Sales Team Training & Development

Develop sales team effectiveness with proper praise and the flow state

Jonathan Hubbard
Jonathan Hubbard
March 1, 2024

There are dozens of techniques sales leaders can use to improve sales team effectiveness- almost too many to count. To cut through the noise, Numerik CEO Jonathan Hubbard and I recently caught up with Mike Stokes, CEO at B2B sales leadership development organization Indicator, to get his advice. 

In this blog, we’ll unpack Mike’s approach to developing sales team effectiveness by using praise and understanding the flow state.

How to use praise and the flow state to increase sales team effectiveness

Remember: sales team effectiveness and sales engagement are linked

A disengaged sales team is lethargic, unable to reach great heights, and their sales performance may be reaching a plateau. In that situation, it’s important to remember that sales team effectiveness, and the level of commitment to their work and company is linked.

In reality, few individuals in a sales team are truly engaged in their work- only 20-35%. Additionally, based on Indicator’s 2022 salesperson survey results, potential development opportunities are one of the main reasons salespeople stay engaged in their roles. Mike explains that if sales leaders want to increase their sales team’s engagement and effectiveness, they need to be given these much-wanted development opportunities: “it’s a really important thing for most people… they want to develop themselves and push themselves.” 

A highly effective sales team is an engaged sales team. Fulfilling a salesperson’s need for development opportunities helps them become more efficient and engaged. To successfully develop salespeople while keeping them engaged in their role, Mike encourages embedding with praise, and understanding how to move salespeople into their flow state. 

Using praise to quickly embed new skills in a sales team

Once you’ve chosen an area to develop, Mike recommends using regular praise, rather than corrective feedback, to embed successful sales behavior. To illustrate the point, Mike shares a story from a colleague’s university days as a psychology student working with pigeons. 

The students’ goal was to train a pigeon to walk in a clockwise circle. However, rather than waiting for the pigeon to walk in a full circle and then reward it, the students would reward the bird every time it walked in the right direction. Eventually, the pigeon could easily walk a clockwise circle.

The same principle can be applied to a developing salesperson: rather than wait for a big outcome from a new behavior, praise the small achievements. However, corrective feedback is still necessary: it’s simply the frequency of the feedback which needs changing. Mike suggests that for each corrective feedback, there should be five pieces of praise. The regular praise helps reinforce the successful behavior in the salesperson’s mind, helping them learn more efficiently. Besides increasing learning efficiency, the 5:1 praise/feedback ratio shows the salesperson their leader has their back, and is there to help and support them.

Improving efficiency by moving salespeople into the flow state

While developing salespeople, Mike encourages sales leaders to discover where each salesperson’s flow state lies, and to gradually develop them into a constant position in that state. Flow state refers to a state of being where you feel 100% immersed in what you’re doing, able to work at peak performance with clear focus and awareness: it’s something anyone can achieve with the right guidance. For salespeople, Mike explains that their flow state can be found in the intersection between skill level and challenge.

increasing effectiveness with the flow state
Source: Indicator 2022

To achieve flow state, the salesperson must be challenged according to their skill level. Mike explains “if their skills are really high, but the challenges of their role are really low, they’re going to be bored. Opposite to that is if their challenges are really high and their skills are low, they're going to be in a high level of anxiety.”

Thinking about where salespeople lie on the boredom-anxiety spectrum can help sales leaders make better choices about how each salesperson should be managed and developed. Highly skilled salespeople in roles without enough challenge may need to be moved to a different role or handed a more difficult project or customer to manage. Conversely, if a salesperson is in over their head, facing challenges they aren’t prepared for, they may need a role change, or one-on-one coaching.

Summary and your key takeaways:

Improving the effectiveness of a sales team ties closely to the team’s engagement and their desire to improve. By enhancing sales team development with regular praise and aligning each salesperson in their flow state, sales leaders can begin increasing team effectiveness. To successfully develop sales team effectiveness, remember the following:

  1. Regular praise is a simple tool for embedding new sales behaviors.
  2. Praise should be given for small wins, not just big outcomes.
  3. For every piece of corrective feedback, there should be 5 praises.
  4. Anyone can achieve flow state: the experience where a person is 100% focused and working at maximum capacity.
  5. Sales leaders can guide salespeople into their flow state by monitoring the challenges each salesperson faces in their role relative to their skills.

This blog was inspired by the stories and advice shared by Mike Stokes for SalesHitch Episode 2. Learn more about Mike’s process for building sales engagement in your sales team in this article here.

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