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5 tips for fixing sales motivation problems Blog Feature

John Becker

Editorial Content Manager, Co-host of Content Lab, 15+ Years of Writing and Teaching Experience

November 12th, 2019 min read

A salesperson’s professional life is one of ups and downs, winning and losing, hitting targets and missing the mark. In such a rollercoaster, wavering motivation is all too common.

However, according to Marcus Sheridan, keynote speaker and author of They Ask, You Answer, the key to staying motivated as a salesperson has much to do with reframing your conception of success and focusing on growth.

Rather than seeing a yes and a win and a no as a loss, he suggests using both as chances to reflect on your process and hone your skills. Constant professional development is essential to keeping your skillset at its best.

Furthermore, a salesperson has to be willing to walk away from any deal if it is going to be a bad fit for the company. This self discipline will pay dividends in the long run.

In this frank and open interview, Marcus explains his thoughts on the problem of motivation on sales teams, and what sales reps and sales managers can do about it.

1. Embracing the “no”

Me: You've spoken about learning to embrace 'no.' Talk about what that is and why that's important.

Marcus: A lot of people struggle with sales, especially at first, because they've never really been rejected. In today's world, parents don't like to say no to their kids. I think it's really important early on in life to hear no, to learn to lose.

We should see losing as a learning experience that we can laugh about, not a reason for a meltdown. That carries on through college and then through your professional life.

A lot of people get out of sales very quickly because they've never learned that no is actually a really positive thing. Hearing no means that you put yourself in a position to get a yes.

It means that you were actively engaged. It means that you actually asked the question and sought the commitment. 

In many ways, sales is just pure mathematics. If a salesperson does their job long enough, they realize they get two yeses for every five nos. So, in a way, each no means a future yes.  

That very healthy relationship with no needs to be understood, it needs to be practiced, and it needs to be celebrated. 

Me: I would also think that no is a chance to be reflective and think about your process.

Marcus: The science of human decision making is truly fascinating. I get no all the time. Even as a professional speaker, I am in front of an audience and I do things that will either induce a laugh or nothing. They'll induce engagement or resistance. 

What's really interesting is oftentimes the exact same joke or exact same statement or can produce totally different interactions or reactions from the audience. How is that possible?

Well, it does give you a chance to look and say, "Why was that? Why didn't that work out?" 

If you approach sales much more scientifically and less emotionally, you're almost always more successful. 

I don't mean that you shouldn’t be emotional and passionate in the way that you sell, just that you shouldn’t allow your emotions to get the best of you when you get the yes or when you get the no. 

The magic is in analyzing why they said yes and why they said no. 

2. Getting comfortable with saying “we might not be a good fit”

Me: In addition to a salesperson being comfortable hearing no from a prospect, they also need to be willing to say no themselves — to say, “we might not be a good fit.”

Marcus: The salesperson has to learn that, with the client, being able to say “we’re not a good fit for you” is actually a really beautiful thing. It’s a win. But salespeople have to learn the concept of fit, and they need to get this from their company.

If, for a business, it's not clearly stated who you are and who you’re not a good fit for, then it won’t be made clear to the sales professional.

However, having this mindset gives salespeople more power and authority because people can sense if you're willing to walk away. When you're willing to walk away based on fit, it allows you to communicate at a higher level and generate dramatically more authority in the sales process. You're viewed more as a consultant than as an order taker. That puts you in a very different position. 

It’s not about arrogance. You have clear, calm confidence. Your prospects can tell that your recommendations are the right ones. When they realize that, your authority just goes through the roof. 

Now, salespeople need to be given that permission from their organization to be able to communicate in that way. If they don't, they feel more like an order taker.

Me: Being able to say upfront that you might not be a great fit will save you headaches in the long run. Because if you do end up making a deal with a company that's not a good fit, that's ultimately not going to bear fruit in the way you'd want it to, right?

Marcus: That's exactly right. You'll have seller's remorse at that point.

3. Focusing on professional development

Me: You talk about the importance of becoming obsessed with personal and professional development. I'm hoping you could go into both why that's important and how you actually do this.

Marcus: Selling is like a muscle that can grow — or can become weak and flimsy. This is why you see salespeople can go on roller coasters. Oftentimes, people who have been very, very successful in sales, when they get poached and come to another organization, they think they can just ride that previous wave. Often, they are some of the worst performers in the new organization. 

One of the biggest reasons is because salespeople do get fat and happy; they get very satisfied with their skillset, and they lose their edge. 

The majority of salespeople should be spending 10 to 20% of their professional time in professional development. Sadly, it's too often not the case.

Me: What does that professional development look like?

Marcus: It should be listening to sales and communication talks, be it YouTube videos, be it books, be it podcasts.

You want to be really on your game when you're going into any sales conversation. If you’re not learning, you’re not as crisp.

There are always new technologies, new ways of selling — and anything that’s stimulating invigorates the mind and prevents complacency. 

