If you’re a sales manager, you’ll have to deal with a sales slump at least once in your career. It’s part of the rollercoaster ride of driving a sales team. You get to experience the wind-in-your face, adrenaline-surging highs, but you have to struggle though the occasional energy-sapping low.
What’s less certain is how well your team will bounce back from from a not-so-great month. One quality that will help you overcome and surge back better than ever is the overall morale of your team. Unfortunately, this is one of the trickiest things to manage. It’s fairly straightforward to educate your employees about product benefits or provide them with selling strategies. It’s a little more difficult to reignite the passion to sell after it has been dimmed by a string of harsh rejections.
To tackle this challenge, I asked 8 sales management experts their thoughts on boosting and maintaining the morale of the team.
These sales veterans demystified this tricky subject and offered real-world insight that any manager can use to spike their team’s enthusiasm. Here’s what they had to say.
Jill Konrath, author of Agile Selling, Selling to Big Companies, and SNAP Selling
If morale is down, it’s crucial to engage the team in finding fresh strategies to increase their sales. Quite often, this is because things have changed (e.g. customers, market, economy, competition) and what was working before is no longer sufficient to deliver results.
Rather than directing salespeople on what to do differently or letting them moan-and-groan, it’s imperative to capture their creative spirit and energy. Here’s a process to try:
1. Redefine the “problem” as a challenge. For example, you could go from, “We keep getting beat by competitor A and it’s killing us” to “How can we beat competitor A? How else?”
This strategy re-engages salespeople’s brains in their work and gets them to start looking for new solutions.
It’s imperative to capture their creative spirit and energy
2. Focus on learning. Instead of getting depressed, get educated. Have everyone on the team (manager included) start looking for new ideas. Read books together. Sign up for webinars. Listen to podcasts. The key is to open yourself up to potential new ways of dealing with the tough situation.
3. Engage in experimentation. To get out of the rut of “how we’ve always done it,” it’s crucial to start experimenting with new ways. Not everything will work, but you can still learn/grow from everything you try. And, most likely you’ll uncover new approaches that yield substantially better results.
A team that is constantly focused on getting better — in the manner described above — will virtually eliminate any morale problems.
About Jill Konrath
Jill Konrath is an internationally recognized sales acceleration strategist and bestselling author. Her newest book, AGILE SELLING, soared to the #1 sales book on Amazon within hours of its release.
Her previous two books, SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies, have been in Amazon’s Top 100 Sales Books since their release. Fortune magazine selected Selling to Big Companies as one of 8 “must reads” for salespeople along with classics such as How to Win Friends and Influence People.
She has been featured on ABC News, Fox 2, Entrepreneur, New York Times, Selling Power, The Business Journal and many more publications. Follow her on Twitter.
Barbara Giamanco, CEO, Social Centered Selling
I believe that attitude and personal motivation is an inside job. No one can do it for us. That being said, I do think that sales managers can create a working environment that allows everyone to feel as if they can thrive. The way to do this is to get to know each of their team members. They need to understand what motivates each person, because it isn’t the same for everyone. For some it is money, for others it might be the recognition of a job well done, or the fact that their manager invests and supports them in their career goals. Some employees might find it difficult to share what really matters most to them in the workplace, so managers should keep that in mind. And, managers should also be open and transparent about what motivates them also. You don’t want employees to feel as if this is a management trick. In the end, there is no one-size-fits-all way of creating a motivational environment.
Managers need to understand what motivates each person, because it isn’t the same for everyone
Managers need to check their own behavior. If they are negative or cynical about things happening in the business, many of their team members will follow right along. Second, I think that it is important for managers to have a zero tolerance policy about things like gossip. Nothing will tear a team down faster. In the past, I’ve had team members come to me gossiping or speaking negatively about their peers. I would reinforce that gossip serves no purpose and that it wasn’t acceptable on my team, and I would ask them what conversations they’d had with the individual in question to work things out. In almost every case, they’d never talked with the person directly. Rather, they wanted me as the manager to “fix it”, which I wouldn’t do. I put the responsibility back on them to work it out. By the way, this assumes we aren’t talking about true HR issues like employees bullying each other or behaving in an inappropriate sexual way. Finally, I think that when people start to talk negatively, managers can encourage people to think about and focus on the positives – not the negatives. Negativity just breeds more of the same.”
