Keeping (sales) employees motivated

I spent the first two years of my career in B2B Sales, a role that comes with its fair share of motivational ups and downs. Sales roles tend to follow very strong quarterly patterns. You get your target, you have three months to hit it, and then it starts all over again. 

The challenge however wasn’t just about repeating a quarterly cycle, it was also the daily cycle that was a grind. Wake up, come to the office, call your leads, send those follow-up emails, write contracts, send a reminder, go home and then do it all over again. Sales is a very rewarding job, but can also be very exhausting. 

Thankfully though, I had a manager that cared about his employees, and a team full of positive people. Looking back on that experience, I remember a few very specific things that kept us engaged and motivated. Here are five of the things that stuck with me. 

Healthy Competition

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In environments where employees work against individual targets, it can happen easily that things get competitive – which his a good thing! After all, a competitive environment is a productive environment. However, you gotta be careful for the team atmosphere to not become overly cut-throat. 

What we did in our team was to launch themed competitions in which you’d partner with other reps or with the person who as in charge of qualifying your leads before you took them on as a sales rep. The competitions worked all differently and each had a different theme with different rewards. They ended up becoming a highlight during the last month of our sales quarters and people loved the buzz and excitement it created. 


Rewards can be monetary, but they don’t have to be. Since one’s individual sales attainment was already tied to a monetary bonus, we created a bunch of other incentives that became equally desirable. 

First and foremost, it was the very visible exposure of the competition boards we had. If you were doing well in the competition, everyone would see it. Additionally, we started handing out rewards like additional PTO (personal time off) or high-exposure events like “dinner with a VP” etc. Being able to get something that your teammates don’t get turned out to become a very strong incentive for some. 

Career progression

Especially in organizations that are new and growing fast, new opportunities come up left and right. As sales reps we knew that once we out-performed our core (which was growing our markets and hitting our sales goals), we would get opportunities to climb up the career latter. 

For some people it meant taking on larger territories or start selling more sophisticated products. For others, those who showed mentorship qualities, it meant taking on a team lead role. One way or another, you felt that the sales role your were in wasn’t final, but that there were other opportunities waiting for you if you did well. 

Trust and Empowerment

What motivated me the most wasn’t the rewards or the bonuses. It was the trust that my manager had put into me. I was fresh out of college and I felt that my manager was taking a bet on me. I was definitely punching above my weight class and I felt a very strong need to show that I was ready for that challenge. Having a manager that trusted me and empowered me to take on such responsibilities, only made me want to not disappoint him. 

Leading by example

One thing I learned through my team leadership roles is that you just have to lead by example. If you come in on Monday morning with a long face and a bad attitude, you basically give permission to everyone else to do the same. But if you come with energy and a positive attitude – even if you don’t feel like it – you are setting an example of how you want everyone else to show up. The way how you show up as a leader becomes a self-fulling prophecy for everyone else.