Top 10 Ways to Motivate Sales Reps Without Money

Jeff-Hoffman by

Sure, money talks, but if you really want to inspire your reps to break through walls you need to tap into something deeper. Sales executive, educator, and entrepreneur Jeff Hoffman provides 10 creative ways to encourage and reward above-and-beyond performance.

I just returned from delivering a two-day seminar in Dallas for front-line sales managers. I love the variety of my work, but I truly have a soft spot in my heart for this type of engagement. I believe the hardest job in sales is that of sales manager. I never knew how many bosses I had until I received my first promotion into management! And although I love the chase of a sale, I quickly realized that if I remained in “super-rep mode” for too long, I would burn out in this new role.

It became clear that my capacity to lead my team to sales greatness was dependent on my ability to communicate with people who were different than me. Naturally, I turned to the one common language all sales reps speak — money.  I created a multitude of contests and SPIFFS to motivate my teams, and, predictably, ran out of bonus money before our goals were met.

Then it hit me. The truth is that money is only one of many ways we can inspire sales reps to make courageous decisions and to crush their targets. Here are some of my favorite ways you can excite your team. No call to your CFO required.

Top 10 List: How to Motivate Sales Teams without Money

10) Give Them Direct Access (Lunch? Dinner?) to Your Company’s CEO

Mark Zuckerberg interviewed by Financial Times, Scobleizer, and Techcrunch

Most sales people crave to be on the “inside.” They spend their time sleuthing on LinkedIn, combing through SEC filings, and having hushed conversations with their champions, all in the hopes of gaining an insider’s edge that may help them close their deal.

Information is power. So let your reps feel the upside of that power with a one-on-one with the owner of your most critical information: your CEO.

Ask your CEO to share with your selected rep the direction the company is headed, discuss new products in development, and markets the company plans on pursuing. In addition to this great insight, the rep also gets attention from the most visible executive in your company, and feels the love knowing that your company truly values talented salespeople. Small investment, huge reward.

9) Work for THEM for an Afternoon. Sell, EA, Whatever They Want!

boss on call

Make it fun – cold call for your rep for a few hours, set up future appointments, research prospective accounts, even answer email on his or her behalf. Show your reps that you value their selling time, but you also recognize the parts of their job that are more of a grind.

Besides, nothing pumps up the sales floor more than when the old vet grabs a phone to show them how it’s done. Better yet, let them have a laugh at your expense when the prospect cuts you off with a curt, “Not interested,” and hangs up!

8) Give Them Dedicated Support for a Field-Marketing Event


Provide your top producer with some much-needed support as he or she prepares for a field marketing event.

The facilitation of inviting hundreds of area CxOs to a breakfast event can be exhausting. Assign some support staff to assist with registration, emailing invites, and coordinating event logistics. Hire temporary help if necessary.

More importantly, reach across the aisle and ask for help from your company’s most valuable and efficient sales resource: marketing. This is right in their wheelhouse. Let them do their thing.

By working together on this type of externally focused effort, it will give your reps the chance to show marketing what they do best and help facilitate sales and marketing collaboration on future events.

7) Commit to a 24-Hour Turnaround on Outstanding Expense Reports

24 hours

Boy, is this an easy one. Your rep’s monthly AMEX bill rarely coincides with his or her quarterly commission check. Nothing bums out a rep more than getting caught between the two, particularly because top reps rarely admit that they may be “a little short” this month.

A well-placed call to Finance may represent a small gesture from you, but it’s one that can often bring a silent sigh of relief. And yet another simple example of how you always have your reps’ backs.

6) Ask Them to Lead the Next Pipeline Review

01 (214)

Turn over the spreadsheets and CRM dashboards to your top performer for your next weekly pipeline meeting. Chances are that she will ask better questions, expose subtle gaps, and highlight secret opportunities with more insight than you can imagine.

Why? Because those units and dollars are just numbers to you — but to her, they represent actual conversations. And there’s something about a peer asking another for a commitment that fuels a competitive spirit and makes things happen.

5) Invite Them and One of Their Customers to Dinner

A business lunch on Manhattan, 18 Nov. 2008

Nothing bonds you closer to your rep than spending an entire day with him or her on the road. Watching reps plan and execute their day while it unfolds, witnessing how they conduct a variety of sales calls — it really is often the best way to really inspect their talent and ability.

