Sales Team Training & Development

Sales development specialist Mike Stokes on building sales engagement (summary)

Jonathan Hubbard
Jonathan Hubbard
March 1, 2024
“Be curious about your people, what drives and inspires them. Make them better: create individualized development plans and praise any of those things that they're doing well. Provide them with the best tools to do the job, trust your team, give them an opportunity to fail. And most importantly have fun.” As he summarizes his discussion, it's clear that Mike Stokes has no shortage of sound sales advice. That’s to be expected: Mike’s the founder and CEO at Indicator, a B2B sales development organization serving Australasia. 

Mike joined Numerik CEO Jonathan Hubbard and I for SalesHitch Episode #2, where he shared his approach to growing sales engagement in the modern B2B sales team based on his experience working with companies to improve their sales capability and revenue. 

Watch the video below or read the summary to get Mike’s 3 ways to grow sales engagement, stories, and thoughts on reducing disengagement.


What sales engagement is and why we should pay attention to it

If your sales machine was a boat, what would it be?

We’ll start off with a question: if your sales machine (people, technology, processes) was a boat, what boat would it be?

sales engagement boats
If your sales machine was a boat, what would it be? (Source: Indicator 2022.)

“Are you the America's Cup yacht of sales? Meaning do you have the best technology? Do you have the best team? Are they trained within an inch of their lives? Do they know exactly what they're doing with any certain type of material?”

Not many of us quite fall into the America’s Cup category. Perhaps you’re a “an old trusty [sailboat] you’re going to get from A to B, but you’re not going to do much else. You might be lucky to have a little technology on board, but you’re not going to win any races.”

And at the bottom of the heap: “or are you pretty random? You’re doing things all over the show. There’s no consistency. You just don’t know what you’re doing in sales.”

What does this anecdote have to do with sales engagement? It’s illustrating the idea that salespeople want to work for companies who have the best systems, technology, and processes: the America’s Cup yacht. And your responsibility as a sales leader is to find ways to build your people, processes, and technology into being the ultimate sales engine: something impossible without good sales engagement. 

What sales engagement can do for your sales team when you have it

Sales engagement is the level of a salesperson’s commitment to their work and to their company. Without good engagement, your sales team can become lethargic, unable to reach great heights, and your employee churn rate may increase. Mike explains that 20-35% of employees are actually engaged in their work, “think about your team: four out of five of your team are not engaged in their work, which is a pretty critical number.”

However, if you have good sales engagement, you can expect, according to a Gallup survey:

  • 41% reduction in absenteeism
  • 17% productivity increase
  • Up to 59% less staff turnover in organizations
  • 10% customer ratings increase
  • 20% sales increase

Extending on these findings, Mike shares Indicator’s 2022 salespeople survey results, which revealed insights into what drives a salesperson to stay with their company:

“One of the questions we asked these sales people is what is the number one reason why they stayed or why they stay in their role. The top three are, they love the company and developing opportunities, which were actually pretty even… company culture being third.” 

Why salespeople stay in their roles (Source: Indicator 2022.)

These results give a broad overview of what managers can keep in mind to keep their team engaged. Additionally, contrary to what we’ve all been told, Indicator’s findings show remuneration is one of the least important factors for why salespeople stay in their roles.

Mike’s 3 ways to build sales engagement

1st: How well do you understand your people and what motivates them?

To begin building sales engagement, you need to understand your salespeople and what motivates them. In the same way a salesperson seeks to understand everything about a customer to help them, you have to understand everything which drives your salespeople.

Mike explains how better understanding can inform your leadership: “…when you think about what motivates them, we then need to tailor our leadership to the individual person. And then share how their work meaningfully contributes to wider goals.”

Listen to this quick clip to hear how Mike used this approach to manage a highly competitive salesperson:

But what can you do in the here-and-now to uncover those motivators? Here’s what Mike recommends:

Sit down with each salesperson in your team and find answers to the following:

  • What is the most important thing in your career or your role (as a list)?
  • Which one of these is the most important (in order)?
  • Why is this so important to you
When uncovering your salespeople’s motivators, Mike explains “you want them to list as many [motivators] as possible and you want to keep pushing them: Say “What else? What else? What else?” Because usually their number one motivator doesn't come out first. It comes out down the list. Usually it'll come down 5, 6, 7 [down the list], so keep pushing them around what motivates them”

Once a list has been created, go through it together and put it in order. Remember, your main goal is to uncover what drives the salesperson, which is crucial for figuring out how to engage them.

2nd: How are you actively engaging and developing your team?

Once you’ve identified your salespeople’s motivators, you can move to the next stage: developing the individual and the team. 

