Sales is a tough job.
It takes guts to pitch a product or service to strangers. Even if it’s only once.
It takes even more guts and a stronger will to pick up the phone and call person after person knowing that your chances of rejection are higher than your chances of making the sale.
Most of all, it takes superhuman levels of persistence and sky-high motivation to do it again and again, day after day, and week after week. Picking yourself up after every failed deal, and simply pressing reset before going to battle is part of the daily race of a salesperson.
The weight of expectations on salespeople is immense. Handling the unique pressures of sales management while keeping your team motivated can seem like a never-ending task.
And that’s just when things are going well!
When Team Morale Dips, Sales Managers Suffer
When is the most important time for a sales manager to prove their mettle?
It’s when things go wrong.
And they invariably do.
You will miss targets. Big accounts will churn. Enormous deals will fall at the final hurdle.
This is when the best sales managers pick their sales team up off the canvas and fire them up to smash their next round of sales objectives.
Market forces, economic slumps, seasonality, delivery issues, and many other intangibles can all cause a severe slump in sales - but these factors are all beyond you and your team’s control. It’s these outside events that tend to hit your team’s motivation the hardest.
When a person feels that they’ve done everything right, applied the correct technique, backed their efforts up with skill and passion, and absolutely nailed the ideal sales process - only to miss their targets regardless, it’s simply human nature to feel demotivated.
Failure to identify a dip in morale quickly can have grave consequences.
Like a tornado, bad vibes amongst a sales team feed on themselves. If left unchecked, these negative emotions can irreparably damage your team’s culture.
Spotting the Downturn Before it Goes Nuclear
The best morale exists when you never hear the word mentioned. When you hear a lot of talk about it, it's usually lousy. - Dwight D Eisenhower
It is a very rare salesperson who will come straight out and say, “You know what boss? I’m really lacking motivation and just don’t feel like I’m going to make my target this month.”
Keeping an eye on morale in the team, and knowing when a pick-me-up is needed, is a critical aspect of a sales manager’s job.
In most cases, a drop in enthusiasm will have a clear triggering event. The most obvious, of course, is the failure to hit targets, especially if this has a direct financial effect on the sales team (i.e. they didn’t earn commission or bonuses).
Plus, failure to reach financial goals can potentially result in losses and cutbacks, and the resultant guilt can also poison the motivation well.
But the causes for low morale are not always so clean-cut.
Trying to unlock a new market segment, or targeting a new demographic altogether, could lead to a huge increase in the number of rejections a salesperson receives. While this may be understood and accepted on an intellectual level, the emotional strain is just as intense.
So How Do You Know Your Sales Team is Down in the Dumps?
Here are a few telltale signs of a dip in morale and motivation:
1. A Sudden Drop in Performance
If a previously successful individual or team starts missing targets, the natural reaction is to look at external factors. However, it’s usually wiser to look close to home first.
2. The Sales Cycle Gets Longer
Demotivated people tend to procrastinate, and may find even the simplest tasks beyond them. If your team is taking longer to work through an established sales process, you’re most likely dealing with people who have stopped giving it their all.
3. Bad Apple, Rotten Bunch
If someone is constantly moaning about missed targets, how they hate their job, their bosses, and the company - that negativity is bound to affect your entire team. (Here are 5 ways to help someone rebound after missed sales objectives, but sometimes you’ll need to take even stronger action).
4. Doom and Gloom
Sales may be tough and stress-inducing at times, but it can also be fun. If laughter and conversation levels in your sales office drop significantly for an extended period, something is definitely amiss.
5. Increased Absenteeism
When someone isn’t enjoying their job, they’ll find a reason not to do it. If you see a spike in sick days or, even worse, an upturn in employee turnover, you almost certainly have a problem with your esprit de corps.
These are just a few of many other signs, but the best way to keep your finger on the pulse is by establishing a workplace culture where your team is comfortable with being proactive, honest and open about any issues or grievances as soon as they arise.
Cheerleader, Drill Sergeant, or Therapist
When a culture is broken, the cracks show - morale is weakened, but so is profit and performance. That's why culture has to be at the core of any business transformation. - Peggy Johnson. Executive Vice President of Business Development at Microsoft.
Okay, so you’ve determined your team’s morale is low.
That’s a significant acknowledgment. Don’t focus on fault or blame - instead, find the best way to progress.
This is where many sales managers think they need to reach for the checkbook. Surely if you pay people more they’ll be more motivated?
The answer is a big, fat, no.
While a pay raise may work in some cases, it can also be the start of a very slippery slope towards ever-increasing sales costs.
If your pay levels, bonus structure, commissions, and sales targets are reasonable and realistic - don’t mess with them to fix a symptom of what is most likely a very different issue.
What follows is some practical advice that will help you boost lagging morale and prevent morale from dropping in the first place.
If you’re familiar with Frederick Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory or Motivation-Hygiene Theory, you should easily spot the basis for many of these suggestions. Herzberg famously said:
“For an employee to be truly motivated, the employee’s job has to be fully enriched where the employee has the opportunity for achievement and recognition, stimulation, responsibility, and advancement.”