And after the long day, we all frequently like to debrief and coach over a well-deserved dinner. So why not invite a customer along? Not a prospect, but someone who has already bought from you. It gives your rep an opportunity feel pride in front of both you and a customer at the same time.

4) Give Them More Opportunities, Even Ones Outside Their Territory

Playing 'Risk'

What’s a top 10 list without something a bit controversial?

Nothing gives your rep (and you) more immediate payback than a little extra time in the batting cage. Reward your rep’s next big close with a brand new opportunity that he or she normally wouldn’t get the chance to pursue.

Maybe it’s transferring a named account to a geo rep. Or maybe it’s an enterprise opportunity for a rep who normally works in the mid-market space. Let them showoff and spread their wings a bit, and watch them rise to the occasion, as not to disappoint.

This also gives you the opportunity to let the existing rep that has failed to give that opportunity any life remember that these aren’t his or her leads — they are the company’s leads. And they can come and go at any time. To the victor go the spoils.

3) Invite Them to an Internal Product-Planning Meeting

Lots of drawing on walls

Give your top performer a window into how your organization develops and releases a new product into the marketplace. Few reps understand the complexities and the volume of people that are required during a company’s product launch.

Inevitably, the rep will offer observations on time-to-market realities that your product groups are starving to hear. This generates great connections into departments that your reps rarely interacts with, and hopefully lets your rep appreciate that asking for “one little feature,” is a bigger ask than he or she may have originally thought.

2) Offer Them Executive-Level Referrals from Your Board

Michigan Municipal League Board Meeting at the Start of the League's 2012 Capital Conference in Lansing

Spend an hour or two on LinkedIn and look for connections between target account execs and your board of directors. Ask connected board members for a referral on behalf of your rep. Once you collect a few, pass them on.

Knowing how these referrals came about, your reps will work them with high sense of importance and urgency. It also reminds the board that at your company, everybody sells.

1) Invest Some Time in Cutting-Edge Education

TED conference

One of the top things I look for when hiring salespeople is their level of “intellectual curiosity.” Show them you have some, too, by sharing a cool book, podcast, video, blog, or any “outside the box” thinking that you have personally found helpful and really enjoy.

Pick a topic that may help than sell better, like linguistics or social psychology. Turn your reps on to different types of thinkers on Twitter. Then circle back with them to see what kinds of things they recommend. We all enjoy sharpening the saw.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, sales reps already have a strong money incentive in place to inspire them to produce — their quota and their subsequent comp plan. But, remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint — so celebrate the small victories with simple and cheap (or even free) rewards that show your team you value and reward courage, success, and excellence. Then sit back and watch them bust through walls for a boss who actually “gets it.”

As always, Happy Selling!


  • This piece has been a big hit with MJ Hoffman clients. One seasoned Manager motivated his team by jumping on the phones during a calling blitz and offering to give the rep with the most appointments any he booked. The team saw a 50% increase in appointments from the last blitz and, the top rep netted a total of 8!

    Would love to hear other stories out there.
    – Jen

  • These are all great. Don’t forget, nothing beats dedicating TIME to listen to your reps and being a Business Mentor to them. Listen to them and Help them get where they want to be. Weekly 30 Minute Coaching sessions are great ways to do this.
    Also remember, that Motivation isn’t something that is done TO somebody.

  • The best thing I’ve found for our company’s sales reps is giving them the best prospecting tools available. If your company is not using SalesLoft, your reps are wasting valuable time looking for accurate data which SL can provide for you. The only time I’ve ever gotten a thank you note from one of our company’s reps is after we encouraged them to use SL; he said has doubled his outbound prospecting efforts and his pipeline has seen a multiplier effect on that.

  • Kim C.

    These are fantastic. I am trying to decide which one I like the best!

  • People are motivated when they are reminded of why they are doing what they are doing. Self actualization is really quite powerful. I compiled an eBook of 120 motivational quotes for sales teams. I recommend sending out one quote to your team every morning for a few weeks.

    Everyone has dreams and aspirations of some sort and usually they are doing what they are doing because they want to achieve certain things. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to lose sight of that in the day-to-day grind. So, as a leader, give back, motivate, and lead them to what they already want.

    You can download this eBook here: