How to Keep Your Salespeople Motivated

UPDATED: April 25, 2014
PUBLISHED: April 25, 2014

How do I keep my commission-based salespeople energized and eager to make sales?

➽With commission-based employees, it’s not always about the money. Promising boatloads of cash for results doesn’t necessarily motivate, just as chastising someone for failing to make quota often has no effect.

That’s because with salespeople, “the desire to be successful in their profession and among peers is extremely important,” says Dawn Brolin, an accountant who offers QuickBooks training and support to small businesses. As a result, recognizing top earners through sales contests (find out who’s top dog), incentive prizes (for reaching various milestones during a campaign) and peer recognition (a shout-out from the boss in a newsletter or meeting, your photo on the wall for best sales in a specific month) works well because the seller stands out from the rest of the team.

For a fairness approach, set up different compensation plans for your salespeople based on their productivity. Don’t have your A-team compete against the C-team, or the C-team’s performers won’t bother trying. It’s like weight classes for wrestlers.

Brolin suggests giving each salesperson a written list of objectives. Beside each goal indicate your expectations for completion, perhaps with a numeric system­—an 8 or 9 for those with a strong possibility of completion and a 10 for a certainly accomplishable goal. The tougher ones might be assigned a 3 or 4; doable goals that aren’t slam-dunks might be rated 5 to 7. “You’ll find your salesperson will not only achieve those goals but have the passion and desire to continue that success with the next set of goals,” she says.

Above all, don’t view individuals who sell for you solely as moneymakers, Brolin says. “Find out what they love to do outside of the job and reward accomplishments with a set of tickets to see their favorite sports team play or a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant, whatever you can do to show appreciation in the short term will provide success for everyone in the long run.”

Old sales models are broken in many ways, thanks to an uncertain economy that makes retailers wary of taking on new products. Wendy Krepak, founder of Card Cubby, a small organizer that stores loyalty and credit cards, says salespeople face additional challenges from retail websites and social media, which help businesses sell directly to customers.

So just having sales reps in far-flung locations is no guarantee of success. “You need to stay in contact with [remote salespeople] and manage them, so they’re not discouraged by rejection,” Krepak says. Coach them, check in often, solicit their opinions and feedback, let them know what’s working in other regions, and share good news often.

She adds that “you absolutely cannot rely on commissioned reps as your sole source for exposure in the retail market.” To move products in today’s marketplace, Krepak says you must market through multiple channels—social media, traditional print and broadcast marketing, networking and building word-of-mouth through speaking engagements, and by attending product fairs and selling them yourself.

Salespeople have to stay motivated—to keep their heads in the game until the buying decision is final. Find out why, in sales, you have to play the game until the whistle blows.

Tory Johnson is CEO and founder of Spark & Hustle, a weekly contributor on ABC's Good Morning America and a contributing editor of SUCCESS magazine.