Want to Motivate Sales Professionals? Applaud Their Resilience


There’s a whole lot of psychological know-how behind managing people directly responsible for gross revenue. Be it inside or outside sales (or fundraisers – the non-profit synonym for sales) these career professionals are the first to admit they’re a breed unto themselves. To master the art of sales team motivation, the first rule of engagement is to understand what drives these folks.

Psychologist, anthropologist, and marketing guru G. Clotaire Rapaille, in a 2006 interview with Harvard Business Review, talked about his psychology of sales theory. Rapaille’s fascinating work captured the attention of large multi-national corporations around the globe; proof you might say, that substantiates his position.

“Salespeople are Happy Losers,” Rapaille explains. “Whether they know it or not, they are like addicted gamblers; they are after the thrill. On some level, addicted gamblers know that they are going to lose most of the time, but they are excited by the outside chance of winning. Salespeople share that temperament. They are pros at losing.”

Why would anyone choose that job? “For the chase,” asserts Rapaille.

The secret behind sales team motivation, he suggests, isn’t so much about money, though that’s an important factor, it’s the value placed on their struggle. It’s linked to showing you understand how hard it is losing so much of the time and applauding when the odds are beaten. “Hold huge company meetings where you give a salesperson the gold medal of rejection: Jonathan sold 500,000 computers last month, but he was rejected 5 million times! It may sound ludicrous,” Rapaille says, “but this is the way to get fire in the belly of your sales force.”

Inside sales people often work in a vacuum.  Once they pass on a sales lead they don’t have much visibility and can feel undervalued. Letting them know what’s going on is a big deal.

  1. Hold weekly one-on-one meetings by phone or in person. Though you might not have much to talk about all the time, it keeps doors of engagement open.
  2. Give lots of performance feedback to show they’re contributing to the overall sales process
    • What are outside sales people reporting back after their conversations with potential leads identified inside?
    • Are connections being made with the correct decision maker?
    • Is there sufficient probing? Accurate evaluation?
  1. Analyze approaches, give alternative suggestions.
  2. Review results monthly, quarterly, annually.
  3. Tell them when a door they opened has resulted in a sale; share in their excitement and celebrate how they’re making a difference.
  4. Sometimes inside sales people think they can make more sales if they’re in the office longer, throwing their work/life balance into a tailspin. Support flexibility and autonomy. If they’re held to their sales numbers most people can self-regulate and manage expectations.
  5. If possible, adopt an open-concept layout so inside sales people can watch each other fail and succeed, commiserate, collaborate and pick up on one another’s contagious motivation.

Outside Sales Team Motivation

When they close a deal, successful outside sales professionals don’t happy dance, they pick up the phone to start all over again, feeding off the adrenaline boost – especially when a big deal comes in. But sometimes, like their inside sales colleagues, they can feel isolated, out of the loop. Left unchecked, their engagement with the organization drops along with sales.

  • Let them know you’re working on things in the background to help them out (streamlining processes, investigating digital marketing opportunities, new technology, automation).
  • Recognize outside sales people want to contribute to more than the organization’s revenue stream. Hold weekly or bi-weekly best practice sessions to open lines of communication and help them feel more involved.
  • Remember the power of human connection. Written correspondence can be blunt and misinterpreted when recipients read between the lines. Call over texting or keyboarding.

Celebrate Their Resilience at Every Opportunity

To give some perspective around the conundrum of sales professionals, Brevit blogger Brian Williams reports:

  • It takes an average of eight cold call attempts to reach a prospect
  • 80 percent of sales require five follow-up calls after a first meeting
  • In a typical firm with 100 to 500 employees, an average of seven people are involved in most buying decisions

Although patience isn’t a typical trait associated with sales professionals, it’s an absolute necessity. So too is that thick-skinned gambler’s sensibility Rapaille says North American sales people need to cope with their jobs.  The art of masterful sales team motivation is about encouraging, acknowledging, and celebrating resilience whenever possible and getting the C-suite cheerleading too. After all, where would your organization be without “Happy Losers”?

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