Zig Ziglar has the great quote. He was talking about what you learn at conferences and from speakers. When some people say such learning doesn’t last, Ziglar said, “Well, neither does bathing – that's why we recommend it daily.” Growth and development should be frequent and consistent.

As a speaker, as a professional, as a communicator, I deal with this all the time. There are times when I go through a period without giving a particular talk and I'm not as crisp, I'm not as sharp. 

Salesperson can go a period of time without answering a particular question or dealing with a particular concern. If they don't do it, they're not as crisp, not as sharp, not as on their game. 

There's a reason why basketball players shoot before they actually hit the game floor. It's all the same concept. Salespeople don't do that enough.

Me: Do you encourage salespeople to watch videos of their own calls — or of their colleagues?

Marcus: Yeah, that's such a good point. You should constantly be reviewing your own sales processes, especially with colleagues. I believe everybody needs coaching and every salesperson should have some type of mentor or sales coach. 

It's especially true today because a lot of selling is be done virtually, which means we can record it and we can go back and watch what we said and analyze it — almost like we're analyzing game film.

I think too many salespeople are not comfortable with feedback, with criticism, with the “no.” It leads to just an under performance, and they're not nearly as successful as they could be.

Me: I would think also not being comfortable with “no” would lead to increased anxiety, which could also prolong a slump. 

Marcus: Yes. You lose leverage when you have anxiety, when you’re desperate. Salespeople are at their best when they have a mindset of  "I'm not afraid to walk away from the deal." 

4. Becoming a master at asking questions that prompt deep discussion

Me: How can salespeople prompt richer, deeper conversations?

Marcus: The greatest salespeople generally are the greatest communicators. The fascinating thing is, if you ask most salespeople if they are good at asking questions, more than 90% will answer yes. 

Now, if you actually test their abilities to ask questions at a very high level, most fail. We have an overinflated sense of our question-asking skillset, across the board. 

This is one of those very specific skills that we need to work on all the time. If we're constantly working on how we can ask better questions in the moment, in the second, how can we respond and teach with questions — when we have that mindset, it just opens up this different level of connection with our audience.

The ability to engender trust is so much higher when you ask powerful questions and you're not just saying what you think they should do or how they should feel or what they should buy.

Once again, most say they're good at this, the majority are not. 

I like to do an exercise where the rule is you're only allowed to ask questions as a response. 

Imagine this example conversation between you and me:

You: "Marcus, what is content marketing?" 

Me: "So has there ever been a time when you researched a product and you kept going back to a website again and again and again?"

You: "Yes."

Me: "So what was it about that website that you loved?"

You: "Well it had lots of information."

Me: "Well, what types of information?"

After you told me all the types of information you found...

Me: "So because you saw that stuff, how did you feel towards that company?"

You: "I trusted them." 

Me: "That's exactly what content marketing is." 

You do that simple exercise in most industries and salespeople are stumped immediately, because they're so used to telling people the answer.

Me: You really have to fight some natural tendencies and train yourself to encourage rich discussion. 

Marcus: Most salespeople never get beyond the surface. Frankly, if you're great at sales, people are constantly telling you their entire life story and problems without you even asking for it because they sense something in you that's different.

Me: If a salesperson is able to see themselves as a subject matter expert — or see themselves as a marketer, can that enhance their communication ability? 

Marcus: What salespeople need to do to stay motivated is to really embrace the digital consumer. Part of that is saying, "Okay, I'm a subject matter expert and I'm going to make sure that I am teaching and speaking about these things through text, video, and audio so as to stand out in a noisy marketplace – so as to gain trust before the initial handshake.”

This way, by the time a buyer gets to a sales appointment, they’re way further down the funnel than they otherwise would've been.

Thinking like a marketer forces you to become a much better subject matter expert because you’re producing content. You get much better at communicating. You also build up your brand and your voice and you become more of a thought leader within your space. 

It's also just invigorating, period. I have seen over and over again sales team morale go way up all because they have engaged with marketing and have really embraced becoming serious subject matter experts.

Me: We talk so much about shortening the sales cycle, but from a different perspective, this really lengthens the sales cycle by making salespeople connected to the marketing side of the process.

Marcus: Yeah. Salespeople will become a part of the whole sales journey, not just the 30% that happens after the handshake.

5. Remember the "why"

Me: You encourage salespeople to “have a clear sense of your why.” What do you mean?

Marcus: Sometimes, the life of a salesperson is difficult. The travel, the rejection, whatever it is. You have to ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it the flexibility? Is it the financial peace it can offer you and your family? Whatever it is, you need to remind yourself of it often. This gives you the ability to push through the grunt work and the stuff that makes you grit your teeth. 

A sales manager's job is to find out your why and help you remember it. Many managers might not know it for each of their team members, but they should, and they should help each salesperson work towards it.

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