5 things engaged sales people want

And money isn’t one of them!

By David Tovey


Love_my_jobIn this industry we just have to accept a high turnover of sales staff

That’s how a sales director responded after hearing about the result of a staff survey showing that less than 30% of the organisations sales staff regarded themselves as ‘actively engaged’.  She went on to say that this employee engagement ‘stuff’ wasn’t relevant to salespeople in a tough market place where only the best survived. The intense, foot to the floor, management style needed to keep sales people on their toes wasn’t conducive to having ‘happy’ people apparently.

There was an embarrassing silence when it was revealed by the MD that a more successful competitor had recently earned a ‘best company to work for’ award with over 90% of their staff ‘actively engaged’. The MD introduced a video of their competitor’s sales staff talking with passion about how great their employer was, about the competitive but energising atmosphere, the support they received, mutual respect, involvement and personal development. Following the video even the sales director wanted to know more about how this ‘employee engagement’ stuff worked!

At that stage I felt it safe to mention that maybe it was the intense, foot to the floor management style that contributed to their low score in the staff survey.

It’s about discretionary effort

 You might have noticed that many sales recruitment ads ask for ‘self-motivated’ people.  When I explore what managers mean by self-motivated people they talk to me about staff who will go the extra mile, who ‘get’ what the organisation is trying to achieve, use their initiative and bring managers solutions not problems. They talk about staff who do more than they are paid to do, who spot issues before they become problems, who are flexible and who work hard to achieve results.

They are really describing ‘actively engaged’ employees – employees who direct their discretionary effort, their passion and emotion towards achieving their personal and the company’s goals.

Sadly actively engaged employees isn’t the norm in many businesses – and that gives any company with engaged people a significant competitive advantage.

Engagement matters

There are numerous robust academic surveys that link employee engagement to improved business results (more profit). They demonstrate links to productivity, the ability to attract and retain talented people, increase sales, reduce costs and increase innovation.

Academic research is certainly useful and interesting but in my experience most people understand that when human beings commit emotionally as well as intellectually to a task then incredible things happen. Anyone who has been part of a high performance team will know what I mean.

The good news is that employees crave being engaged at work, they want to know that their efforts are aligned with and impact positively on the overall success of the company. All that any manager has to do is recognize what employees really want and align them with the goals and objectives of the company.

What do people really want?

I’ve worked with dozens of teams to help them improve performance. There are five fundamental things engaged employees ask for – when you provide them they make a huge difference to your business.

The right culture

If you get the culture right then things like customer service, building a brand and a company where people love to work takes care of itself.

One of my clients, who has been through several major culture change initiatives, talks about ‘toxic cultures’. Cultures where values take second place to this month’s results, where bad bosses rule, politics thrive and customers are treated as no more than a transaction to be completed before moving on to the next prospect. Where promises are made but often not delivered on.

Culture is everything. The culture engaged employees want is about shared values and goals. It’s about the genuine desire to do the right thing for customers and colleagues and where management demand performance combined with adherence to the company values. Creating that culture is about being authentic, recognizing and valuing employees, treating everyone with respect and providing inspirational leadership.

Trust and value

 Engaged employees need the trust of their managers to be able to do their job effectively. They want to have their thoughts, feelings and opinions listened to and valued. Feeling valued and trusted encourages creativity in problem solving and people work harder because work is more enjoyable. I always warn my clients of the risks of going through the motions of listening. People quickly see through managers who pretend to listen because the proof is in the action (or inaction) that follows.


Employees want to hear the truth. They want to know what is expected of them and, as importantly, why. They want to know what they can do to improve and they want to know how they are being actually being measured so that they can add value. They don’t want to be publicly humiliated but do want to know about performance issues. When the truth is shared correctly, with offers of support and coaching, it helps to generate a positive atmosphere for everyone.

Personal development

Employees have personal goals, desires and a vision of what they want to become. Managers who understand how to engage people ensure that personal goals are aligned with the organisations values, goals and ambitions. Providing opportunities for personal development and career progression so that individuals know where they are going is empowering and energizing


Engaged people want challenging work, the opportunity to make decisions and to be influential. It is their mangers role to provide the broad parameters, tools, systems, environment and leadership that gives people freedom to achieve. Individuals are happiest and most productive when they have the freedom to tackle challenging work without micro management.

The benefits of actively engaged people are too significant to ignore. Don’t bury your head in the sand by proclaiming ‘that’s how it is in our industry’.




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David Tovey

By David Tovey

David Tovey helps sales teams, business owners and professionals to build amazing business relationships, win more business and accelerate profitable growth.

2 Responses to “5 things engaged sales people want”

  1. David,

    Once again a truly insightful article. Of course what you are saying applies to all employees and all organizations, and not just sales. I have noticed that organizations that can articulate a clear purpose and connect their purpose to those of their people have a much better chance of improving “engagement” scores. It all comes down to good leadership and good management.

  2. Thanks Viv. Leadership and management are definitely the key to unlocking peoples discretionary effort. On the reverse of my sons watch I gave him on his 21st I had inscribed the words “Leadership, not time, changes things”.

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