Reluctant Sales Reps? How to Show them the ‘Why’


Have you ever encountered sales reps reluctant to take training? Maybe reps are excited and motivated as new hires, but less interested to invest time into training once they have been on the job for awhile. They might be used to working a certain way and don’t want to learn your new sales process or add another product to their offerings.

You’ve tried to explain how the training will help them sell better (and earn more commission) but to no avail. Trainers and sales managers are frustrated, and the C-suite wants to know why the numbers look bad. But before anyone drops the hammer, let’s explore why your reps seem disconnected and examine the driving force behind employee engagement: motivation.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Think about what motivates you. Maybe you have a hobby that you participate in just for fun. Maybe you like playing a game because you find it exciting or solving a puzzle because you find the challenge fun. If so, you are intrinsically motivated to do so. Your motivation is internal and you engage in a behavior for the sake of personal enjoyment or satisfaction.

If, however, you do something to gain some type of external reward (i.e. money, awards, etc.), then you are extrinsically motivated. Researchers have found that extrinsic and intrinsic motivation differ in how effective they are at driving behavior. For example, extrinsic motivators such as incentives do little to produce lasting attitude and behavioral changes.

And herein lies the problem when talking about sales reps. This role is motivated by the commission or the bonus check. These are powerful extrinsic motivators that may actually motivate reps not to take time for your training! If they can’t connect how the new sales process or product will help them sell more and do their jobs better, they will resist. If the training is hard to access or time-consuming, they will resist even more.

Why Incentives Aren’t Enough

First things first; stop dangling shiny things in front of your reps.

Social scientist, Alfie Kohn, at the Harvard Business Review agrees. “Incentives … do not alter the attitudes that underlie our behaviors,” Kohn says. “They do not create an enduring commitment to any value or action. Rather, incentives merely — and temporarily — change what we do.”

Sure, every sales rep wants a nice commission check, but it’s not just the money that motivates them. It could be the feeling of achievement that comes from making the sale, a sense of mission or purpose associated with your company, or the desire to support their family.

So when it comes to long-term motivation, consider using these alternative methods to internally motivate and engage your reps:

1. Show reps how the training will benefit them

Past experiences have taught sales reps that training is simply time spent away from selling. This is why you must clearly connect training to a desirable outcome for the rep. For example, make sure reps understand how selling your new product will help them gain market share or how using your new sales process will allow them to build deeper relationships with their customers.

Try to balance both intrinsic and extrinsic benefits. After all, winning more business will always be a powerful motivator for sales reps!

2. Connect sales reps to their products

The most motivated people aren’t the best paid, but those who feel a connection with their work. Help your reps truly understand and believe in the product they’re selling. How does it improve people’s lives? When they feel like they know their product, your reps gain a sense of purpose and responsibility, which increases motivation.

3. Encourage managers to structure coaching around meaningful progress, not just hitting targets

A sense of progress and personal growth is crucial for employees to actually stay engaged. One study shows that making progress in one’s work is more frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation than any other workday event. You can help enable progress by providing clear goals, frequent feedback, and the necessary resources to accomplish those goals.

The greater progress your reps make, the more competent and confident they become. So rather than having sales managers focus their coaching on hitting sales targets, make sure coaching is focused on continual, meaningful progress. In turn, your reps will be more internally motivated and satisfied in their roles.

Competencies aren’t Enough: How to Help Sales Reps Win

sales competencies

Early this year, I attended a conference for medical device sales training professionals. I expected to hear about innovative ways organizations are training their reps, reinforcing value statements and sustaining training after product launch events.

I was wrong!

Instead, I heard many sessions about competencies and competency modeling. Having the right competency model in place is critical for sales reps and account managers. Once the right sales competencies are in place, we can coach reps to meet these competencies, measure their performance against the competencies, spot high performers and identify weak ones. Competency models are hard to get right, so it’s no surprise that so many sales training functions spend a whole lot of time making and revising them.

Competency models are a terrific tool for hiring and firing. They are valuable to managers and they help stakeholders decide what training should be created. But they are not helpful at ensuring that training is effective. Let me explain.

