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How To Motivate Your Stressed-Out Sales Team

Troy Wilson
By Troy Wilson
How To Motivate Your Stressed-Out Sales Team Feature Image
4 minute read
⚠️ Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained in this article is accurate, neither its authors nor Aged Lead Store accepts responsibility for any errors or omissions. The content of this article is for general information only, and is not intended to constitute or be relied upon as legal advice.

motivate your sales teamSales teams that work with aged leads are often under enormous pressure, both external and internal. A stressed-out team is likely to have motivation issues, which lead to sales performance issues, which leads to more stress.

With the right motivation, sales managers can break the cycle and start squeezing better sales performance out of their whole team. However, it’s not just a matter of holding a contest or taking everyone out to lunch.

I’m reminded of a Harvard Business Review article from a few years ago. In it, authors Thomas Steenburgh and Michael Ahearne dig into what really works to motivate a sales team. Here are what I consider the most important takeaways.

A Sales Team Is Like a Portfolio

According to the authors’ research, some progressive companies look at their sales team as though it’s an investment portfolio. This portfolio has top performing assets — those are the rainmaker sales pros. It has middle-of-the-road assets — those that perform well under the right circumstances. And it has some underperforming assets — so-called laggards that need more guidance and prodding to hit their targets.

When you look at a sales force this way, it seems crazy to try to apply the same motivation across the board — even though that’s how many sales managers approach motivation! Each cohort is performing at a different level. You should plan for managing your sales team in comparable segments to get the best results.

Mid-Level Sellers: Tiered Targets and Unique Prizes

Firstly, don’t ignore your middle-of-the-road salespeople. They’re often the largest cohort, but far too many incentive plans target the best or worst performers and ignore the middle majority. Research has found that this part of your team excels when offered successive sales targets. A three-tiered sales target plan was most effective.

Next, consider offering secondary prizes that can feel like top prizes for your middle-of-the-road salespeople. The expense isn’t key. Instead, other qualities, such as a chance for a nice family weekend getaway, are more enticing to these team members.

Low-Level Sellers: Pace-Setting Bonuses and Social Pressure

Separately, motivating your underperforming salespeople takes a much different approach. Yet it’s still worth it because the right motivation can move the needle for both new hires and complacent senior team members.

According to research, these folks do well with pace-setting bonuses. A single yearly bonus is far less motivating for your sales laggard performers than the same amount spread out over quarterly bonuses. Performance was impacted by such quarterly bonuses more than twice as much for this group than better deal closers in one study.

The social pressure of being near the bottom can also motivate underperforming team members. In sports, the “man on the bench” effect refers to the extra boost of effort your players will put forth when the second-string players are ready to jump in. In one sales organization‘s experiment, existing team members put forth 5% more effort if there were new hires in the pipeline.

Top-Level Sellers: Remove Commission Caps

The same researchers found that the best motivation for rainmaker sales professionals was just to continue earning commissions on their impressive sales. Although it does help the finance department tamp down on cost-overruns, commission caps were found to ultimately hurt top sellers’ performance. Without a cap, revenues increased 9% in one study.

Further, extra commission bonuses that kick in after quotas are met drive performance in top team members even more. These folks also liked contests where there was more than one prize up for grabs.


With a diversified sales team, it’s important to have a diversified approach to motivation. Not everyone can win the trip to the Caribbean, but everyone on your team can be motivated to sell more. Consider tiered sales targets, contests with multiple prize levels, quarterly bonuses, social pressure, and commission bonuses to motivate all members of your sales team.

Is your sales team ready to smash their next sales target? Consider filling up your pipeline with high-quality leads from the Aged Lead Store. You’ll find thousands of high-quality sortable aged leads that are ready to go, whether your business is auto, life, health, or home insurance, mortgage refinance, or solar installation.

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Troy Wilson

About Troy Wilson

Troy is the CEO and founder of Aged Lead Store. He has been in the lead generation industry for over two decades. His blog posts focus on how to refine your sales process and get the most out of your insurance leads, mortgage leads, and solar leads.

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