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5 ways to motivate sales reps that work (besides money)

“My compensation has little to no impact on how I feel about my job,” said no sales rep ever.

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Let’s be real. Sales is a high-pressure job.

Sales reps are constantly worrying about meeting their quotas and oftentimes feel that management measures their performance by pipeline growth. (Which, depending on your management style, might not be far off.)

Of course, money plays a role in motivating sales reps to do better—there’s a reason why structured commission programs work. But this constant race to reach their quotas can be super stressful. No sooner have they achieved this month’s quota, as the next month’s quota is already here, and they need to start all over again.

In this post RevenueGrid sales (and content) team sets things straight: 

what an unhappy employee’s performance amounts to; how bad a disengaged sales reps really are, and how to motivate sales teams without money? 

Motivate for the right reasons.

Sometimes even money isn’t enough to make everyone happy.

You can’t get into your employee’s heads to see what they’re thinking, even if everything seems fine on the surface. It’s good that your employees are productive, but it’s not a complete indicator of whether they are actually challenged and fulfilled with their work.

Employees can perform well but do so with resentment or opposing views on the company, management or team. Recognizing that these employees also exist will help you better allocate resources to design a motivation program that works for everyone.

The disengaged employee

A highly disengaged employee is unproductive. He or she can have a bad attitude and demotivate others. A disengaged employee, however, can be productive: they may simply go through the motions and complete their tasks for the day, while still being somewhat motivated to perform well at their job.

The unhappy employee

Another example is the unhappy employee. He or she may also be productive, yet at odds with the company’s values. They may perform not for the sake of their company or team, but for the sake of their reputation, customer base, responsibilities, and so on.

So, how do managers identify and interpret reasons why employees are disengaged and unhappy with their work? What can sales managers do to prevent burnout and motivate sales reps in ways that won’t increase their weariness and levels of stress? Surely there must be alternatives to just “throwing money at it,” right?

With these questions sorted out, let’s move over to the five strategies to motivate sales teams—commission cheques aside. 

5 strategies on how to motivate sales teams without money

1. Give your reps the recognition they deserve.

According to a Gallup workplace survey, 28% of employees reported that their most memorable recognition came from their direct manager.


28% of employees say that the most memorable and the most valued recognition came from their direct manager.

Your positive feedback has more impact than you might think.


The main takeaway from this data? The individualized recognition you give your team members who report directly to you is likely to be their most memorable.

And it makes sense—it’s like a relationship: most of us would choose feeling truly valued and appreciated over material gifts any day.

So, take advantage of the impact recognition can have on your employee’s motivation levels. Here are some ideas:

Handwritten thank-you card

  • An employee of the month award
  • Hosting a team lunch in honor of the star employee(s)
  • Having a “wall of fame” dedicated to recognizing outstanding performance from team members
  • Something personalized to the employee (e.g., if they’re a huge baseball fan, give them tickets to an upcoming game)

2. Take the time to understand what drives your sales reps.

To really motivate your sales reps, you need to understand what gets them going. Taking the time to learn about and understand them will not only help you drive your staff but also help to establish a relationship of trust a nd mutual support (what every leader hopes for).

You can do this by sitting down with your employees one-on-one. If you don’t do this already, ask them questions like:

  • Do you feel motivated to perform your best?
  • What is it about your job that motivates you the most?
  • What would get you even more motivated?
  • When you’re not feeling motivated, how will you let me know?
  • If I know you’re not feeling motivated, what do you want me to do to help change that?

What you can do is, sit down and present these questions in an initial conversation. Then, give them a day or two to answer the questions. Schedule a follow-up meeting where you go over their answers together.

Giving them some time to come up with an answer is ideal over putting them on the spot because it gives them time to reflect and ultimately give you more thoughtful responses.

Why guess what motivates people when you can just ask them?

3. Set goals together as a team.

Remember as a child when your room was messy, and you told yourself you were going to clean it on Thursday; then Thursday rolled around and right before you’re about to start cleaning, your parent says you have to clean your room and suddenly you no longer felt like cleaning it at all?

Why was that?

It’s because people don’t like to be told what to do. On the other hand, if you had made the decision to clean your room with your parent or otherwise told them about it, you could’ve gotten praise before and after you cleaned it. Same outcome (a clean room), entirely different emotions—including motivation levels.

Similarly, planning your goals out as a team versus simply telling your team what to do can make a big difference on workplace motivation levels.

Generally speaking, people are a lot more willing to do something that’s their idea or when they feel they had a part in making the decision. This also shows your employees you value their opinion and you’re not merely treating them like children or people to be bossed around, which is always nice.

4. Hold contests based on performance.

Contests are a great way to bring out the competitive nature of sales reps in a fun environment. It also gives them opportunities to win non-monetary rewards based on their performance.

You can hold contests with different terms, prizes, and at different times of the year.

Here are some contest ideas:

  • Who has the fastest ramp-up time? (for new hires)
  • Who had the most significant improvement from the previous quarter?
  • Who’s the biggest team player / helps their fellow teammates the most?
  • Who received the highest number of positive customer reviews
  • And of course, who sold the most?

Going back to our first point on recognition, winning contests and getting prizes is fun and all but the recognition that comes with it plays just as big—if not more—of a role in an employee’s job satisfaction, motivation, and retention.

5. Give your team awesome rewards—or let them pick their own.

Why guess what kinds of rewards your employees like when you could just let them pick their own? There’s no better motivation than a reward you selected yourself. (And it makes your life a bit easier as well.)

Think about it: they obviously want it, so they’re going to work to get it.

Here’s how you can initiate a conversation to let reps choose a reward that’ll motivate them:

  • Start by asking the team how they’re feeling and how their motivation levels are doing.
  • If they say they could use some extra motivation, ask what it is they’re trying to achieve that they could use an additional incentive for.
  • Once you’ve got the goal nailed down, ask them how long they think it’ll take them to reach that goal. Then, ask how long they think it would take them if you offered X prize.
  • If the amount of time doesn’t change, ask, “what kind of prize would make you achieve it faster?” From there, everyone will start throwing ideas for prizes and you can select the one that seems to resonate with most people.

You’ve gotta admit—it sounds pretty awesome.

Here are some examples of prizes that you can suggest if the team is having trouble coming up with ideas:

  • Organize their desk for them
  • Walk their dog for a month
  • Wash their car in the parking lot
  • Cook the winner any meal they want

The fun thing these prizes is that regardless of who wins, the entire team will find it entertaining to see their manager washing a car in the parking lot or cooking—correction: trying to cook—a complicated meal as per the request of the winner.

Alternatively, if you’re competing as groups, some good team prizes could be going on a field trip bowling, to the skating rink, the movies, go-karting, paintball or laser tag.

Money isn’t the only motivator.

As you can see, motivating your sales reps is about more than just giving them cash. In other words, money isn’t the only currency that pushes people to do their best.

Take these five techniques and play with them until you find something that works for your team. Remember: your ultimate goal is to inspire your team to do their best regardless of compensation.

What motivates your team? Tell us!