Know, Do, Believe, Avoid



Let’s use the common sales competency new account acquisition as an example. Assume you are a sales training manager who must design and implement a program to help sales reps develop their ability to acquire new accounts. Where would you begin?

If your competency model is solid, you will have a precise picture of how new account acquisition should be done. You’ll even be able to observe reps (and look at sales data) to see who is strong in the competency and who isn’t. But this does not help low or average performers get from Point A to Point B.

This is where learning objectives come into play. For the uninitiated, learning objectives are statements that tell us what learners will know, do, believe or avoid after completing training. Rather than saying “This training will teach new account acquisition,” learning objectives force us to get specific:

  • Follow the 6 steps in the XYZ selling process.
  • Position ACME corp. products with new accounts.
  • Segment accounts by size, type and product lines used.
  • Demonstrate superior listening skills with new prospects.

Essentially, learning objectives drive the granular behaviors that someone must perform to master a competency. By deciding what learning objectives are needed to meet a competency, you can ensure that training covers the appropriate content.

But even if your learning objectives are solid and they support your competency, you’re still a ways away from true performance improvement.

Optimize the Learning Experience


This is why instructional designers (IDs for short) stay employed. They know how adults learn best and they tailor the learning experience so each learning objective is met. We call our IDs learning designers.

A good learning designer will:

  • Winnow your subject matter down to what is truly essential to meet the learning objectives.
  • Employ a variety of interactions, activities and modalities to present the training content in a way that is memorable.
  • Craft meaningful scenarios that provide safe practice opportunities for learners.
  • Break content into small manageable chunks (like microlearning).
  • Incorporate appropriate performance support and reinforcement tools into a training experience to extend the learning.

And with the broad range of learning technologies available today, a learning solutions company can take sound instructional design further by incorporating mobile apps, game-based experiences, custom videos and more.

Most importantly, learning designers make sure training is designed based on the science of how people learn and remember. They identify what behaviors sales reps will need to exhibit in order to reach your competencies and design learning experiences that make it stick.

So if you’ve just recently finalized your competency model for sales reps, that’s great! You have the foundation, but you’ll need effective training to take them from theory to reality.

Want to take your sales training further? Our Sales Enablement and Beyond webinar will show you how:

4 Steps to Sales Training Success Using Games

Sales training professionals play a critical role in their organizations. Whether an organization has highly educated reps selling complex products or sales representatives helping customers in a high turnover retail environment, sales enablement is the key to a healthy sales pipeline.

We find that many organizations have similar challenges when it comes to sales enablement. They need their reps to communicate value, not features and benefits, through asking the right questions and telling a compelling story. They need to avoid competing on price, which is what customers use to make decisions when they can’t tell any real difference in value. And they need to quickly ramp up on new products after they are launched.

These challenges are amplified in the competitive, highly regulated life science and medical device space. If you come from an organization in this space, you are faced with providing excellent sales enablement plus navigating issues such as the healthcare shift from volume to value, a more complex sales process and a shift from 1:1 selling to physicians to strategic account management and selling to the C-suite.

It all comes down to this: Preparing sales reps and account managers for success in an increasingly challenging environment.

It takes a blend of learning solutions to meet most sales enablement objectives, but game-based learning is often part of the mix. For example, a sales enablement curriculum for a new product might include gamified online learning as prework, games and roleplay activities at the launch event and a mobile reinforcement game available post-launch.

If you think a game will work well with your reps, consider the following:

1. What is my business objective?

This should come before anything else!

2. Who are my learners?

Learner Personas, similar to Buyer Personas, provide a semi-fictionalized representation of your target learners. Take the time to create rock-solid personas before designing the training itself.

3. What are my learning objectives?

As with any learning solution, you must have a clear picture of what reps should know/do/believe/avoid doing after the training. This will impact the design of your game.

4. What game mechanics/elements best link to my learning objectives?

Once you know your learning objectives, match them to the game mechanics and game elements that best support those objectives. You should also use your learner persona(s) to decide what type of game your target learners will most benefit from.

Access our recorded webinar to learn more about sales training

We cover this information and more in our Sales Enablement and Beyond webinar. It’s part of our ongoing Lessons on Learning Webinar Series.