Tips for Keeping Sales Teams Motivated and Engaged in Tough Times


While technology has gone a long way towards making sales – and the sales process – more efficient, it has also contributed to making sales among the most difficult career options in the 21st century.

This, combined with having to attain sales targets while business confidence in South Africa plunges to its lowest levels since September 2020 driven by plummeting trade volumes, rising interest rates, soaring petrol prices and thrice-daily power outages, is placing enormous pressure on salespeople. It’s becoming harder and harder for them to remain engaged and motivated.

However, Ronelle Naidoo, Mint Group’s Head of Sales, believes there is much that executives can do to keep their sales teams motivated and sales ticking over.

“Sales is the lifeblood of any organization,” she says. “No matter what challenges we face, leaders must continue to lead and keep moving forward. Now, more than ever, leaders must be resilient – they must believe in a cause that’s bigger than themselves as this will allow them to persevere in the face of adversity. And they must help their sales teams to be resilient too.”

According to Naidoo, the first thing that business leaders have to recognize is that the nature of sales has changed. In the past, it was enough for organizations to provide their sales teams with product training and send them out to provide potential customers with relevant information about the product itself. They were presenters and information providers.

Now, however, it’s likely that the customer will already have all that information on hand before the salesperson steps through their door or appears on their screen in a virtual meeting.

“The salesperson, therefore, has to be able to sell more than a product. They have to be able to sell a solution, understand the customer’s pain points, and know-how to address them. They must be professionals with a strong emphasis on being of service and providing sound advice. This means they must be up-to-date on the latest trends and best practices.

“This requires training – upskilling, soft skills training, and leadership training. That’s a very different kind of training to what has traditionally been provided to salespeople,” she adds.

However, all the training in the world is not enough in today’s post-pandemic world.

She believes that when COVID-19 ushered in a new reality and set of working conditions, it affected salespeople more than any of their colleagues.

“The sales team’s job is difficult enough: generating revenue, expanding market share, and meeting KPIs. When COVID-19 struck, sales teams suddenly had to deal with a number of issues that directly impacted both the company and themselves. Most salespeople are social creatures, and the need to see and communicate with customers and peers contributes to their success. It energizes them. The psychological impact of having to work remotely has been huge. Salespeople became demotivated as they faced often unrealistic expectations and pressure to attain sales targets that weren’t adapted to current conditions,” she says.

“It is therefore even more essential than ever that executives and leaders recognize this and ensure clear and realistic goals are set, as this is critical to keeping employees performing at their peak.”

When it comes to motivating their sales team, Naidoo says it is vital that the company recognizes that not all salespeople are alike.

Gartner, for example, identified five different types of sales professionals: the self-motivated hard workers who go the extra mile and don’t give up easily; the challenger who loves to debate, pushes the customer, and understands the customer’s business; the relationship builder who gets along with everyone and builds strong customer relationships; the self-assured, independent lone wolf who follows their own instincts; and the problem solver who is detail-oriented and responds quickly to ensure issues are resolved.

“One ‘type’ of sales professional is not necessarily better than another. In fact, an optimal sales team possibly needs a combination of all these types. Don’t try to force a salesperson to fit a particular mould, remember that each ‘type’ responds to different motivation stimuli,” Naidoo says. “It’s important that the sales team leader recognizes this and treats the sales team members as individuals, taking cognizance of their personal circumstances and working around their specific needs wherever possible.”

Naidoo also recommends that leaders engage with each salesperson in line with their personal preferences and character traits, and aligns their training with this.

Having said that, she believes it is essential to provide salespeople with honest feedback and continuous appreciation where it’s due. “All wins whether big or small should be celebrated. A pat on the back can go a long way, as can building trust with team members by having an open-door policy that allows them to discuss their concerns in a safe environment,” she adds.

She offers these additional tips for keeping salespeople motivated regardless of whether business is booming or declining:

  1. Incentives, incentives, incentives – usually with some sort of monetary value.
  2. Team get-togethers and events. This can be done virtually but with COVID restrictions lifted, face-to-face events would probably be thoroughly welcomed.
  3. Encourage team members to be involved in big decisions.
  4. Allow them their independence. If they’re motivated, they will perform without being micro-managed.
  5. Assign them new tasks and opportunities, over and above their normal responsibilities.
  6. Because salespeople are driven by numbers, data is important to them.

“For many salespeople, being in sales is more than a job – it’s who they are. However, even the most dedicated professional will sometimes feel overwhelmed and unappreciated, particularly in today’s daunting environment. Given the value these individuals bring to the organization, it is incumbent on the company leadership to do all they can to ensure their sales team remains motivated and engaged,” Naidoo concludes.

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