What You Don't Know About Motivating Reps Can Hurt You

Elaina Engel

"Reps are just coin-operated machines. Pay them to get results." It’s a common phrase we hear frequently from sales leaders. And it's true that historically most companies have compensated reps this way. But today’s reps aren’t entirely motivated by money. Recent studies show that less than 30% of reps are exclusively motivated extrinsically. Reps that are extrinsically motivated perform in order to earn a reward and/or avoid punishment. These types of people are driven strongly by financial rewards. Which is why variable comp has played such a big part of most incentive plans. The potential for large upside earnings was thought to motivate the right behaviors.

But this research also means that over 70% of today’s sales reps are intrinsically motivated. This appears particularly the case with millennials. Another study demonstrated that the millennial salesforce is just as interested in long-term career opportunities, day-to-day experiences, and workplace culture (intrinsic motivators) as they are financial rewards. Intrinsically motivated people behave in a way that is personally rewarding. They do things that they enjoy because it gives them satisfaction. The more satisfied high-performing salespeople are, the better retention you will have, and the better results you will get.

Beyond money, there are at least six ways you can motivate your reps:

1. Recognition. Reps want to feel that they are making an impact on the company’s successes, and they want others to know it too. Even giving a rep a quick shout-out for recent success on a team call, or mentioning them in a weekly email can go a long way. When a rep is recognized for their hard work, it confirms that they’re a treasured asset to the team. If they feel that their work was recognized, they’re likely to reproduce even greater results.

2. Competition. Strong reps respond well to competition. Competitive reps want to compete with high-performing reps. They like knowing the "water-mark" and like the challenge of achievement. It’s like when good college football teams chant, “We want 'Bama!” It’s because they want a shot at beating the best to prove themselves. The same goes for sales reps. How can you get better if you’re just performing against mediocre players? And if they're not a top performer, this will make it easier for them to be called out.

3. Expectations. Managers should provide realistically high expectations for their sales team. They need to be realistic because the more the rep can achieve, the more they feel they’ve accomplished something. But they also need to be high because again, today’s sales reps like to be challenged. Don't be afraid of stretch targets.

4. Appreciation. Today’s reps love to be stroked, and they want one-on-one time with their managers. Nothing shows a manager’s appreciation more than taking half an hour out of their day to check in with the rep. See how they’re doing, what their pipeline looks like, if there’s anything they need to do their job better. This will also help build trust and define the relationship between managers and sellers.

5. Upward mobility. Many of today’s reps are focused on the “what’s next”. They want to know that high performance may allow them the opportunity to be promoted or gain more accountability. We’ve all heard countless times that millennial sales reps don’t stay at the same company long. But research shows if they know there is a possibility for an increase in responsibility, they’re nearly 40% more likely to stay.

6. Development. Today’s reps are always looking for elevated skill, deal, and personal development. This is where the tie between enablement and managers really comes into play. Skill development is enriching the skills it takes in each process of the sale. Deal development is a broader look into the sale as a whole. Defining the ideal customer and strategic selling. Personal development can be a plethora of things, and really depends on what the rep currently knows and where they can grow. Knowing that they will have access to further development can also help retain high-performing reps.

With today’s reps not being entirely “coin operated”, you need to make sure you’re also motivating reps in other non-financial ways. If you want an employee that can perform the same simple routine, over-and-over, paying them a bit more to do the task might be motivating enough. But we know that modern selling is less transactional and more complex. You need your reps to be more strategic in their selling. So it's important for managers to motivate them in more intrinsive ways so they execute these strategic behaviors.

Contact us if you’re interested in learning how high-performing organizations are training, enabling, and supporting reps. Our benchmark process data and best practices can help you build a healthy, motivated sales team.

Elaina Engel

Elaina Engel

Elaina focuses on enabling sales teams through analyzing best practices. Her consulting work has touched a variety of industries in healthcare, technology, financial services, media, and professional services.