How to motivate a sales team.

The paths to becoming responsible for a team are as many and winding as the myriad of thoughts that rush through your mind when you see for the first time within your job description that you are now “responsible for motivation of the team”. If you need to motivate a sales team these principles will help you out.

One size doesn’t fit all

The subject of motivation is one of the most written about areas in business and a huge industry surrounds the topic. A quick Amazon search delivers over 105,000 returns but despite all of this research and outpouring of accumulated knowledge there is no ‘best way’ to motivate.

On a more practical level, seasoned sales professionals utilise a range of theories based in psychology (behavioural and cognitive), pseudo psychology and of course the good old “university of life” but again you will not find a consensus and the reason for that is simple: there is no one best way to motivate a team. It takes trial and error, persistence, flexibility and intelligence in addition to hard work, diligence and some degree of luck.

Encourage, don’t do

Motivation is not something that you do to someone. Motivation comes from within a person and you can only aim to understand the factors that affect it and then create an environment in which it can occur. How is it that someone who can be considered unambitious or “unmotivated” at work can outside work be highly creative and active with perhaps involvement in clubs or volunteering, or even run their own successful small business? The answer is simple - personal motivation. Everyone has their buttons that can be pushed. There are times when a rousing speech or a motivational speaker can “rally the troops” and put fire in their bellies, but like a firework they can be very impressive in the short term and leave little lasting legacy.

Individual and team level

While you can create common goals for a team, that team will only be motivated if the individual members are motivated. Think of it like the wheels on a car - to make the car ride smoothly each tyre has to be individually adjusted.

Factors that affect motivation

Asking ‘what motivates people?’ is difficult as everyone is different. Money is an obvious answer, but in reality money in itself is not a motivator for people. Your team do not take their money home, put it on the coffee table and stare at it. The value of money is what can be done with it. For some money will represent security, for others it will enable hobbies, holidays, or education for their children. When you have an insight into how money is used you will get a better handle on what really motivates someone and from this you can get an idea as to how you might help their motivation in the future. A bonus of £50 may not be a lot if included in a salary, but as a surprise two tickets to see a show for a team member who loves the theatre may work wonders. The cost is the same but the impact is entirely different.

There are a large number of factors that affect personal motivation but it is worth recognising one important point. Things aren’t always what they seem, so don’t assume. A good example is what are called “towards” and “away from” motivators. The outcome may look the same but the motivation for doing the action is entirely different. If we were to look at two individuals who go the gym each day it could be assumed that their motivation is fitness and that would be correct - however one person could have a “towards” motivation, such as ‘I want to get fit so I can run a marathon for personal satisfaction.’ The other could have an “away from” motivation, for example ‘I want to get fit because my father was overweight and suffered health problems, therefore I want to avoid that happening to me.’


Once you accept that teams are made up of individuals, and you understand their individual motivation, you can consider team motivation. For a team dynamic to work each member must understand the common goal and their role and responsibilities within it. Team achievement will mean different things to different members so both the communication and any incentives involved must account for this, but there really is no golden rule to ensure that you always get it right. The reality is that even with your best efforts, on occasions you will get it wrong. When that happens try to understand what went wrong and learn from the experience. Motivation may not be the easiest subject to master but when you get it right it is one of the most rewarding.