Five tips to help your team be ‘sales superstars’

Five tips to unlock the best in your sales team

April 5, 2017:

Managing a sales team can be tough, especially for a new sales manager, write Lance Mortimer and Bryan McCrae, in the latest in their series on sales psychology.

Selling has become tougher as buyers research products and services for opinions and reviews without even contacting a salesperson. The balance of power has shifted from seller to buyer and the relentless pressure on a sales team to perform can chip away at confidence while a sales manager is expected to keep the team motivated and productive.

Even for those salespeople who do make the grade, there can be high levels of burnout, greener looking grass elsewhere and consequently high staff turnover, adding to the already overworked manager’s workload.

Here are five ways to help your team stay motivated and at the top of their game:

1. Bonuses, commissions and reward schemes
The obvious and most common approach is through external motivators such as bonuses, commissions and reward schemes. Popular and essential as these are to attracting, recruiting and retaining salespeople, research consistently finds that once people are earning enough money to meet their needs, these schemes do not play a large role in motivation levels.

Instead, it is the recognition factor that drives internal motivation to do a good job and this can often be achieved with other methods, such as finding some good work to praise from each person. For example, sales managers can send occasional personal ‘well done’ letters to salespeople at their home address and this is always very well received.

According to Adams, it is essential that these reward schemes are felt to be transparent, fair and attainable by all; otherwise they will become big demotivators. To gain maximum reinforcement of desired behaviour, always try to make the reward happen as close in time as possible to the outcome that is being rewarded, otherwise the effect of the reward will be greatly reduced.

Tip:  To make incentive schemes as effective as possible, as well as rewarding the achievement of the final goal, make sure that the schemes actually encourage the specific behaviour that you want along the way. And don’t be surprised if people stop doing other activities to spend more time and effort on what is being rewarded. For example, reward the person who generates the most well-qualified leads as well as the person who sells most.

Lance Mortimer

Chartered psychologist Lance Mortimer

2. Ask ’why do you do what you do?’
Next we have the internal motivators. These are the personal factors that drive you to do what you do, based on your individual values and skills. For example some people may enjoy the tasks and activities of the job itself because they are good at them. Others may be driven by the challenges or the opportunities that the job can provide, or by ambition to move up through the organisation, others perhaps by personal development, learning more about their market, products, technologies, or the role itself. Some people gain most satisfaction from working with clients to help them solve their problems.

As the sales manager, you can’t directly affect someone else’s internal motivation yourself, but what you can do is help to align the salesperson’s internal motivators to company and team objectives. It is also important to recognise that these internal motivators are likely to change over time due to life stages and life events. As people settle down, form long term relationships and perhaps have a family, their motivational drivers may shift as their needs and priorities change.

Likewise, significant personal events such as marriage, illness, divorce or family and friends deaths are bound to impact on what is felt to be most important in life. As a manager, being understanding and flexible in what you expect of your people under these circumstances pays dividends.
When recruiting, looking for alignment between company and individual values and goals is a crucial part of the selection process. When a good match is found, it is likely to improve engagement levels, performance and retention.

Tip: Key to this is gaining an understanding of what makes each individual member of the team tick and what their personal values and goals are. Help them to identify how working on their business goals moves them toward achieving their personal goals and align their development plans and roles in a similar way.

3. Cultivate a sense of belonging and be their coach, not just their boss

The third set of factors includes the social motivators, which are about a sense of belonging to something larger and feeling appreciated. Being part of a team and working with a manager and people that you like and respect is highly motivating. On the other hand, if you feel that you are an outsider, that your manager doesn’t care about you, or that your opinions don’t seem to count, then the opposite is true and you’re likely to want to be looking for a new role elsewhere.

When you receive regular support, encouragement and real coaching from your manager, this can have a transformational effect on motivation, resilience and performance levels. Just to explain, real coaching involves helping others to find their own solutions to problems, as opposed to mentoring or training.

