By T.E. Cunningham

It’s a regular note on any sales manager’s to-do list: Create a new idea to motivate the sales team! Commissions are certainly a part of that strategy, but to have a peak performing sales team takes much more. Here are five of the most important things we have learned managing sales teams:

You must have a great commission plan that functions around realistic budgets

Too many times we have been handed unachievable budgets by our CEO and CFO that we just pass on to our sales team. This action is unbelievably unmotivating to a sales force, especially when a good portion of their livelihood is based on it. Be honest with your executives; let them know you will move heaven and earth to move the team, but to do so – you have to have a high-performing, motivated team. Some of the more enlightened executives may let you create a “6th Man” budget that allows for a portion of the budget revenue to go unassigned. This amount can be offset by overachievement on individual budgets and will not negatively impact commissions for your team.

Manage to your team; do not make them manage to you

Ask each member of your team how they like to be managed? Adjusting to your salespersons’ different styles will ensure that they are more efficient and successful on the job. If you have a great salesperson who is a train wreck on documentation and paperwork – assign someone to help them with that part of it or do it yourself. The time you buy back for them will likely result in even more sales. Likewise, if you have an overly analytical salesperson with call-avoidance, help them develop a prospecting strategy that goes more to their skill-set such as becoming the resident LinkedIn prospecting genius on the team.

 Sales Promotions & Contests

In our experience, these can be fun and competitive in a good way, or they can just add to demotivation.

  1. Make sure the contests are such that the “newbies” on the team have a chance to win some of the prizes. Nothing will deflate a team faster than the same top salesperson who has been there 20 years winning yet another contest.
  2. Some salespersons quit the minute the contest is issued with comments like “there is no way I can win.” If they think that they can’t win, you have screwed up! Talk to them and find out what will motivate the entire team of individuals.
  3. If you wrap a contest around a fire-sale day (Lordy, how we hate those), make sure you make it fun, with regular breaks, food, beverages and prizes issued all throughout the day. Have your top brass stop by to thank them for the extra effort.
  4. Finally, make sure all goals and criteria are well-thought out, well-communicated and available for anyone’s reference during the contest.

Build Trust & Respect

If you have these two things with each team member, you are one of the best sales managers out there, and your people will follow you through thick and thin. It’s trite, but it’s true: Lead by example. If the worst part of their job is entering sales orders, then make sure when they are overloaded you grab a stack of their pending orders to help out and let them see you are not “above” doing what needs to be done for the department.  Ask them if you can bring them back a bite to eat when you can tell they are so buried they are unable to leave the office – or better yet, just do it. Give some recognition and perks to those on the team who help others out unselfishly or consistently stay late without complaining. A pair of tickets to an event, a gift card to a restaurant or coffee shop or just a thank you card with a heartfelt note are things that could matter to your employees.

Don’t Focus on Your Superstars

They are superstars; they don’t usually need your help – and when they do – they will tell you. Focus on the middle core and help them develop and grow. Additionally, new hires need a lot of time and attention, with excellent training and education. So many people new to sales fail because they didn’t receive proper training and support. You have to help everyone, but the other big favor you can do yourself and the team is to remove non-performers, especially negative ones, as soon as you know they are not going to be able to develop into a successful salesperson. Leaving underperformers who are negative, just don’t care to be successful or are lazy on your team will bring the entire department morale down and waste your time on non-productive issues.