Motivation Beyond Paying Retail Sales Commission: 3 Ways To Get Employees To Sell

By Bob Phibbs


how to motivate employee

Motivating employees. It’s always tough in a retail store.

You want to be as successful a retailer as Apple, as Nordstrom, as Lululemon, but you know you haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of seeing that kind of success unless you can truly engage your shoppers and keep them interested in what you have to sell. 

And the only way to do that is to get your employees to engage those shoppers, to get them to commit to creating an exceptional experience for visitors so they buy from you, instead of scan and buy online from a competitor.

The big question is how to get your employees to focus on the customer?

Employee motivation is an elusive creature.

I know onetime a manager asked their crew what would motivate them during the holidays. They wanted a Secret Santa. So he went along…that is until one clue was he had to sit on Santa’s lap and ask for his last clue.

Motivating employees is perhaps the hardest thing any manager ever has to work toward.

You worry that you’re not connecting, that your words don’t resonate deeply with your employees, and you struggle to figure out a magic formula.

And that’s good…

That’s because employees don’t come to us hard-wired to perform well in a vacuum.

Unless you can find a way to connect powerfully with your crew, your sales are doomed to failure.

I know, I know…it seems easy to say just pay them more. But many times, no matter how much you pay them, after a period of time, their self-motivation wanes.

That’s because when you employ people, you are also taking on all of their innate hardships and challenges, the things they deal with at home, along with the things that keep them up at night.

You are taking on the whole person, for all of the good and the bad that brings.

Their natural tendency is to do less and less unless someone encourages them to do more.

When it’s time to open the store and welcome your customers each day, it becomes your daily challenge to help your employees put their best face forward, focus on serving the customer, and keep their eyes on the goal of closing as many sales as possible.

And off of Facebook or WhatsApp…

For some retailers, this challenge is settled by simple performance metrics: Dollars. You close X number of sales, you get more money in your paycheck. And for many retailers, especially luxury retailers, a commission or performance bonus-incented sales metric makes sense.

But if you find yourself in a position where commission-based sales don’t work for your company, you still have to find new ways to motivate your employees. 

Here are three ideas to help motivate your sales associates that don’t involve paying them based on the number of units they move.

#1: Give Them Luxury

For your best performing associates, it is great to give them a little bit of something special. Maybe it’s a box of especially good chocolates at the end of a hard week. Maybe it’s a bottle of Scandinavian water they weren’t expecting. Maybe it’s a 30-minute massage.

I know one owner who surprised her of-age crew for beating their daily goal with pizza, bowling and champagne – and it worked great…

Maybe it’s just a handwritten thank you note from you, the boss, who they look up to, mailed to their house.

Or when you pass out a gift certificate towards a fine dining restaurant when you spot them doing something particularly well.

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what the luxury is. It only matters that you took the time to think of them and thank them for their amazing work in an impromptu fashion.

People want to feel important. If you have good people on your team, make them feel important, and they are more likely to stay on your team.

To put a finer point on it, the more important you make them feel special, the more likely they will make your customers feel important. A caveat, don’t publish your criteria or you will have to do it each and every time much like a contest which defeats the purpose.

#2: Give Them Time

Time is our most precious resource, and there is no sweeter way to reward one of your sales team than to give them a few hours of their time back.

So for your top performer this month, give them a half or full extra day off – with pay. Do it without any fanfare. Just let this person stay home, sleep late, take care of their kids, or go to a movie while you cover their shift. Don’t make a big deal about it. It’s not a contest; it’s a gift that you are giving them. And when they come back, they will be refreshed.

#3: Give Them Space

If you’ve seen the movie Office Space, then you understand the importance of a red stapler. It represents something that is yours. Even if it’s only a stapler, you have earned it.

Office space, literally, can feel very much the same. It is home. When you designate physical space to an employee, you are telling that person that they have a place here. A permanent place. They matter.

This is not a small thing.

For your best retail associates, carve out a place in the back to set their photos of their kids and their dogs, a place for them to pin ridiculous things they might print out from Facebook - whatever. While big companies like Google let employees bring their dogs to work and you can’t, the goal is to let employees feel at home when they are at work.

See also, 3 Steps For How To Motivate Yourself And Increase Retail Sales When It’s Slow

In Sum

This only works if you hire people who themselves have some internal motivation.

You can’t motivate a rock to move – I don’t care what you try.

If you feel stuck with certain unmotivated employees, don't give up on motivation but do get rid of the rock-like employees.

When you have done the hard job of whittling down your applicants, onboarding them to your culture and giving them retail sales training, your number one job is to see what helps them stay motivated and change it up often.

That way it keeps everyone wondering what they will get for hitting a goal, doing a good job or extending themselves for your customers’ benefit.

And that's great motivation for everyone, not just your sales team.

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