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Monday 5 October 2009

What Motivates Our Sales Teams?

Largest survey of sales professionals in the UK is published by Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment

We’ve just completed the largest survey of sales professionals in the UK and it has produced some really positive and fascinating results. The survey of 70 questions covered all aspects of sales from remuneration through to sales targets to key motivators to work-life balance and everything in-between.

The survey was fully completed by 642 sales professionals and partially completed by a further 140. This has enabled us to provide a powerful insight into the ‘State of Sales in the UK in 2009’ and the report is the most substantial survey of its kind. The aim of the survey was to give us all greater understanding on how to manage and motivate our sales teams through tough financial times and beyond.


The survey was launched in late July 2009 and was live for 6 weeks. It was promoted across a wide range of media including major sales job boards, sales forums, social networks and sales related magazines. The survey was also promoted by our survey partners that included sales trainers, sales training companies and specialist job boards. The survey was similar to another that I commissioned back in 2007 so it has been a great exercise to compare attitudes and perspectives between the buoyant economic times of 2007 and the tougher ones of 2009.

The response was a generous spread across all industries and across the whole of the UK; relevant to this publication 18% of responses were from the South East, 8% from the East Midlands and 9% from London. 6 out of 10 respondents were experienced sales professionals with over 10 years experience and 84% earned in excess of £25,000 p.a. The responses were from a general spread across all industry sectors.

Key Findings

* 96% of the respondents enjoy working in sales. Of the remaining 4% only 1 in 10 had planned to embark on a career in sales.
* Getting clients to make decisions, cold calling and sales admin/paperwork were cited as the 3 most difficult aspects of selling in 2009
* A whopping 72% judged their career to date to be ‘7 out of 10’ or more
* The two biggest motivators to keep sales staff (or what they’d look for in a new job) , was i) opportunities for progression/career development, and ii) Their employer’s products, reputation and competitive edge
* The way that the respondents personally measured success was i) ‘being respected by friends, boss and peers’ followed by ii) ‘loving relationships’ and iii) ‘peace of mind’. Status and material wealth was deemed as the major success measure by just 13% of the sales professionals surveyed.
* 70% of those that were unemployed had been recently made redundant
* Only 11% of those in employment felt that their employer was dealing well with the financial crisis
* Over 4 in 10 of the female respondents were Sales Managers, Sales Directors and Managing Directors, almost a two fold increase on 2007’s results. However all respondents that earned over £100K in the last 12 months were male.
* 53% had been 100% honest in every interview they have attended throughout their career
* 44% were educated to HND or higher
* Despite the economic situation 52% were given an increase on their 2009 targets
* 56% of respondents felt that sales was the most influential department/division of their business
* An impressive 31% are currently over target. And as 28% of respondents were non-targeted that left only 41% that were either ‘on target’ or ‘below target’!
* 65% felt that they could perform their line manager’s role more effectively than them (84% of these were male!) even though more than 8 out of 10 described their relationship with their boss as average or better!
* Surprisingly three quarters of respondents did not feel that an increase in green initiatives by their employer would have any positive increase on sales
* More than 8 out of 10 of respondents considered themselves to regularly work under stress levels of medium or higher.
* 79% of respondents typically worked in excess of 40 hours per week with a third of the total working in excess of 50 hours
* ‘Aggressive and Dictatorial’ were the most popular words to describe their line manager’s style though this was thankfully followed by ‘Supportive and Empowering’
* 58% felt they did not receive enough training in their role and 36% had not received a single day of training in the last 12 months
* The majority, 64%, would prefer the opportunity to earn £10,000 in commission than a straightforward £5,000 basic salary increase.
* Half would not accept a 50% pay rise if it would severely impact on their ‘work-life’ balance
* ‘Better management and direction’ was cited as the biggest way to make a salesperson more successful (2nd was ‘Increased Marketing’, 3rd ‘Better Work/Life Balance’ and 4th ‘Training’)

What can we learn from the survey results?

Sales professionals are hard working, looking for stability and looking for companies that respect the contribution that they make to their organisations. They are looking for reputable employers with good management and solid direction that offer good products/services that are backed by a genuine ‘competitive edge’.

Over half of the sales professionals surveyed have taken on the responsibility of increased targets in tough times and a third is exceeding them. Despite what the media likes to portray only 41% are either ‘on target’ or ‘below target’! 44% felt that their employers should increase their sales and marketing initiatives to see them through the current economic situation and 45% would take on additional responsibilities without additional pay to enable this. Thankfully, 3 in 4 of the respondents had not been asked to take a pay drop or a cut in benefits in the last year.

It still astounds me that many employers feel that sales people are solely motivated by money, material status and their potential to earn. Sure, sales people to a large extent have to be ‘money motivated’ to ensure they have the drive and purpose to put themselves on the ‘front line’ each day. However, for the majority it is the thrill of the sale and the achievement and recognition that they’ll receive as much as it is about the reward.

The survey highlights that the best way to motivate and retain your sales staff is to offer training and development together with opportunities for career enhancement. There is an undeniable and obvious link between ‘training days received’ and ‘performance against target’ yet it’s incredible that over half of the sales professionals surveyed had less than two training days over the last year. This is particularly poor bearing in mind the various government initiatives available to most employers to fund training. The top three training requirements cited were ‘new business generation/cold calling’ (26%), ‘Time Management and Planning’ (15%) and ‘Motivational Training’ (12%).

Having met thousands of sales professionals looking to leave their employer the most commonly cited reasons for leaving are ‘not being recognised’ or ‘not being respected for the contribution that they make’. This is once again corroborated by the 2009 Survey and backed up by other similar surveys that I commissioned in 2007 and 1999. A little recognition and the occasional ‘thank you’ go a long way to ensure your sales team upbeat and engaged with your business!

Our fear was that companies would have become more ‘finance led’ over the last 12 months so it was great to see that 56% of employers were still deemed to be ‘sales led’ and that the ‘sales department’ is retaining its status of being the most influential department within a business.

To conclude, don’t think that bonus and financial incentives are the sole way to motivate your sales teams. Rather invest in training for your sales staff, regularly appraise them and recognise the hard work and long hours that contribute to your business. Remember that a regular ‘thank you’ and the occasional ‘slap on the back’ of recognition costs little and goes a long, long way.

The report ‘The State of Sales in the UK, 2009’ is available for free download by visiting

Aaron Wallis is a specialist sales recruiter that offers the best recruitment service available to UK employers that’s backed by a 12 month rebate scheme. To find out more call 01908 764280 or visit

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