I’m sure you know a few salespeople who are always buzzing with energy and enthusiasm. Then there are those who are hyper sociable and then those who just want to be left alone to get on with their calls. As being in charge of sales in my previous company, I was tasked with building and managing a high-performing and ultra-motivated team made up of an amazingly diverse group of characters. I was the one accountable for ensuring my team kept hitting their targets and sales quotas. Additionally, I had the daily stress of planning, organizing, training and coaching my salespeople, while dealing with escalating customer complaints. 

Here are some of the “managerial” problems I encountered as a Sales Manager:

Coaching & development of reps
Coaching my team and developing their sales skills was one of my most important responsibilities as a Sales Manager (as it had a noticeable impact on results). It was also among the most difficult to execute due to its time-consuming nature. With constant fires to put out, coaching was often neglected. When I did find time for coaching, I felt that the time was not used as efficiently as I’d have wanted. 

Motivating reps 
Keeping my team motivated was a key priority. I realized quickly that a “one-size-fits-all approach” was only partially effective.  What motivated some members of my team, were completely non-motivating to others.  Time off was great for some people, while others preferred bonuses, and others were motivated by internal competition.  

Encouraging weak performers without neglecting the high performers
The Pareto Principle definitely applied in my team. I noticed that 80% of my mid-tier performers barely showed improvement, while and 20% were the usual top performers. 

High turnover
Hiring top talent was not enough. Once on my team, I needed to work really hard to make sure they were motivated enough to stay in my team! It was these challenges that got me thinking about alternative ways to inspire my team and strengthen their performance. 

Success depends on understanding what “drives” people 
To tackle the different challenges I faced, I brought in an organizational consultant, someone with vast experience working with sales teams and that can improve my reps’ performance and my skills as a manager. 

What I discovered was interesting:
The key point is this: You don’t stand a chance of motivating your salespeople if you don’t have a handle on their psychological and emotional drivers. The academics agree. According to Nohria and Groysberg, of Harvard Business School, and Lee, of the Center for Research on Corporate Performance, motivating employees begins with recognizing that to do their best work, people must be in an environment that meets their basic emotional drives to acquire, bond, comprehend, and defend. Take reward systems. For them to truly lead to good performance, they must fulfill people’s drive to acquire. The drive to bond is best met by a culture that promotes collaboration and openness. Jobs that are designed to be meaningful and challenging meet the need to comprehend. Processes for performance management and resource allocation that are fair, trustworthy, and transparently address the drive to defend. By tackling all four drives, organizations can hugely improve motivation levels. 

I decided to try and address these “drivers” by injecting creativity into the workplace through challenges and games, prizes and incentives. Because I understood that “one size fits all” approaches don’t work, I made sure to base training and coaching sales teams on understanding each members’ uniqueness: their own communication style and what motivates them individually.

I realized I’m on to something great and I took this one step further and joined forces with the same organizational consultant I hired to help me with my sales team, and founded a startup whose mission was to use Artificial Intelligence to transform sales team motivation at the level of the individual. And in so doing, I would make the lives of future Sales Managers that little bit easier.

I hope my article will provide you with an additional point of view on how to improve your sales team’s motivation and performance. I strongly recommend using your coaching, one-on-one time and other resources in a personalized way rather than a “one size fits all” approach.