February 19, 2021

How to Motivate Behaviors in Your Sales Team

In order to motivate behavior changes, you can’t just focus on what you care about. You need to understand what the individuals who you’re trying to influence value and tap into that.

Most people will spend their time on activities that will benefit them, so you need to align your business objectives and the behaviors that help accomplish them with the things your sales reps care about.

In order to do that effectively, you need to keep in mind that not everyone is motivated by the same things. While money is the primary motivator for most sales reps, and you should take that into account, you also shouldn’t ignore there are other things individuals care about too.

Here are some motivating factors that can be used to incentivize desired sales team behaviors.:


There are a number of ways that you can structure your incentive model in line with what behaviors you want your salespeople to take.


The first aspect of this is just your commission system. Are the individual goals sales reps are paid based on in line with your broader company goals? 

For a compensation system to motivate your sales team to behave a certain way, it also needs to be in line with the reality of selling your product or service. If your products all have the same commission rate, but some are more difficult to sell than others, sales reps are more likely to focus on the easier deals. If you have a six-week sales cycle, but measure revenue goals on a monthly basis, commission goals might not feel attainable and thus not motivate reps.

Additionally, in sales, you don’t just want your team to hit their goals, you want them to over-perform. So, when people do go above and beyond, they should be rewarded more for that. For example, you could have a higher commission rate on revenue closed above goal.


SPIFs (sales performance incentive funds) are short-term incentive programs that are good to solve for a gap. 

For example, if you launch a new product but aren’t seeing a ton of traction from it among your sales team because it’s an unknown so trying to sell it is riskier than some of your more established offerings, you could create a SPIF to incentivize selling that new product in order to encourage your team to become familiar with selling it.

SPIFs can take different forms. It could be a short-term increase in the commission rate of a specific offering. Or, it could be a competition where the person who sells the most of that product gets a prize.

Promotion paths

To encourage long-term positive behaviors, you need to provide visibility into how achieving or exceeding their goals can lead to reps earning more money over time. 

For example, this could look like a tiering model, where once reps achieve a certain percentage above their goal they’re eligible to be promoted and will receive a pay raise or the opportunity to work bigger deals. Alternatively, you could have periodic performance reviews, where reps are given bonuses based on their long-term performance.

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A lot of salespeople are very competitive, so the prospect of winning, of being a top performer, can be a strong motivator.

If you provide transparency into how the entire team is performing and how each rep’s individual performance compares to their teammates, that can get people fired up. A great way to do that is through leaderboards.

Leaderboards can represent whatever goals you’re trying to achieve, such as total revenue, number of opportunities created, number of outreach attempts and the completion of certifications.

Career Development

For some people who do care less about money, how they’re progressing in their career and their professional growth are huge motivators. When reps understand how behaviors will help them move forward along their desired career trajectory, they’re more likely to model those behaviors. 

As a manager, it’s important to get to know the individuals on your team and help them pave the path to achieve their goals. Talk through what’s possible and what each rep needs to work on in order to make it a reality.

To tap into those growth aspirations, you should also provide opportunities to help them work toward those opportunities. For example, if a sales rep wants to be a manager, you could give them the opportunity to help mentor and train newer team members. Their core responsibilities as sales reps wouldn’t change; they’d still need to hit their goals and excel within their role, but they’d also be gaining leadership experience that helps them achieve their long-term goals.

Positive vs. Negative Motivators

Just as different things motivate different people, different forms of motivation are more effective for some people than others. For example, most motivators can take a positive or negative form. You can offer a reward to someone who does the desired behavior or penalize someone for not doing that behavior.

This post mostly focused on positive motivators, because in my experience they’re more effective for driving behaviors. But as a manager, you also need to establish a baseline of what’s expected from your team. You can’t incentivize every action reps need to do. Some level of performance is expected because they took the job on your team. 

Additionally, you need to be cognizant of how sales behaviors are impacting the rest of your business. In some cases, you will need negative motivators to discourage poor behavior because of the threat that behavior poses to your company as a whole.

Clawbacks are a good example of a necessary negative motivator. They prevent you from rewarding poor behavior because you don’t want sales reps to be encouraged to close customers who won’t be profitable for your company and will be difficult for your service and support teams to work with.

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Beth Abbott

Beth is a Senior Manager of Revenue Operations at New Breed and specializes in optimizing how processes and platforms support revenue growth.


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