Motivation and Rapport Building—Two Breakthrough Techniques

The two most asked questions from sales managers are “How can I motivate my sales representatives when I’m coaching?” and “What is an easy way to coach representatives in rapport building?”

Here are two breakthrough ideas.

  1. What’s the single most motivating thing that keeps your representatives going day-to-day?

This question of motivation becomes even more crucial when you realise that your people work, for the vast majority of their time, by themselves on territory.

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer researched this question and discovered it was simply, “progress.”

Yep, making small wins and feeling that “I’m getting better!”

Their book, The Progress Principle (Harvard Business School) says, “On days when workers have a sense they’re making headway, or when they receive support that helps them overcome obstacles, their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak.”

The opposite is also true. On the days when they encounter barriers to “meaningful accomplishment,” their mood and motivation hits rock bottom.

Interestingly, it just has to be something noticeable or a small amount of incremental progress. Small wins.

Here’s the kicker.

Part of their research involved asking managers what they thought motivated their workers.

They surveyed more than 650 managers and asked them to rank 5 commonly used motivation tools from most impactful to least. The tools were recognition, tangible incentives, interpersonal support, clear goals, and supporting progress in the workplace.

The managers’ most popular choice was “recognition for good work either in public or in private.”

This difference in results between the managers and workers may be due to “management thinking”—their default thinking (their SOP training) about motivation is to combine goal setting, recognition, and incentives AND well, after all, workers are supposed to make progress…it’s their job! So it’s not on their consciousness radar.

But here’s the thing.

Of all the motivation tools available, the key motivation tool is the one that’s largely within their grasp.


They don’t have to depend on the company incentive scheme, where the impact of market forces is often outside of their control (in fact, the researchers actually note that the workers rarely mentioned incentives) or on the company recognition program that occurs a finite number of times a year.

So a worthwhile focus when coaching is how often progress can be discussed and facilitated by their efforts.

Next, let’s look at connecting with customers.

An often misunderstood, though powerful, Influence Principle from Robert Cialdini (Influence—the Psychology of Persuasion) that we use in selling is the one called Liking.

We often teach representatives that the number one rule of rapport building in sales is: “Get your customer to like you.” As in, “People do business with people they like.” So do something that gets them to like you.

Cialdini says that the typical methods involve aspects like physical attractiveness (not being “beautiful” or “handsome”), similarity (dress, opinions, background, personality traits, lifestyle), using compliments, and familiarity via continual contact. 

Alas, he says “getting customers to like you” is really the number two rule.

The number one rule is, in fact, to come to like your customers first.

That is, the quickest way to develop some rapport is for the representative to tell the customer what they like or find admirable or commendable about them, obviously in a suitably authentic fashion.

There’s a subtle distinction between the two approaches:

“I like you but there’s no reason for me to follow your advice because I like you.”

“But there’s every reason for me to follow your advice if I know that you like me.” There’s a stronger connection because you feel safer working with people who like you.

Ask your team to list three things about their top 10 customers that they find likeable, admirable, or commendable and discuss how to express it without sounding or being cheesy.

Bottom Line: To really connect with representatives and with customers, treat them as valued humans first, then as valued representatives or valued customers.

ICE1If you'd like more, please consider attending ASTD 2013 where you can hear Mark Wayland at his session

The ASTD 2013 International Conference & Exposition is the premier event for training and development professionals. This year's event will take place in Dallas, Texas, U.S.A. from May 19-22, 2013. Learn more about ASTD 2013's keynote speakerseducational sessions, andexposition at