Is it possible to find sales motivation in sports strategy?

In sports, there’s a popular saying, “You’re only as good as your weakest player.” This quote emphasizes that it’s not just the all stars who light the way; it’s the whole team, leading one another towards the gold. Even the most remarkable plays are only possible because the rest of the team set the stage for the winning shot.

So if you think about it, sports are not too different from sales. There’s an end goal (to win), a coach or team leader, game plans, goals, records, high stakes, skill, discipline, persistence, great attitudes and possibly some luck.

So, what do you do when some of the “weaker” members of the team lose their sales motivation? “Drop down and give me thirty?”

Luckily, not all the metaphors translate literally.

Sometimes, to get the team back on track, it just takes a little more effort and creativity on the sales leader’s part. We’ve compiled 5 easy and exciting strategies for sales leaders when tackling the art of building sales motivation.

1. Reward your sales team with unconventional incentives.

Instead of sticking strictly to cash incentives, or the same list of gift cards to motivate your sales team, spice it up. Make your incentives fun and personalized. Is there a touring musical or big concert coming to town that your sales team would love to attend? Buy tickets, and let that be an incentive. Or, make rewards a group effort: Take the whole sales team to a musical, concert, amusement park, or local event after they meet monthly quotas. Rewarding your employees with fun activities, rather than just cash, builds strong bonds and relationships at work. Check out these 25 incentive ideas.

2. Have honest, meaningful conversations.

Do you actually know what motivates your employees? Have you asked them? It sounds kind of awkward, but sitting your employee down and asking specific questions, like “What motivates you?” can cause a great breakthrough in boosting morale. Perhaps you’ve been using too much positive but vague encouragement, and your sales member is motivated by more concrete tactics, such as sharing results and numbers, or brainstorm sessions with the team? Perhaps they are motivated by timely recognition, opportunities to learn new skills, or autonomy? Let them tell you how they learn best. Ask: what really gets you going? What do you love about sales? What feeling does it create in you? Aside from money, why do you love sales? What motivates you to do great work? It will remind them of their passion, and that golden bliss when someone on the other end of the line says, “Yes.” Plus, you’ll become more effective at leading them.

3. Offer additional training, or learning opportunities.

It could be that your employees are bored to tears by the day-to-day monotony. They’ve caught on to how to do the job, do it well, and now they’re just going through the motions. For creative people who crave variation and growth, this is the worst (especially if your team is comprised of millennials!). Boredom at work is a big de-motivator for everyone. Offer a challenge. Find a nearby conference that is known for interactive, riveting discussion on sales tactics and motivations. You can even let your employees do the research for you on upcoming conventions. They’ll get to engage with new faces and fresh ideas, stretch their minds and ideas of what’s possible, and return to work fired up. Another very simple option is to create a library of popular books on both sales tactics as well as the art of telling great stories.

4. If you can’t afford a conference, bring a speaker or coach into your workplace!

This is where the sports theme comes back in! Bring in someone unexpected, someone not even related to sales: a winning high school or college coach. Someone who knows how to work a room and engage their audience. This is a more affordable option, and can restore the excitement in just one afternoon! For those with super tight budgets, another alternative is to find a video online of a motivational speech, or watch a movie together, like Glengarry Glen Ross. On top of motivating your team with this fun activity, you’ll find out where the phrase, “Coffee’s for closers only” comes from.

5. Build trust within your team.

The greatest teams are those who can rely on one another. They uplift, motivate, give, and bring out the best in their teammates. Would you put your trust in a stranger? Likely not. Wouldn’t your team be stronger if they actually felt and operated like a team? Trust-building exercises can be a fun technique to boost morale, ranging from physical exercises (falling backwards, letting an employee catch you, dancing, partner yoga) to simple games, like having your employees write down their most embarrassing moment on a sheet of paper they do not sign, so the other employees guess who wrote what. It lightens the mood and builds ground for further connection. Another easy option is to encourage your team to recognize one another in public for a great presentation, cold call, or landing a big deal.

Go big, go bold, and go for gold.


For related content, check out our 2-page guide: How to Motivate a Sales Team.

And for more leadership techniques, our four-part series, “Putting the Human in HR.

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