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Most people who’ve tried to hire and lead salespeople usually get it ass-backwards! In fact, most leaders base their coaching tactics on a blatant lie, one that’s been told for years, and a falsehood that’s passed on to them just after they sign their sales manager’s contract.

It goes like this:

The secret to building a highly productive team is to get out there and MOTIVATE your people!

And that is complete BS! LOL!

While it IS true that an effective producer does have to become motivated—get out into the field and make the calls on a daily basis, what they don’t tell us is WHERE the motivation has to originate from. 

They leave that part out!

So, what do most new sales managers do?

We get this crazy idea in our head that it’s our responsibility to figure out how to magically motivate the person that was just hired and assigned to us for training. So, we begin the daunting task of trying to find the right shiny object to wave in front of their face. We become just another trained sales manager seal, barking up a storm, only to fall short of saying and doing that perfect thing that’s going to persuade ‘Bob’ to pick up the phone and set appointments.

And then at some point, if we actually survive and evolve as a leader (and we don’t hand them their damn management contract back), we figure out……we CAN’T motivate anyone!

All great leaders and coaches eventually learn that you can’t motivate people; but you can nurture the motivation that already exists inside of them. You can inspire them to find their own internal reasons for doing the work.

“…you can’t motivate people; but you can nurture the motivation that already exists inside of them!”

But it takes some work to nurture and inspire them, and you have to know how the brain works and you have to have some coaching methods that work.

Here’s a little bit of the brain science behind motivation…

For many years, research suggested that motivation happens when you fix behaviors. Hence, a lot of the early leadership and management philosophies focused on dealing with faulty behavior or lack of apparent motivation, but behavior (or a lack of activity) comes after the fact and are simply the results of many other factors.

So, you can blow some smoke up their rear ends, tell them to “just do it” or throw a contest, but the fallacy with this antiquated way of thinking is probably pretty clear to you. If you’re dealing with the effect, versus the root cause, you never really fix anything. (Or motivate anyone)

Research on the psychology behind motivation has evolved over the years. 

The current teaching trends are about leaders learning how to enhance a person’s own deep-seated motivations. The goal here is not only to help an individual move away from faulty behavior. (Or lack of action) The objectives are much more than that. The goal is to get a person past baseline/center and flourishing quickly.

Based on combined sixty years of experience it is our belief that we must take the time to understand what drives each individual to want to change. This understanding is critical to helping them create sustained behavioral change.

So, if you are a leader of people, here are a few things I’d like you to think about and hopefully put into action with your team. These are 4 disciplines all GREAT coaches KNOW and PRACTICE regarding motivation:

  1. Learn about WHAT they’re really WORKING FOR

If you aren’t sure how to discover this, you may want to simply ask them. You’d be surprised how a simple question about what they’re working for—what they plan to do with the commission dollars they earn and how it will change their life—can open up a genuine conversation and a real connection between you and the person you are leading.

It’s not wise to make assumptions about a new salesperson before you really get to know them. Often, we make an assumption that an individual is already motivated to change. After all…they just jumped into this new gig, right? However, that is a dangerous supposition. Before you jump in and “coach them up” you’d be wise to cultivate an understanding of their motivational makeup.

Unfortunately, many coaching approaches devote little time to this thing called, “understanding.” We simply assume that a willingness to grow and change is present, but in order for change and growth to occur, the person you are coaching must be willingable, and ready to transform himself or herself. The change in their behaviors that you are looking for has to be fueled by WHAT they are working for in the first place. If that thing is IMPORTANT enough to them, and you help them become competent and confident enough to achieve it, they’ll give it a shot.

Only by investigating where someone stands on these factors—what they are really working for—will a coach be able to foster behavior change.

  1. Sell the DREAM, but also establish where they are NOW 

Building out, explaining, and even selling, a BIG VISION for their future is the key to creating the stimulus a person needs to pursue change. But this isn’t all that great leaders do. The second part of this equation is just as critical. While selling the dream, they establish a perceived discrepancy between where that person wants to GO and where they are NOW.