Don’t become lackadaisical and assume you are now on cruise control. Keep finding new ways to support what team members need to remain positive, happy, motivated and high performing.
About Barbara Giamanco
Barbara Giamanco is a globally recognized thought leader in Social Selling. She’s the co-author of The New Handshake: Sales Meets Social Media and CEO of Social Centered Selling. Barb is consistently a Top 25 Influential Leader in Sales, a Top 25 Sales Influencer on Twitter and one of Top Sales World’s Top 50 Sales and Marketing Influencers. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Social Centered Selling offers Social Media and Social Selling Consulting, Advisory and Programs to sales and marketing teams interested in driving sales results. Visit scs-connect.com and follow Barbara on Twitter.
John Barrows, President, jbarrows LLC
In order to stop the negative momentum we need to start finding the positive things that are happening to us no matter how small they might be and focus on them instead of the negative. Positive things are happening to us and around us all the time but when we’re in a negative state of mind we just don’t see them. The great Tony Robbins talks about ‘Changing Your State’ which is all about getting in the right frame of mind to focus on the positive versus the negative. He talks about it more as an event and something that can be done in a moment in time. Obviously it takes more than an event or a moment in time to reverse the negative momentum and turn it positive but you have to start somewhere.
Positive things are happening to us and around us all the time but when we’re in a negative state of mind we just don’t see them
A while ago I had a friend who was definitely on the negative momentum train and didn’t know what to do to get out of it. I had her walk around with a small notepad the next day and write down every positive thing that happened to her no matter how small. She came back to me with a book. It was awesome. From there she started to turn things around because she started to look at everything through a different lens. She changed her state.
I had to do the same thing recently. I had to remind myself of all the positive things that were going on in my life to help turn around the negative momentum. Sales is one of the hardest jobs out there and it’s easy to fall into a tailspin. When we do, we need to stop and take a minute to start looking at things through a different lens and find the positive things going on. No matter how small they may seem they will be the building blocks to getting on the right track. Good luck and happy selling!
About John Barrows
John Barrows is the president of jbarrows LLC. He provides customized sales training and consulting services for clients like Salesforce.com, Box, LinkedIn and many others with a focus on driving results with proven techniques and reinforcement tools that impact adoption and behavior change. Follow John Barrows on Twitter.
Steven Rosen, Executive Sales Coach, Star Results
As Mia Hamm former American soccer player and 2 time Olympic gold medal winner said “Success breeds success”.
No matter how small the success is, each success leads to more success
What I find works in times of adversity is to focus salespeople’s minds on success. No matter how small the success is, each success leads to more success. If we focus on all the lost business or deals we didn’t get we can get extremely down.
The key for sales managers is to always ask their salespeople what their success of the day/week/month was.
About Steven Rosen
Steven Rosen, MBA, is the founder of STAR Results.
STAR Results is a sales leadership coaching, training and consulting organization dedicated to leadership development.
Mark Hunter, The Sales Hunter
The only thing managers can do is create an environment for salespeople to motivate themselves. This is counter to what most people believe, but I’m a firm believer that you can’t tell someone else how to feel. All you can do is create an environment to allow them to thrive.
This starts with being positive in comments and outlook, even when circumstances are difficult. People want to associate with winners and they want to be part of a positive environment. When this happens, their beliefs and outcomes typically reflect it.
Leaders must allow healthy dialogue
Negativity and cynicism are a result of people not believing in themselves and their management. Leaders must allow healthy dialogue, and in so doing, they will equip people to see there are options and solutions even in the most challenging of situations.
About Mark Hunter
Mark Hunter is “The Sales Hunter.” He helps companies and salespeople find and retain better customers. He is also a senior partner in MCA Sales Leadership which provides sales strategy programs for Fortune 500 companies.
He is recognized as one of the “Top 50 Most Influential Sales and Marketing Leaders.” All of this has him traveling globally nearly 200 days per year, working with companies to help them grow their top-line sales and bottom-line profits. Follow Mark on Twitter.
Tim Ohai, President, Growth & Associates
May I shift the conversation from motivation to de-motivation? I want to do this because I believe that motivation comes from within – as in I cannot motivate you. Only YOU can motivate you. With that said, I can certainly de-motivate you. Here’s four ways that sales managers can de-motivate their team. Put a couple of them together and you’ve got a cocktail for literally sucking the soul out of the living.
The first way to de-motivate your staff is task difficulty, or in other words, having to do something that is just too hard to do. If someone is given a task that – no matter how many times they try – they cannot experience success, they will eventually quit. If you’re making the job too hard, stop. Please. On the other hand, if the job is too hard for the person, either develop them or move them out of that role.
Only YOU can motivate you. With that said, I can certainly de-motivate you.
The second way to de-motivate your staff is isolation, or in other words, being left completely alone (even in a room full of people) without any feedback, encouragement, or offers to help. What’s the “big” punishment in a prison? Isolation. Why? Because it is so effective at turning someone “off.” Find who is isolated on your team and address it. Don’t simply give someone a name or number to call if they need help. Spend time with your people. Get them connected to consistent sources of help.
The third way to de-motivate your staff is information overload, or in other words, being given the end of a firehose of data to drink until “everything is a priority.” Because, then, nothing is a priority. All the information (be they emails, telecons, or meetings) is “important.” Until someone is paralyzed by it all and they cannot decide what to do. Prioritize what gets communicated and when it gets communicated. Great sales managers are great filters – they keep their teams focused on what matters most, not everything that is being communicated.
The fourth way to de-motivate your staff is unrealistic expectations. Also known as “WTH?!” and “You’ve got to be kidding me!” In other words, people are held to standards that they have no way of achieving. In this situation, they wind up living in a constant state of failure, where family reunions with unhealthy relatives are considered a “vacation.” Unrealistic expectations aren’t just about having insane goals. More often, it’s about never being satisfied with what has already been done. So celebrate every victory, no matter how small. Then you can raise the bar on performance. But know that people get tired if the bar is raised every single time they achieve success.
About Tim Ohai
Tim Ohai is the founder and president of Growth & Associates, a community of experts that specializes in sales enablement and sales transformation solutions, with an emphasis on maximizing the most critical of resources: people. With well over a decade’s worth of experience in developing sales team performance, he consistently helps Fortune 500 companies design and implement selling solutions internationally, build sales systems that increase revenue and customer loyalty, and create genuine coaching cultures. He is often asked to consult larger, more complex issues, especially around the topics of redesigning sales organizations and leading organizational change. Follow Tim on Twitter.
Elinor Stutz, CEO, Smooth Sale
Similarly, Sales Managers should treat their sales teams as their clients. Ideas presented below for building morale and success come from the best of what was previously experienced.
The one thing most everyone has in common is finding enjoyment in eating good food. Even better, is to be surrounded by those who understand your work, and who will cheer you on. Tying this all together becomes a winning combination, as sales teams love the camaraderie.
Sales Managers employed at smaller companies increase morale by hosting monthly potluck lunches in the conference room for their teams. Managers employed at larger companies, and who enjoy expense accounts, should seek out special venues, such as golf courses, to promote enthusiastic conversation among the sales team.
Sales Managers should treat their sales teams as their clients
Hosting these monthly luncheons with everyone feeling welcome sets the tone. A relaxed first half-hour, with everyone enjoying the food and conversation produces the right frame of mind. As comfort sets in, the meeting should begin with the team being congratulated on their successes.
Setting a serious tone, the Sales Manager might ask, “How may I improve helping our team?” This establishes the first buy-in to be followed by a round-table discussion with candor encouraged.
