Andy Paul, the host of the sales improvement podcast Accelerate!, reminded me in a recent interview about how sales managers are constantly being told to “improve the productivity of their sales team” through sales coaching. Then he asked me whether that improvement should start with the individual salespeople or with the sales manager.

My answer is that it is impossible to separate the two. I know first-hand that sales managers have enormous influence on their team’s results. Though we all hope that influence is always positive, it can be negative.

That said, at the end of the day, each sales rep’s success comes down to his or her internal drive.

Methods for Increasing Sales Reps’ Motivation via Sales Coaching

Andy challenged me on the first part of that premise. “There’s a school of thought that motivation is purely internal and not driven by externalities,” he said. The implication being that sales managers really can’t influence motivation very much.

I agreed that everyone has an innate level of motivation that they bring to their jobs.

As I explained to Andy, research shows there are four universal positive motivators: achievement, recognition, the work itself, and increased responsibility. In other words, the level of internal motivation that people feel almost always links to one or more of those factors. (Money may be a fifth motivator in sales, but I’ll focus on the top 4 now.)

“A sales manager can’t determine which of these four motivators will have the biggest influence on any individual,” I told Andy. “But through proactive coaching, he or she can identify which is most important for each person on their team and shape their conversations and incentives to boost those factors.”

For reps driven by recognition, for example, the reward for high achievement could be accompanying the sales manager on a meeting with higher-level executives and/or hearing their achievement acknowledged during team or company meetings. That recognition will increase motivation, which will increase productivity.

Avoiding Decreasing Motivation (“Demotivation”)

There’s a flipside to this coin of motivation, however. It’s called demotivation—robbing people of their desire to contribute and improve.

There are some demotivators—such as poor company policies—that sales managers can do little about.

But one of the biggest sources of demotivation is “poor supervision,” which translates in the sales environment to having an ineffective sales manager who is a poor coach and leader, who creates a negative working conditions. That can certainly demotivate a team and lead to lower productivity.

Working on Both Fronts: Sales Coaching & Rep Motivation

This interlinking of the relationship between effective sales coaching and rep motivation is why I can’t separate out where productivity improvement should start.

Yes, ultimately the rep has to do the work that will lead to better results. But they’ll be more likely to improve and continue improving if their sales manager is working with them on their motivators—and if that manager is working to improve themselves to make sure they are not inadvertently demotivating their team. It’s a two-way street.


Kevin F. Davis is the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: 10 Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.” The book is now available on Amazon.com here.