ASK THE EXPERT: Motivating Outside Sales Professionals

By / 1 year ago

“As an operations-oriented manager who is also responsible for growing revenues, how do I motivate the outside sales force?”

Signed, Perplexed

Dear Perplexed,

First of all, I give you kudos! While most of the independent dealers I have ever known do recognize what they perceive to be a lack of motivation among their sales staff, you seem willing to do something about it. Congrats.

In managing outside sales people for more than 35 years, there is no doubt the overwhelming majority of them were self-motivated to earn an income that they wanted or needed. Unfortunately, members of this same overwhelming majority rarely pushed to achieve higher performance levels without some prodding from me. This is where you come in.

I once heard a response attributed to Warren Buffet as to the secret of his success. He replied that he was surrounded by others who thought more of him than he thought of himself. He raised his level of performance because he didn’t want to let them down. Interesting!

I believe the secret to motivating your sales team is as simple as 1-2-3.

1. You and the company’s owner must share with your sales staff the need to grow profitably, and the critical and irreplaceable contributions necessary from each of them. Make a big deal of this with dinner and drinks. Show them in detail all of the important metrics of your business plan, and what is needed from them as a group to achieve your annual goals. Remind them that they are the horses that pull your wagon.

2. Next, in a one-on-one setting, establish specific revenue and gross profit annual targets. Once done, you can break these down to monthly targets based on your past two or three years of monthly performance by percentage. Reinforce with each salesperson their importance to the company, as well as the importance of them achieving their goals.

3. Lastly, review their performance—both individually and as a team—no later than 10 days into each subsequent month. In football, this would be akin to a team studying film of the past game. Discuss in detail with your entire sales team the results of them collectively, what each individual’s performance was, and post in your office the running totals. Down the road you can even get creative and tie a portion of their compensation to their goal achievement.

While it would be nice to think we are all self-motivated to a level consistent with our employer’s expectations, or you have a number of Warren Buffets among your sales team, this unfortunately is not reality. Left alone, most sales reps will get to the level where they are comfortable and satisfied. Whether it be more inclusion between management and the sales staff, peer pressure, or just the fear of failure by having one’s performance made public within the sales team and management staff, you can motivate the majority of your sales staff and bring them to the next level of achievement. Everyone wins and congrats to you for trying!

Scott Hartmann

Scott Hartmann has spent the past 35 years leading established construction supply companies to greater levels of success. As the founder of Hartmann & Co., he now provides management consulting services to independent LBM dealers. He can be reached at or visit