Mark reflects that “…for most people they want to get better and they want to develop themselves, push themselves, and challenge themselves to be better. So when you're dealing with the individuals, identify those areas of development, choose individualized development options and team options and then develop and embed with regular praise.”

Speaking on praise, Mike recalls a social experiment a colleague of his performed with pigeons as a psychology student: “they wanted to train the pigeon to walk in a clockwise circle. And part of this was instead of waiting for that pigeon to do a whole circle, and then give it some bird seed, was to praise it every time the pigeon would try and would move in the right direction, they would feed it another bird seed. So eventually they trained it to walk in a circle.”

In the same way, Mike explains, managers shouldn’t wait to praise their salespeople for big wins, but praise the little things. But how often should you praise salespeople?

“…five to one is an average. There's many different studies that highlight somewhere between four and seven, seven times to one, but, five to one, which is pretty considerable. So, five praises to one sort of corrective feedback.” 

While 5:1 praise may seem quite high, Mike points out that salespeople want to know their sales leaders have their back and are ready to support them.

Something else leaders should take care to achieve is positioning their salespeople in a flow state. Demonstrating with the graph below, Mike says “...if their skills are really high, but the challenges of their role are really low, they’re going to be bored. Opposite to that, if their challenges are really high, and skills are low, they’re going to be in a high level of anxiety.”

Sales engagement flow states chart
The sales engagement flow state chart (Source: Indicator 2022.)

Consider the flow state graph next time you’re developing your salespeople. To deal with salespeople in high anxiety, you may need to consider training them into their role, or moving them to a different role. And for those who are bored, you may need to think about increasing their challenges with new projects or a new role.

3rd: Does your team have the best technology to be successful?

“ sales leaders, we can't wait for the IT department to put technology across us. Companies that are not using technology are being left behind.”

In the boat analogy, this is where having the best sails, engines, or navigation comes in. Unlike their English and American counterparts, sales leaders in Australasia can’t miss the boat on adopting new sales tools: “Technology will make salespeople superhuman… it can absolutely reduce your isolations with your customers and your colleagues.”

Mike encourages everyone to have curiosity around new sales technologies, and that to start using a new tool, you don’t necessarily have to wait for IT. He explains that “quite often, IT engagement starts from one or two people using a particular product that grows into more and more people [using the product.]” 

How you can minimize disengagement

The two biggest ways to disengage your sales team? Micromanagement and giving too much corrective feedback vs praise.

Mike says that to him, micromanagement highlights that a sales leader doesn't trust their people. “That’s a surefire way to disengage someone. We need our people to take some initiative. You’re going to have to let them fail a few times.” Although it’s done with the best intentions, being too eager to jump in and correct a problem can have its downsides. 

Mike even recalls a time when “I'd go out on calls with sales people as their manager. I would be too eager to jump in and sort of almost fix the problem, and it would just eventuate, so every time I’d go to the salesperson, they'd be nervous and it wasn't a good way to advance the salesperson.”

And don’t forget the 5:1 praise:feedback ratio!

Using stay interviews to avoid exit interviews

Using exit interviews to understand what caused a salesperson to leave their role is incredibly valuable, however, Mike now advocates for stay interviews. The core idea? Using stay interviews to find out what salespeople need to stick around in the business and what excites them. 

Listen to the audiogram below to hear Mike’s perspective on using stay interviews to decrease disengagement.

A new sales feature built around nurturing sales team engagement

“When we think about engagement, it's something that we've put a lot of effort into from a Numerik standpoint.” 

Jonathan explains that Numerik’s new Posts feature could be just the tool to help sales leaders engage with their salespeople, through the feature’s social feed design.

Numerik's posts feature

Jonathan explains that “’s the idea of the LinkedIn feed, where you're constantly eating data, the same principles that would be seen on Facebook too, where you’re posting something and people are liking and interacting with it.” 

The core idea with Posts is to allow salespeople to capture notes, videos, audio, and pictures and be able to post it into a team feed against customers, to share their achievements and keep notes on customers. “It doesn't matter what technology you use, but there's nothing more demoralizing for a sales rep to upload call notes or notes into a CRM and never ever getting any feedback. It further strengthens their mindset that they’re just checking a box and no-one will read it.”

From what Jonathan’s seen and heard from sales leaders using the feature was that the best leaders are using Posts all the time to give praise and recognition to the team, through an uplifting comment, or a simple trophy emoji. “When reps see that instant feedback from the sales manager, it really lights the fire and shows that as a sales manager, you’re massively invested and interested in what they’re doing everyday.”

Want to get in touch with Mike or Jonathan personally for more information on sales engagement? Contact them respectively at: 
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