Recognition of this gap between where they want to eventually wind up, and their present state, will usually trigger their internal motivation to make the behavioral changes necessary to create momentum towards that dream they’re pursuing. (But only if that thing they’re working for is important enough to them)

  1. Build BRIDGES to small (independent) VICTORIES 

Significant changes in behavior and results don’t happen overnight, but still, most entry-level salespeople want to see some reward as they’re toiling away. Great coaches and leaders help them begin to connect the dots of their present position and the road to their dreams by helping them create small wins on their own. These small victories are rewards unto themselves.

During your very early onboarding and coaching with them you want to demonstrate that it is possible for them to complete a small task or reach an initial goal without your assistance. A great example of this is that you first expose to them the FULL sales process, which may include many or all of the following steps:

  • Qualifying Leads
  • Setting the appointment
  • Presenting the product or service
  • Closing
  • Delivering/enrolling/facilitating
  • Providing service
  • Asking for referrals
  • Etc…

The many steps listed above (the total sales cycle) looks intimidating on paper, let alone how it must look or feel to a new person getting started. Just thinking about having to master all of those bullet points (and a few others we didn’t list) can be demotivating unto itself.

A great coach and leader, however, simply shows their new salesperson the full cycle, but doesn’t ask them to master each and every piece. Instead, they show them only how to qualify a lead and ask for an appointment. Then they ask them to set one or two appointments, telling the new hire that they, “need not worry about the rest of the process right now.”

So, a great coach controls certain elements of the task that are initially beyond their new salesperson’s capability. What this does is permit the new hire to concentrate upon and complete only those elements that are within their range of competence. Then, once they have tasted a success such as making an appointment with a qualified decision maker, they can learn to do that in more volume, while also learning how the presentation works.

We call this, building bridges. A good example of this concept may be how you learned to ride a bike.

Your parents put training wheels on your bike. Then they ran alongside making sure you were okay. You got the idea of steering first, and then braking, and they did this in a safe place, like your backyard. In other words, your parents and the training wheels handled the harder parts of the task (balancing and keeping you from whacking a car or a tree), while allowing you to try out and get comfortable with the easier parts of the job.

When you ‘nailed’ steering and braking, they removed the training wheels and asked you then to shift your focus to balancing. Then, before you knew it you were riding the bike across the back yard without their help. Then, they graduated you to the front yard.

They helped you build upon what you already knew, and pretty soon you were riding the bike independently. Your mom or dad helped you build a mental bridge from one small victory to another. They didn’t just throw you on the bike and push you out onto a busy road.

In the process, you stayed motivated because the small victories built upon each other.

  1. Reinforce the right THINKING and self-talk PATTERNS

Once you’ve learned WHAT they’re working for and you’ve also established the separation between where they’re at NOW and where they wish to GO, and then you’ve started to create small victories for them, then the hard work begins. LOL!

Your main job now becomes consistently reinforcing their thinking patterns and self-talk.

As subtle as all this is going to be (and it is SO subtle) you are going to train your ear to hear things. You will need to pick up on the difference between:

Change talk (which reflects a desire or commitment to change)


Sustain talk (which indicates arguments for the status quo) 

Change talk is the lifeblood of deepening their internal desires and motivation to drive toward their stated dreams. Your effectiveness as a coach or leader will hinge on your ability to listen carefully to them and then engage in conversation that’s largely grounded in change talk.

Your ultimate goal is NOT to argue for change, but to help them vocalize their own motivation for change—the internal reasons that are already inside of them.

So, how did we do here?

Did we succeed in busting a myth or two surrounding how “MOTIVATION” really works and what your job as a coach or leader really is? Isn’t it a relief to know that you don’t have to try and figure out how to motivate others any longer? In fact, I promise, if you simply focused on these 4 bullet points:

  1. Learn about WHAT they’re really WORKING FOR
  2. Sell the DREAM, but also establish where they are NOW (Gap)
  3. Build BRIDGES to small (independent) VICTORIES
  4. Reinforce the right THINKING and self-talk PATTERNS

…your business results will change dramatically!

Joe Buzzello & Tom Healy
Author: Joe Buzzello & Tom Healy

Joe Buzzello & Tom Healy are the Co-Founders of growth10 and have a shared mission to help entrepreneurs grow faster and have a greater impact on the world.

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