Managing Salespeople

Motivating an Ambitious, Driven Team

Managing Salespeople - Motivating an Ambitious, Driven Team

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How do you manage people who always want to be the first over the finish line?

Janine is an experienced manager, and she has led a number of highly successful teams in the past. So, when her boss asks her to manage a team of salespeople for the first time, she is excited about the opportunity.

However, after eight months in the role, her team is underperforming, and she isn't sure how to turn things around.

For example, people often arrive late for meetings, and morale is at an all-time low. Competition between sales reps is fierce, and these rivalries affect everyone's sense of unity. And some people struggle to work together on even simple tasks, which means that they spend their time arguing.

Leading a team of salespeople needs a subtly different approach from the one you might use with other groups of people. For example, sales professionals often need autonomy and strong motivators (among other things) to meet ambitious performance goals.

In this article, we'll look at how you can manage and motivate a sales team effectively.

The Challenges of Managing a Sales Team

Sales professionals are often ambitious and driven, and they value freedom and independence in their jobs. However, their motivation can plummet if you don't make your expectations clear, or if you fail to communicate performance goals and metrics.

Some salespeople may want you to give them high-level objectives, but not to tell them how to do their jobs, especially if you lack sales experience. So, you're likely to clash with people if you try to micromanage them.

Another common challenge is team cohesiveness. Effective sales professionals can be naturally competitive, and team unity and morale can suffer if you don't handle this appropriately.

Motivating and Managing Your Sales Team

Use the strategies below to motivate and manage your sales team effectively.

1. Lead by Example

One of the best things you can do for your sales team is to lead by example, even if you don't have a sales background.

Think about the behaviors or habits that you want to encourage, and make sure that you demonstrate these regularly. It's important to embody these values, if you want your team to follow your lead. For example, always act with honesty and integrity, and make sure that you arrive on time for team meetings.

2. Develop Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence, or EI, is the ability to understand and control your own emotions. It also means that you're sensitive to the feelings and needs of the people around you.

People with high EI often experience increased job satisfaction and greater team cohesiveness. Sales professionals who are aware of their actions and emotions, and who understand how these affect others, perform better than those who lack this important skill.

Develop your own EI, and, where appropriate, work with your people to develop their emotional intelligence, so that they can build better relationships with their colleagues and clients (however, be aware that successful sales people may already be highly skilled in this area.)

3. Build Good Work Relationships

Your team members might compete with one another, but they can still have good working relationships.

Healthy relationships offer many benefits: higher team morale, increased productivity, greater collaboration, and more freedom to focus on opportunities.

Good relationships also make it easier for teams to reach an agreement on group decisions. One study found that consensus plays a critical role in boosting sales team effectiveness.

To build stronger relationships, create opportunities for people to get to know one another outside work, and allow some time for socializing during office hours. For example, you could encourage informal conversations before meetings, take your team out for lunch, or arrange other social events. These small steps help to build the foundation for great working relationships.

4. Understand Your People's Personalities

To manage your team members effectively, make sure that you understand their individual strengths. This understanding will help you to customize your motivation and reward strategies.

What are their greatest strengths and weaknesses? What motivators have worked for them in the past? And what do they care most about now?

Consider asking your team members to complete personality and strengths tests, such as Myers-Briggs and the StrengthsFinder, and use the results to start creating a "personality profile" for each person. You can then use these profiles to assign people tasks that play to their strengths, and you can identify and address any important weaknesses.

5. Tailor Rewards and Motivators

Each of your team members is unique, and they're likely to be motivated by different things. For example, one person might crave recognition from top leaders in the organization, while another might prefer an extra day off to spend time with their family.

Use McClelland's human motivation theory and Herzberg's motivators and hygiene factors to start thinking about what motivates your team. Then, look at the personality profiles that you created in the last step, and talk to your team members individually to find out what they value.

Possible motivators could include the following:

  • Bonus and commission checks.
  • Paid time off.
  • Further training, or advanced career development.
  • Learning or certification opportunities.
  • Paid attendance at an upcoming trade conference, or membership in a prestigious business group.
  • Small gifts.
  • New leads, or a new territory.

Make sure that you provide your team members with appropriate compensation. Are they happy with the way that pay is structured? And, do they feel that it's fair and balanced, especially if it's based on performance? Discuss this with your team members in private, and address any concerns that they have honestly.

