The motivation triangle: the sustainable way to build a motivated sales team

After years of working in high volume short sales cycle sales, I’ve learned that motivation is a huge piece of the equation. These types of sales jobs are already difficult, but they tend to require handling a TON of rejection, and you won’t be able to handle that rejection unless you have a real reason to keep going. Managers and employers are constantly looking for new ways to retain their employees (you can sneak a peek at this blog here – as hiring new salesmen and training them do tend to take up a lot of their time and resources. So, now the real question is how do you consistently motivate a team?

Cash? Performance Management? I’ve seen these work over short periods of time when applied correctly, but its not a long term solution. Rewards and fear are ultimately forms of manipulation that won’t create a sustainable motivation environment week-in, week-out , month-in, month-out. While all of these ideas have been floating around for a while, they finally clicked and came together while reading Chris Lytle‘s Accidental Sales Manager because he spelled out each of the situations so clearly. Here are the 3 keys to creating a sustainable environment of motivation.

The Motivation Triangle:
  • Job Clarity
  • Success
  • Recognition

Job Clarity

First and foremost an employee needs to have an understanding of what to do, and how to do it. This should be a minimum requirement for onboarding a new employee and should be provided from day one to set expectations. It is also important to make the new employee feel welcome and part of the team, something that these swag packs for new employees can provide. There’s nothing better than feeling appreciated and valued when you arrive on the first day of your new job. Giving your employees free goodies that will also help your business via word-of-mouth marketing is definitely one way you can go about that. Most people start a job in the “unconscious incompetence” mode, i.e they don’t know what they don’t know. By clearly spelling out what success looks like, and how to get there, you can get them to the next level.

The most common mistake I see is giving employees the what, “Close business”, but assuming that you don’t have to give them the how. Nothing will demotivate a sales person more than watching people succeed but not being able to join in on the success. Which takes us to our next point.


Nothing is more motivating than closing a deal. If you’re an SDR, it’s setting a meeting, watching that meeting run and watching it close. Getting a big paycheck is awesome, but the big rush comes the instant you closed the deal (and got to hit the gong in front of the team).
If you want to keep people motivated, then give them “job clarity” and coach them until they taste success. Once an employee has seen that it is possible to be successful, and had the “closing” adrenaline rush, they are going to want more. Success, it’s an addictive substance ,and the best sales organizations make it their mission to create a success story for each sales person as fast as possible.

Chris Lytle stated it in such a simple way, why do people love being greeted as a regular as a restaurant? They want recognition. Why do frequent travelers covet their elite status? They want recognition, and are willing to reciprocate with loyalty to the airline company. It feels really good when someone else recognizes the work you’ve done. The key to making recognition part of your motivation strategy is doing it regularly, and making it genuine. The recognition needs to be specific, the more details the better.

Example 1: Way to go Sally, great job ( empty recognition).

Example 2: Sally, the work you did on the Acme account was awesome. I really like how you identified that Bob wasn’t the decision maker, and how you got him to bring the VP into the follow up meeting, that’s a great way to move the opportunity forward.

ProTip: If your sales cycle is a long one, and it could take months before a rep closes, then use recognition to celebrate the small wins on the way to their first close. Help them feel like they are making progress.

Now that we’ve discussed 3 powerful motivation tools, what do you think of the old methods; fear and reward? Take a look at your sales teams and figure out how many people on that floor are really there just for the money. Check out Dan Ariely’s video on what really makes employees feel good about their work, and then re-evaluate your approach to getting people excited about work. What’s the risk, when the methods above are all free of charge?
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