Formal training should be provided annually. Discussing future types of training secures the second buy-in. The third buy-in comes from asking for ideas on a team building exercise or an entire day to follow the training. Salespeople are primarily competitive, driven, and fun loving, and so these combined annual training and team events are always embraced.
Recognizing management truly cares about individual and team success, each salesperson becomes increasingly motivated to do their best on the job. To boost motivation further, each Sales Manager should perform as the coach who encourages team members to move past hurdles in order for each to get past their individual goal line.
Those who experience this type of sales leadership and team effort will do everything in their power to make their career at this type of company a success. The reason is few businesses show concern for a team victory. The ultimate buy-in is rewarded with loyal employees and a halt to the revolving door syndrome along with a returning and referring clientele.
This sales management style leads to the Smooth Sale!
About Elinor Stutz
Elinor Stutz, CEO of Smooth Sale, delivers inspirational keynotes at conferences and authored two books: The International Best-Selling book, “Nice Girls DO Get the Sale: Relationship Building That Gets Results”, and community service led to the writing of her second best-selling book, “HIRED! How to Use Sales Techniques to Sell Yourself On Interviews.” Stutz consults and speaks worldwide. You can follow Elinor on Twitter.
Ken Thoreson, President, Acumen Management Group
Salespeople have to be emotionally invested in their work with a burning desire to achieve. They must also believe that the company they represent is the best and the solutions or services they sell are of the highest quality. That belief must be genuine. It’s not just a marketing message, and it’s not something that they can fake.
With all the new products many vendors have launched in recent months (and will continue to release this year), that type of authentic belief is more important than ever for partners. Most sales organizations don’t do any belief-building activities, though. Or if they do, they only do so occasionally. Our experience shows that the most successful sales teams constantly undertake belief-building initiatives. Examples include:
Storytelling: People from different cultures and generations pass along stories about their ancestries, traditions and lore. Companies need to take a similar approach to capturing and preserving their histories. To do so, write down customer success stories when they occur. Put together detailed descriptions of your company’s role in helping customers implement new technologies, launch or salvage important projects or earn recognition from Microsoft. Then share these stories at sales meetings and other employee events. You can also use the best stories to recruit top performers and help orient new employees.
the most successful sales teams constantly undertake belief-building initiatives
Monthly Meetings: When a company launches, its first employees typically feel that they share a mission. Everyone knows everything that’s happening and what’s needed to succeed. But when the staff grows beyond about 15 people, that sense of mission-along with clearly defined expectations and common beliefs-can be difficult to maintain.
We believe that monthly employee meetings are crucial for keeping everyone engaged and informed. (Larger organizations and those with remote offices may want to opt for quarterly day-long events instead.) Such gatherings give you a chance to remind your staff about your business philosophies, plans and expectations. You can also use them to recognize outstanding employees, perhaps honoring a Most Valuable Player chosen by the team at each session. Remember to make the meetings fun as well. Consider sponsoring games or offering door prizes. One company meeting I attended featured a surprise visit from an Elvis impersonator, who sang several songs.
Reference Letters: Ask your best customers for testimonials. While such letters are, of course, highly useful as tools for future sales presentations, they’re also valuable for building belief in-house. Frame the letters and display them in your lobby or sales presentation area. Have new employees read them as part of the orientation process.
In our business, it’s all too easy to get bogged down with lost sales, missed project dates and other problems. Regularly reinforcing the positives goes a long way toward keeping everyone’s belief and passion strong and moving in the right direction.
About Ken Thoreson
Ken Thoreson is managing director of the Acumen Management Group Ltd., a North American consulting organization focused on improving sales management functions within growing and transitional organizations. During the past 13 years, the consulting, advisory, and platform services have illuminated, motivated, and rejuvenated the sales efforts for partners throughout North America. Ken is also the author of SLAMMED!!: For The First Time Sales Manager. Follow Ken on Twitter.
Igniting A Fire In Your Team’s Belly
Many thanks to everyone who offered their keen observations and recommendations. Have you ever struggled with a morale problem? Let us know what you did to solve it in the comments below.