However, it is often the most successful salespeople who are promoted into sales management positions and these individuals are often not very focused toward people development and nurturing of team members. Instead they are often very competitive, success and action orientated and can often feel that they have greater selling skills than their team members. On occasion, this can lead to them being the ‘super salesperson’ and not a manager. They may focus on what is seen to be ‘wrong’ and take a problem solving, or driver approach to management, rather than emphasising coaching, development and future possibilities.

As such, where there is a deal to be won, their desire to win at all costs may result in them jumping in to the sales process themselves, or telling the salesperson what to do, rather than listening, questioning, supporting, collaborating and coaching.

Tip: Make sure that you have a good on-boarding and continuous development process for tenured salespeople and new recruits, assign mentors, do real coaching and organise regular social team events to help new recruits settle in and the team to bond at the personal level.

4. Help them deal better with their successes and failures

People deal with success and failure in different ways and some ways are more helpful than others for building and maintaining confidence. It is important to remember that there are always multiple factors behind generating a new lead or winning or losing a particular deal, as well a good serving of luck.

There is a balance to be struck between learning from mistakes and beating yourself-up and consequently demotivating yourself. If a professional footballer misses a penalty, they need to get over it as fast as possible and move on. It is the same in sales.

Bryan McCrae

Award-winning sales psychologist Bryan McCrae

Whilst the salesperson can influence many factors and perhaps control some of them, they are never 100{06b6b360492ea91dcf5956ae2bf4e3e9ada2ae4dc734c18526569b7e6363d027} in control of the outcome of any sale. There is also the danger that the way failures are dealt with can lead to inaccurate and unhelpful self-limiting beliefs such as ‘we never win if we are the last to present our solution’.

It is important that the salesperson recognises their personal contribution to winning a deal, to reinforce the behaviour that helped to bring about the success, even it was a relatively small contribution. But when there has been a failure such as a deal being lost, we need to look beyond the ‘excuse’ of “we lost it on price”. The manager needs to help the salesperson to reflect and learn lessons from it that they can utilise in the future; to recognise the many other factors that were likely to contribute to the outcome, then move on quickly. In effect, a good manager can help to encourage a learning culture to promote future success.

Tip: When there has been a success, coach the salesperson to identify what they personally did that made a difference and how they could use that in the future. When there has been a failure, if they seem to be taking it badly, help them to identify what it was they did well, where they could have put in more effort as well as some of the other factors beyond their control that were likely to have been in play, such as new competitive offers, existing relationships, unlucky timing and so on. This will help to maintain their confidence and motivation so they are ready to make a success of their next challenge.

5. Help them to take control of their own emotions and motivation when under pressure
Top sports people and athletes are taught how to manage their own emotions and motivation by sports psychologists and it is widely recognised that the ability to do this is what separates sporting superstars from the rest.

It is the same with salespeople and the very same techniques that are used in sports can be applied in sales organisations, resulting in an uplift in productive activity and sales results. Increasingly, more enlightened sales organisations are now recognising that investing in the psychological aspects of high sales performance pays large dividends and some of the largest and most successful sales organisations are focusing their training on this area.

What we believe we are capable of, how we deal with setbacks, how we deal with pressure, how we manage our emotions, how we interpret others’ emotions, how we deal with our successes and failures and what our default thinking habits and patterns are, all play a crucial role in motivation, resilience and sales success.

In a similar way, how we to choose to behave when faced with challenges feeds back into how we feel about ourselves, how we behave in front of customers and ultimately our own performance.

Tip: To maximise sales performance, review your sales training and development plans to make sure that motivational and mindset factors get as much expert attention as skills, process, systems and knowledge.

Follow these five tips and you’ll see your team become more motivated, confident and resilient. As their manager, you’ll be supporting them more effectively and enabling them to reach their full sales potential.

Embracing the mind game in sales will soon have you on the way to having your own team of sales superstars, winning more business than ever before.

Lance Mortimer is a chartered business psychologist and senior talent management consultant at Level 3 Communications

Bryan McCrae is an award-winning sales psychologist and managing director at

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