually demotivate another. Motivation is highly personal, so sales managers should take the time to understand the specific preferences and drivers of each member of their team. 

But it can be hard to know where to start without a framework. I thought it might be helpful to share seven questions you can ask your salespeople to determine how they’d like to be motivated.

For instance, do they ...

1) ... Love to win, or hate to lose?

It's a subtle difference, but you would take a completely different approach to motivate each of these types of salespeople. For example, personally, nothing at all happens when I win -- I just acknowledge the win and move on. But something visceral occurs when I lose. I might think about my loss for a full 24 hours before moving on. I hate to lose!

You might motivate salespeople who love to win by coaching them toward the win, whereas with salespeople who hate to lose, you could first ask them how they will feel if they lose this opportunity, and then coach them to avoid this outcome. Keep in mind that you might have to help your reps determine which category they fall into.

2) ... Spend money to force performance, or perform and spend their commissions as a reward?  

Just like the first example, the difference is subtle, but your motivational approach should be different in each case. I’ve always spent money to put pressure on myself to perform. For example, the money required to do or buy the next great thing might not be available to me today, but I usually make the purchase anyway and then perform to generate the required revenue and commission. Over the past 40 years, I have learned that if I wait until the money is in hand after the fact, my urgency to perform isn’t as strong. When you know which approach works best with each salesperson on your team, you can frame their goals in the proper context.

3) ... Prefer to be pushed by the sales manager, or push themselves?

If you are familiar with the famous “death crawl” scene in the movie "Facing the Giants," you understand what it means to be pushed to get better. Some salespeople need to be pushed quite a bit, while pushing others the same amount will make them want to quit. Identifying how the rep best responds allows you to either do the pushing, or learn how to provide them with a context to successfully push themselves.

4) ... Perform better when closely managed, or when left alone?

Some reps cannot function well when left to their own devices. They don't self-start and need to be directed and/or part of a team. One of my salespeople works best independently -- yet he needs to be supervised or he loses focus. Another works best when part of a team, and he doesn’t need supervision; he’ll do whatever we’ve agreed that he needs to do. When you are aware of the preferences and needs of your salespeople on this spectrum, you can put each in a scenario where they can perform consistently and effectively.

5) ... Achieve more when competing against others, or against their own expectations?

I have always performed better when I compete against myself. My son performs better when he competes against the most elite opponents. Could you get your mediocre salespeople to rise to the next level if the competition was compelling enough?

6) ... Respond better to recognition, or the satisfaction that comes with meeting and exceeding goals?

For some, it doesn't get any better than hearing their names called out, receiving an award or plaque, reading about themselves, or being listed as the winner. Others could care less about all of that because the self-satisfaction they get from knowing they're the best is all they need.

7) ... Feel motivated by proving someone else wrong, or proving themselves right?  

There are some salespeople who are motivated to achieve greatness because someone told them they would fail at sales, that they weren't ready for this role, that they couldn't sell that big account, that they wouldn't beat out that competitor, or that they could never earn that much money. Others just need to validate their own beliefs. Knowing which one is right for each member of your team provides you with a motivational advantage where the right words at the right time can make all the difference in the world. 

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