ATD Blog

What Is the Right Amount of Performance Pressure for Your Sales Team?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

SE Performance Pressure
Sales leaders are expected to get the most from their sales teams.

The success of a sales leader is typically measured in terms of some combination of revenue, margin, win rate, cycle time, portfolio mix, client satisfaction, client retention, employee engagement, and employee retention. To achieve results, sales leaders need the full support and commitment of their sales, service, and marketing teams. And most leaders most want and need more from their teams to reach their targets. This is no easy task.

I speak with a lot of sales leaders who struggle with how far and how hard to push their teams to meet ever-increasing expectations. On one hand, they want to reach for the stars and exceed expectations. On the other hand, they do not want to push so hard or so fast that they risk losing people or respect.

LSA Global’s employee engagement research shows that their concern is valid. If sales leaders push too much or too little, they will struggle to meet sales targets and find it difficult to attract, engage and retain top sales talent. So how do sales leaders strike the right balance when they want and need more?

Like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, some sales performance pressure is too much, some is too little, and some is “just right.” It depends on your specific sales objectives and situation. 

Definition of Performance Pressure 

Let’s start with a definition. LSA Global defines performance pressure as how much your sales force feels the need to improve performance. Sales performance pressure increases when you ask for more and when you have high consequences for success or failure. Conversely, sales performance pressure decreases when you ask for less (or are unclear about what you are asking) and when you have minimal consequences for success or failure.

Regardless of the amount of sales pressure you put on your team, the right amount of performance pressure is a necessary component to getting the most out of your sales force. Unfortunately, too many sales leaders try to create urgency when they believe their team is not pushing hard enough without understanding what it takes to set them up for success. Pushing your team too hard can result in burnout, disengagement, underperformance, and attrition.


Smart sales leaders know that performance pressure must be carefully monitored and balanced by other factors. If you create too much or too little performance pressure, it will not matter if you have the “right sales people” or a “great sales strategy” or a “strong desire to grow.” You will most likely not get the results you want. 

Three Keys Areas of Focus 

To understand the right balance of performance pressure for your sales force, pay careful attention to three areas before you try to increase levels of urgency and performance:

  • meaning 
  • clarity 
  • success metrics.

In general, the greater the levels of meaning, clarity, and success metrics, the greater the levels of sales performance pressure and urgency you can seek and get better results.


Meaning measures why it is worth it for people to do great work, push to improve performance, and stay on the team. If the perceived Meaning is weak, there are limits to how much performance pressure you can apply as a sales leader before people dis-engage or leave. The higher the Meaning, the more likely a sales team is to improve and grow under increased pressure.

To keep your Meaning levels high to handle increased performance pressure, strive for developing clear objectives, ensuring engaging work assignments, playing to people strengths and career aspirations, and recognizing and rewarding accomplishments. Overall, the meaning must be greater than the pressure for it to have a positive impact on sales performance.



Clarity is critical to creating a high performance sales culture. In fact, LSA Global’s high performance research found that strategic clarity accounts for 31 percent of the difference between high and low performing sales organizations. For people to accept more sales performance pressure, your sales strategy, plan, and processes must be clear enough to withhold the additional pressure for increased performance.

At this stage, haze is the enemy. You will know you are on the right track in terms of clarity when sales people are crystal clear about the direction they are headed and how they are supposed to get there. If a sales rep is unclear on what they are to do and how they are to do it, adding pressure can reduce performance, create conflicts, increase rework and add to frustration.

Success Metrics 

Once your meaning is high enough and you have created clarity, your next step is to create high quality metrics for success. Sales people want to know where they stand in a way that makes sense. Imagine a sales culture where the measurement systems are perceived as unfair, inconsistent, inaccurate, or hidden. Such an environment is ripe for negative cultural effects such as frustration, confusion, blame, and excuses for non-performance.

Performance measures form the backbone of a high performance sales culture and set the foundation for effective rewards and recognition. It is hard to imagine a high performance environment without people having a high level of commitment to the way their performance is both measured and rewarded.

Bottom line: If you want to ask your sales team to produce more, make sure you have:

  • strong enough meaning 
  • clear enough direction 
  • and fair, consistent, and accurate enough success metrics to support your request.
About the Author

Tristam Brown is chairman and CEO of LSA Global, where he is responsible for the overall strategic direction and management of the company and client services. He has more than 25 years of consulting and management experience. Prior to joining LSA Global, he served as vice president of organizational strategies at Proxicom, an e-business consulting and development company, where he ran human resources, organizational development, recruiting, training, and internal communications. He also previously he served as chairman of the National Outward Bound Professional Committee and director of Outward Bound Professional for the West Coast, where he ran the corporate leadership training and consulting division for Fortune 1000 Corporations. He currently serves on the boards of Outward Bound California, the Chief Learning Office Business Intelligence Board, and Advertising Audit & Risk Management (AARM).

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