Motivating Field Sales Teams

Written by Sean McPheat | Linkedin thumb

Motivated sales teamI received a great email from a Sales Development Manager recently who needed some advice on how to motivate a sales team who were field based.

Here’s the email:

Hi Sean,

I’ve read your article on motivating a sales team which was excellent and I can apply all of it to my business.

However, do you have any special tips for motivating a sales team who you cannot supervise because they are in the field?

The bad apples can infect the good ones, as well as you not being able to keep their chins up for them when the chips are down. You can’t always rely on integrity, and many have different buttons to push.

Your thoughts


Sales Development Manager

Here’s my reply:

Hi B,

That is an excellent question, and frankly, I don’t know why I do not get this more often because it’s a very popular topic in the Sales Management Training that we delivery.

Well first, let me add to your question as these things closely relate: I know many organisations have sales people in the field and cannot meet personally with them but maybe once a week, or once a month or even less. So a few questions come up:

1. How do you keep them motivated?
2. How do you keep them focused?
3. How do you correct mistakes that they make in the field if you are not there?

The key is that when you have a long-distance relationship with your sales people, every moment of contact has to be motivational but also educational.

You MUST also HELP them, not just pump them up.

The problem is that to help them you have to correct problems; you must address negative issues. But if you address negative issues when you have sales people that you may not see for a while, those negative feelings can linger. So the question is how can you motivate and address negative issues at the same time and from afar?

First, no mater what it is that your company sells, or how your organisation operates, you need to do three things:

1. Have regular contact with the sales force, if not in person, then either by telephone or virtually—taking in information and relaying only positive responses

2. Uplift and inspire during that regular contact

3. Have regular sales meetings, if not in person, then by teleconference or e-conference and combine the information from #1 and #2.

Let me explain.

No mater what your company circumstances or how spread out your sales force are, the sales manager must have periodic contact with each and every member of the team, either every day, once a week or once a month, based on your sales model.

If your sales model is such that sales people can and should close a sale everyday, then you should be in contact everyday. If your sales cycle is much longer, then perhaps you contact each sales person once a week.

Simply stress that at the end of each work day or at the end of each week, each sales person MUST call you.

If you have sales people who have the opportunity to work very late in the evening in the field, then you as the sales manager should NEVER be done with your work day until ALL of your sales people are finished. As long as they are working—so are you.

Then, during this telephone call, all you want to do is draw out information as to what happened that day or week and inspire the sales person. You just want information on what happened and then uplift the sales person. The main thing you do not want to do is criticise or correct anything. You must present that you are not “looking over their shoulders,” or checking on them. All you want is data on what happened.

Let me give you an example.

Sales manager has five sales people who spread out across a wide geographic area selling point of sale computerised cashier systems to small, independent businesses and restaurants. The sales model is to do five sales presentations everyday and close one sale everyday.

Sales manager has every sales person call in at the end of his or her work day, everyday and they have a weekly sales meeting every Monday morning to start the week, via teleconference.

Now with this set up, here is what you do:

As sales people call in, the sales manager asks tons of questions, and does everything to get the sales person to describe his or her day—but keeping it positive. As the sales person explains a bad day in the field, the sales manager takes note of those negative things that happened and of the mistakes the sales person made, but he does NOT attempt to correct them or even inform the sales person at that time. In fact, if the sales person begins to explain all the details of a big sale gone wrong, where he or she is aware of their mistakes, the sales manager tries to get off the subject.

The sales person may say things that make the manager cringe, but the manager does not say, “Oh, no, you should not have done that!” Instead, the manger says, “Hey, you put in a hard days work and you know the numbers are going to pay you back!!”

Am I saying that this late night phone call should be a rah-rah pep rally? Yes; but much more. It has to be a pep rally but you have to get information about what happened.

One of the most common mistakes sales managers make is to make corrections at the wrong time. A sales person works hard all day and goes home with no sales. The sales person knows that he made some major blunders and lost the sale and is glad the day is finally over. Later the sales manager checks in and the sales person first has to relive this horrible day. The sales person has to recount every detail of this nightmare and voice his mistakes.

Then, when the story is over, the sales manager confirms it by telling the sales person, yeah, you really did mess up! Finally, now feeling tired, broke, and dejected, the spouse comes over and tells the sales person that he is screwing up and needs to get a “real” job.

You want to speak to your sales people at the end of each day or week, and pump them up and give them ammunition to fend for themselves against their spouse, parent, child, uncle and their own conscience AND get valuable information.

Using the example above, let’s say a sales person calls in and as he explains his demonstration of the computer cashier system, the sales manager hears that the sales person does not know how to demonstrate the day’s end reconciliation correctly and that is why he lost that sale and others.

The instinct is to tell the sales person right then, “No! Go back to page six of your sales manual!! You are not doing the reconciliation the right way!” This seems to make sense and it might if you could meet in person with these people everyday. But since you cannot, then you cannot correct this, then.

Instead the manager jots this down, complements the sales person on his perseverance, and lets him know that the he is now one step closer to the sale.

Now, after you get this type of information from all of your sales people and only pumped them up during your call, you use those notes to form your next sales meeting.

In this case, if not doing the reconciliation is something that several of the sales people seem to be having a problem with, or even if it is just one, the manager makes it a topic or the topic of the next sales meeting. The manager does not point out anyone nor does the manager even suggest that someone is not doing this part correctly. The sales manager simply informs the entire sales force that one of the topics they will cover in this week’s meeting is the best procedure to demonstrate the day’s end reconciliation.

Can you see what happens here?

With this strategy, your sales force knows that every time they call you, you only have good and positive words. And at every sales meeting it seems they get Sales Training that seems to be exactly what they really need! And you did this without one negative word and without singling out any sales person.

I can go on for an hour about all the things you accomplish with this when done correctly. But the main thing is that you create a bond between you and your sales force in that it allows you to “be there” even when you are not. My sales people are field sales people and I make a habit of doing this myself – it works like a dream and the results speak for themselves.

Happy selling!


Sean McPheat

Sean McPheat
Managing Director

MTD Sales Training

450 sales questions free report

Originally published: 3 April, 2008

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