Somebody once said "fear is a great motivator." I'm not sure if that was Lombardi, Patton, Ric Flair, my Dad, or some other great thinker. Whoever it was, they really do have a point. However, who really wants to lead with an iron fist of fear? Is that really healthy?
When guiding my sales team, I prefer to motivate by praise, encouragement, and a healthy level of competition. I believe you hire competent, self-starters as sales people. Those who are competitive by nature. In sales, we keep score. If you grew up without a scoreboard where everyone gets a trophy then you probably want to find another career.
In my opinion, many weak mangers still manage by fear and intimidation as a way to "motivate" their teams. The problem with that approach is that the top sellers don't need it and resent it, and those that are motivated by it are just trying to save their hide as long as possible. All fear and intimidation will do is make the sales manager feel in charge and allow bragging to fellow weak bosses about how he's "driving the team." Weak managers also tend to micro-manage and they are more consumed with activities (sorry CRM) than results. Give your people proper training, tools, goals, direction and cut them loose!
Let's not sugar coat it, compensation is obviously a main driver for sales professionals. I feel a base plus variable plan built around sales growth is the best way to go. However, quality sales people love to be praised and given acknowledgement for their success which doesn't always mean more money; although that's never a bad thing. Simple things like pointing out a reps big win in front of their teammates in a meeting, on a conference call, or on a group email goes a long way toward building motivation for them and others. The person that gets the attention feels good about it and strives for more of the same while the rest of the team says to themselves, "I want that to be me next time."
The well documented adage of "praise publicly and scold privately" is where I aim to be. If I do need to address negative performance or negative behavior, I do it one on one and very directly. Typically, the rep on the receiving end is harder on themselves than I am and completely understands where I'm coming from. We deal with the issues and in most cases, not all as there are just sometimes you need to move on, they come away feeling motivated to work through it because they know where they stand.
Let's go back to competition for a second. I love public scoreboards and contests. We have a weekly calls/wins scoreboard where our downstream reps report new businesses opportunities (the calls) and new customers sold (the wins). Each week, month and year our reps can see where they rank among the peer group. When you hire competitive people, they strive to climb to the top and each week we circulate this scoreboard where I point out who had a great week and ask one to tell the team their "win" story. We use this and other scoreboards we create, for short term, 60-90 day, sales spiffs. At year end we announce "VersatExcellence" Awards for various sales roles. Winners receive cash, prizes or some swag. Again, most times it's less about the actual value and more about the recognition.
As a manager, whichever style you adopt, I highly recommend you share with the group how everyone is doing. Just always keep in mind that not all markets are created equal. Make sure you set proper budgets or expectations for each rep, to be fair, or you will actually "demotivate them." There is nothing worse that turning victory into defeat because, even though they grew nicely, the bar was set too high.
Let me end with one final thought on motivating your sales team. Have fun! In my opinion, if they are grinnin' they are winnin'. These folks are your cheerleaders in the field. The more fun they have at work, the better attitude they have and the more motivated they are to sell. I try to have a nickname for all my people that brings a laugh while also poking fun at myself. I love running March Madness polls, fantasy football or fantasy golf leagues all to create some fun among the team that is not work related. At our sales meetings we always have a fun competitive team bonding event.
So, for a more motivated sales force let the folks from The Walking Dead handle the "fear" stuff! Begin praising your team more, keep a public scoreboard, create some contests and have some fun! Your CFO will thank you.