How to Motivate Your Sales Team: A Behavioral Approach

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Erin Balsa
Erin Balsa


When deals are closing left and right, your salespeople want to keep winning. Each closed transaction is a super mushroom, expanding their motivation and pushing them to continue.

But what happens when your team runs into trouble — an enemy like a recession? Just as Mario shrinks back down to his normal size, your sales team's motivation can shrink, too (especially if your people are money-motivated).

how to motivate your sales team using a behavioral approach

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It's your job as the sales leader to motivate your sales reps in good times and in bad. You need a framework for building intrinsic motivation and lasting engagement.

Today you'll learn how to take a behavioral approach to motivate your sales team.

It works when everything's swell in your kingdom, as well as in times of crisis, uncertainty, and change.

How to Motivate Your Sales Team Using a Behavioral Approach

Start with understanding their behavioral preferences.

Sales managers may try to get reps to work harder by running sales contests. Those can work in the short term, but financial motivators are one slice of the pie.

Another slice is treating people the way they want to be treated.

Collecting behavioral people data — and using it to tailor the way you motivate, coach, and communicate with individuals — is a popular talent optimization practice. According to the 2020 State of Talent Optimization Report, companies that practice talent optimization see 34% higher employee performance.

Here are two ways you can collect behavioral people data:

  • Ask each person on your team questions like, "Do you prefer public shoutouts for a job well done or private recognition?" and "Do you enjoy brainstorming on the fly or getting your thoughts together prior to a meeting?"
  • Use an assessment to measure individual motivating needs. You can consider points such as, how dominant is this person? Does this person prefer to work heads-down or with and through others? Is this person wired to innovate or execute? Are they comfortable delegating?

Both methods allow you to understand your team members' behavioral preferences. And there are pros and cons to each.

  • Asking questions is free and you can get started immediately. But some employees won't answer honestly, and others may not have the self-awareness to answer at all.
  • Assessments have a price tag, and it takes time to find the one that's right for you. But they provide quantitative data — and a clearer picture of who a person is at their core.

With your new behavioral understanding, tailor the way you coach and communicate based on individual personality.

Say you discover one sales executive has a deep-seated need to "do things their own way." Following a rigid process all day with no room for deviation would sap their engagement and motivation. But knowing this, you can find ways to give them the authority to make decisions and solve problems their way to keep them fired up.

But the employee-manager relationship is just one factor that influences engagement and motivation. Next, we'll look at the employee-team relationship, another big influencer.

Facilitate team cohesion by helping everyone appreciate each other's differences.

Imagine a world where everyone on your sales team stays "above the line." When teammates experience conflict, it stays healthy and productive. People communicate well. They're accountable. Respectful. Self-aware. And committed to being the best version of themselves.

Might sound like a far-off dream, but there are ways to make this happen.

The next slice of the motivation pie is helping employees understand and appreciate each other's behavioral preferences.

If you're working on building an inclusive sales floor, remember to celebrate behavioral differences in addition to diversity of gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, etc. Set the expectation that all differences are to be celebrated, and be sure to repeat the message often.

Working in an environment where you can bring your whole self to work without fear of being judged sets everyone up for success.

It builds a foundation of trust and psychological safety. People feel more able to share frustrations and challenges — and get those resolved — rather than suffering in silence and mentally checking out.

At my company, we have the saying, "Every behavioral pattern is beautiful."

We also speak in behavioral terms to describe the why behind our feelings and actions. For example, if a person notices they're dominating a conversation, they might say, "I'm sorry. I just realized my high dominance is taking over. I want to be sure you get a chance to comment."

Understanding why someone is behaving a certain way can minimize interpersonal friction. It changes the talk track from "that person is so rude/annoying" to "that person is wired to be dominant and probably doesn't realize they're not giving me a chance to speak."

When your employees are engaged and motivated by working with their teammates, it's time to make sure that momentum lasts, no matter what life throws at you.

Build resilience so your team can perform at its best, even in times of change.

Recovering from a reduction in force? Going through a merger or acquisition? Change is stressful. And in times of stress and change, people tend to lose motivation.

They also tend to lean into their natural behavioral strengths — even though that can be counterproductive.

The final slice is keeping people motivated through periods of change and adversity.

Dream teams are resilient. They can weather any storm and come out the other side stronger. To build resilience on your team, each person must understand:

  • Their everyday behavioral style.
  • The counterproductive behaviors they may overuse in times of stress.
  • How to avoid counterproductive behaviors.

Let's walk through this, using a BDR manager as an example:

  • This person typically communicates in a direct, candid way. They remain focused on work completion and goal attainment. In normal times, this behavioral style works.
  • In times of stress, their communication style becomes more intense. They're seen as interpersonally insensitive. On a remote sales team, they may be perceived as more terse than usual because there's less face time. They tend to escape into their work. These behaviors hurt team morale, kicking a group of people who are already feeling down.
  • This manager should ask self-reflection questions like, "Am I stuck in execution mode when I should be looking for alternative solutions?" and "Am I being too critical?" Then they might remind themselves to watch their intense nature. Or to check in more often with employees to keep a pulse on morale.

One final bit of advice: It can also help to think of every person on your team as a leader — even the newest SDRs. As Jim Speredelozzi, VP of Sales at The Predictive Index, said in a LinkedIn post, "Think of your sales team as an ‘Officer Training School … expect EVERYONE to succeed and grow."

how to motivate your sales team using a behavioral approach

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Level up your chances of hitting your sales goals.

The employee-manager relationship is critical to engagement, and resulting intrinsic motivation. Gallup found managers make up 70% or more of the difference in engagement levels from team to team. But having positive employee-team dynamics plays a big role in motivation, too. And motivated teams crush their sales goals, even when life throws them lemons.

Not sure of your team's ability to defeat the enemies that'll come your way? Use talent optimization and behavioral people data to level up your chances of winning.

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