Carrot not stick: how to motivate your sales team to work hard and effectively


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As a sales manager, it’s your responsibility to obtain the maximum output from your resources. While this may sound rather cold, in reality, it usually means getting the most from your teams. Most people recognise that the harder they work, the more they can achieve. So, how do you set about encouraging your team to consistently strive to achieve high quality work?

1. Understand drivers
Firstly, you need to understand what motivates your team members. Most people have a strong desire to work hard and improve. Typical drivers of such people may include the desire for more money, recognition, autonomy, challenge or variety. Once you know which drivers are most relevant for each team member, you will be able to motivate more effectively.
If, however, you discover that your team consists of people who are marking the hours, then you probably need to find yourself a new team.

2. Link work output to satisfaction of drivers
Working lives can follow either vicious or virtuous circles. Here are two scenarios.
In a vicious circle, a person may desire more money and autonomy but may never meet objectives, instead working on activities that have little value to the business. In a pay review, the manager may judge that person’s output as poor, and give a low (if any) pay rise with no increased autonomy. The employee becomes de-motivated and thus the pattern continues year after year.
However, in a virtuous circle, a similar person who has the same desires, of money and autonomy, may ensure that s/he identifies high-value activities, sets challenging objectives and consistently meets them. At pay review time, the manager evaluates that person’s outputs, but this time, the outcome is very different. The manager is delighted with how this team member has driven the business forward and has always met objectives. A generous pay rise is awarded and a conversation about promotion and autonomy follows.
As a manager, you can motivate your team members by helping them to understand this virtuous circle. Establish with them what it is they need to focus on and what they need to achieve so that together you are able to work towards satisfying personal drivers.

3. Encourage hard work
What is hard work exactly? How much work constitutes hard work? The answer to this can vary according to, industries, people, types of work and economic cycles. As a good manager, you need to evaluate these considerations, together with the company’s objectives and make a decision about how much work to plan for each day, week or month.

People usually associate hard work with longer hours, and it may be that this is what you need from your team. People are typically resistant to working what they perceive as long hours. However, as manager, you again need to make the link between the work that your team members put in, and the fulfilment of their drivers.

In their paper, Managing for sustainable employee engagement, Rachel Lewis and Emma Donaldson-Feilder argue that “working longer hours isn’t necessarily detrimental. Research suggests that it is not the hours worked, but the underlying motivations behind the hours that is key. Therefore, working longer hours isn’t a problem if that individual is doing so for enjoyment and vitality…”. It’s an interesting point. If people understand that their drivers can be met though hard work, then, naturally, they are happier to undertake it.

Motivating your team is a key part of your job as sales manager, and it’s something you need to regularly monitor. When you understand drivers, and encourage your team members to make the link between their work and their own personal satisfaction, then you are well on the path to a virtuous circle. Encourage your team members to see that hard work can bring very personal rewards. Not everyone makes that connection. In the words of Thomas Edison, “the reason a lot of people do not recognise opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls, looking like hard work”.


  1. Hi Heather – because the Wells Fargo scam puts this topic in the national spotlight, I’m concerned that your post makes no mention of customer outcomes. I’d like to assume that ‘effectively’ in this context includes creating the best outcomes for customers using tactics that are both honest and ethical. But I’m not sure. “More money, recognition, autonomy, challenge or variety” don’t necessarily involve acting in the buyer’s best interests.

    To your point about obtaining the maximum output from sales resources, Wells Fargo did just that, and it worked badly for staff and customers. Only senior managers benefited, owing to the out-sized rewards they were granted. Now, those are receiving scrutiny.

  2. This is very useful information that all companies based in sales can benefit from. I can especially appreciate the point you make about vicious circles. It is so important to hone in on each individual salesperson’s best qualities, drivers, and personality type to equip them with the right tools to make the most sales possible. When you take the time to invest in your sales team to make them the best employees possible, they will notice that effort and feel worthwhile to the company. This in turn can help them become motivated to do better and better. Thanks for sharing!


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