Our article on "Motivating Without Bonuses" has more strategies that you can use to motivate your team when budgets are tight.

Finally, keep things simple. Ask each person on your team what he or she wants most. What they say might surprise you!

6. Set SMART Goals

Next, set SMART goals, and link them to each person's specific motivators.

Your team will likely have weekly, monthly, or quarterly targets to meet. However, keep in mind that activity-based goals can be just as effective.

For example, closing two new accounts per month could be a shared goal in your organization. While this can be a useful target, it might encourage sales reps to harass prospects at the end of the month if they haven't achieved it. This could damage your company's reputation, and it may lead to lost opportunities.

Instead, consider setting activity-based goals, such as making a certain number of cold calls each day, or scheduling a set number of appointments each week. This takes away the pressure to make the sale, and it gives team members the freedom they may need to build positive, long-term relationships with clients.

7. Create Competition

Take advantage of your team members' natural competitiveness, and encourage healthy competition as a way to engage your people, boost morale, and make work more fun. Competitions are also excellent for improving performance during slow periods.

Focus the contest on a strategic business goal that you all need to meet. Devote a wall in the office to the competition, and post news about wins, display real-time updates and standings, and celebrate achievements.

To make the competition interesting and valuable, offer a small prize or reward. Ask your team members what they would like to receive, or use your own judgment to come up with something creative.

8. Recognize Achievements

One of the best ways to motivate your sales team members is to recognize their achievements on a regular basis.

Praising your people could be as simple as giving a "high five" when they reach their goals, or pinning up a handwritten note on a "bragging wall" in the main conference room.

Recognition from you is a powerful motivator, but it can be equally as valuable when it comes from colleagues. Encourage everyone on your team to become champions of one another's success. Ask your people to praise their colleagues, and to notify you when they see them achieve a win. This way, you can collectively recognize their efforts, which will build morale and strengthen relationships.

9. Grant Autonomy

It may be that your sales team members don't want – or need – you to tell them how to make a sale. However, they do need you to set specific goals, and to provide support when they need it.

Give your team members the autonomy they need to perform at their best. Be available for those who do need further guidance, and let people know that your door is always open if they need more support.

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10. Become a Coach Or Mentor

Analyzing and reporting on your team's performance metrics is likely to be one of your top priorities, but you're also there to encourage your people to develop themselves professionally.

To become an effective coach or mentor, especially to struggling team members, spend some one-on-one time with the people who need your assistance most. Go through a SWOT analysis, look over their last performance review, and ask them open-ended questions to find out which areas they need to work on. List the top skills that they need to improve, and help them access the training they need to do this.

Focus on improving one skill every month or quarter. Provide regular feedback on each person's progress, and celebrate successes, no matter how small.

You could also pair a low-performing salesperson with someone who performs particularly well. This can create an invaluable learning opportunity for both individuals – the low-performer will learn sales skills directly, and the high-performer will learn management and leadership skills. Make sure that you recognize the contributions of each team member, as this will help build trust and respect with your people.

11. Manage Conflict Appropriately

Sales roles can be stressful. Your team members have to contend with ambitious performance goals, changing customer expectations, competition from other organizations, and constant pressure to close sales. This stress can lead to conflict within the group, especially when the corporate culture encourages competition.

When you handle conflict effectively, it can lead to growth and new ideas. Learn good conflict resolution skills, so that you have the ability to manage conflict appropriately when it arises within your team.

12. Provide a Suitable Environment

Salespeople, just like other kinds of professionals, need an appropriate work space in order to do their jobs effectively.

Make sure that you create an energizing work environment for your sales team, and take steps to minimize work space stress. It's also important to make sure that people can easily access the resources they need to meet their goals.

Key Points

Good sales teams are made up of driven, ambitious professionals. And, while it's tempting for sales managers to focus on numbers, it takes a lot more to motivate and manage a team of salespeople effectively.

Get to know the personalities, strengths, and weaknesses of everyone on your team. This will help you structure your team and tailor rewards to individuals, and it will increase their engagement and motivation. Don't micromanage people, set SMART goals for each member of your team, and take time to coach or mentor people who are struggling.