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as putting a few motivational quotes in the break room. Our suggestions are a little more practical.
1. Always Recognize and Reward Good Performance
This is the most simple win any manager can get, yet many miss the trick.
A culture where great work is openly acknowledged and celebrated breeds its own excellence. How often have you heard complaints about a boss who nitpicks errors yet never applauds success?
This is one of the most common mistakes managers make.
Frequent, warranted generosity and praise actually buys you much more leeway to be critical when needed.
People will be much more open to your suggestions on how they can improve if they know genuine praise, thanks and reward awaits their good performance.
2. Team Solutions For Team Issues
If your approach to boosting morale is dictatorial and completely top-down, you may simply reinforce the negative vibes. Finding a solution may reside in you listening rather than talking.
Bottom line: ask your team what is wrong and canvas them for suggestions on how things can be improved before dishing out autocratic solutions.
3. Bring in the Fun
The average month in the life of a salesperson is riddled with stress, fear, and pressure.
Break the stress cycle by making regular time for your team to have some fun!
Take the tension out of the constant grind. Make sure the enjoyment still happens during office hours.
Scheduling team-building events and work parties outside office hours are also great, but keep in mind that this cuts into your team’s free time.
Allowing fun activities into the workday window is a subtle yet powerful gesture.
You are showing that you prioritize your team's emotional well-being and enjoyment alongside tangible results. This commitment will be appreciated, which is often returned in the form of higher dedication.
4. Understand Your Team as Individuals
You need to know what motivates each and every member of your team. Once you do, you’ll find that it is rarely the same for everyone.
While it’s complicated to unearth what drives an individual, you can start by asking each team member a set of simple questions:
- Are you motivated right now?
- What would motivate you in the long-term?
- Is there anything you can do to motivate yourself?
- In your opinion, what are the signs when you’re demotivated?
- What do you want me to do if you become demotivated?
If you know what levers to pull you can tailor your motivational plans to each individual and ultimately keep your team happier as a whole.
5. Change Their Focus
Relentlessly hammering for results and targets will grind down even the hardiest of souls. Instead, help your team formulate a set of daily and weekly goals that will result in reaching a larger set of targets.
Daily targets might include things like starting 5 new sales conversations or moving at least four deals to the next pipeline stage. This task achievement creates a confidence in the short-term and can help a salesperson break out of the funk and depression caused by focusing purely on the 500 pound gorilla that is their overall target.
Check out Pipedrive’s Sales Pipeline Course for some invaluable advice on how to approach this activity-driven targeting system.
6. Teach Some New Tricks
It’s difficult to make time for training and skill development in a busy sales environment.
There’s always next week right?
This is exactly why a low morale episode can be the best opportunity to invest in your team.
Everyone gets a break from the relentless pressure when their focus shifts to something else. Plus they get the feeling their manager and company truly cares about their individual skills and future development.
7. Take a Look in the Mirror
What messages are you sending to your team?
Does the negativity start from the top?
Do you say things like: “I know these targets are very high but we’ll just have to suck it up/I know these leads are not great but let’s do our best/It’s a crap product but someone has to sell it”?
Even your body language will tell a tale about your own motivations. If your team senses that you’re not fully invested in their or the company’s success, they’ll involuntarily follow your lead.
8. Use Their Powers for Good
Your team is most likely filled with some great salespeople. If they’re just slightly worn down by circumstances and responsibility it may be a fantastic idea to take some time out and use their skills for the greater good.
Take a day out to raise funds for a local charity, using all their cold-calling expertise, persuasive power, and ability to drive a deal.
Encourage your team to have fun and enjoy it. (And make sure they have no targets to hit for the day!)
This will serve to put the reality of their job in perspective and leave all but the most stone-hearted of people feeling good about themselves and what they do.
9. Build a Great (Non Monetary) Rewards System
Money is great, but it’s often the small human things that drive and motivate people. If you’re looking at non-monetary rewards for an entire team, think along the lines of taking everyone to see a movie during the day, or ordering pizza to the office on a Friday.
Sometimes your team’s travel schedules can be hectic. If you’re hesitant to take your team away from their time on the road - shout the group some flight or hotel vouchers to help them out on their next holiday. This way you don’t have to confront the logistical nightmare of getting everyone in the same room the same time.
It can even be as simple as promising better quality coffee, or giving half the day off on the last Friday of the month if your team makes a target.
Small gestures go a long way, and should never be underestimated.
Avoid Fires by Being Proactive
Don’t wait until your team is struggling with motivation to change the culture. Motivation comes from all the little details in your company culture, from the way you speak to your team to the openness with which you share information.
Working at it every day will fortify your team’s morale over time, meaning less fires to fight when stress levels peak.
Start putting these tactics to work today - you’ll reduce that crushing stress and pressure, and you’ll start re-igniting the sparks of confidence firing your sales team’s machine.