How Do I Motivate My Sales Team? Eliminate This Problem First

The biggest threat to team motivation in any organisation can be traced back to a single source – Lobster People

You may not know it yet, but I can almost guarantee that you already work with a few – and let me tell you, they’re not doing your career any favours whatsoever.

Allow me to explain

If you ever have the opportunity to watch a tank of lobsters, you’ll see that they spend quite a lot of their time climbing onto each other’s backs, one on top of the other, continuously building themselves into a series of wobbly lobster towers.

There’s rarely a lid on a lobster tank, no impediment of any kind, and yet every time one manages to pull himself to the top of the tank, just getting ready to re-enact the scene at the end of Finding Nemo (when all the fish escape from the dentist), just when he’s close enough to climb out and make a bid for freedom – all the other lobsters pull him right back down to the bottom.

And that’s how it is with Lobster People.

Lobster People take great delight in pulling others down to their level.

On the first day of a Customer Service Training project, I met a young woman who had recently started in her role, she was desperate to get better at what she did, make a difference, do a great job – and from the very first minute I started talking, she began writing, making notes, smiling to herself and nodding her head.

After about fifteen minutes, one lady at the other end of the table, said disparagingly,

“What are you doing? Writing a book?”

And that was that, she’d made the young woman feel awkward for trying hard, for taking an interest, so she put down her pen and wrote nothing else for the rest of the day.

That’s one of the ways lobster people pull you down; they make you feel uncomfortable when you try hard.

Later on, I asked the older lady why delivering great customer service wasn’t something she saw as one of her priorities, and she said,

“Me? I’m just counting my days down ‘til retirement!”

“Oh,” I said, “when do you retire?”

“In 15 years!” she replied.

I remember thinking – that’s a heck of a countdown.

Earlier in my career I worked in a field sales team, where the daily target was 6 calls a day.

The calls that we were required to make were neither difficult nor time consuming.

If you were well prepared and on patch by 9.30 am, you could easily be finished by lunch time.

I found that quite boring and my sales results weren’t great – sure I’d hit my call target, but I wasn’t actually achieving anything tangible – so I started doing 8, then 10, then 12 – every now and then I’d really put my back into it and make sixteen calls.

At the next quarterly sales meeting, I started to get quite a bit of attention and praise from the hierarchy for the job I was doing.

At lunch, the rest of the team pulled me to one side and asked me to;

“Stop making so many calls. There’s no need to work so hard, it’s an easy gig here. Don’t ruin it for everyone else. You don’t want to make the rest of us look bad, do you?”

I told them I wasn’t going to stop – and sadly that didn’t make me any friends.

But that’s another way lobsters pull you down; they act like they’re your friends, so that you’ll join their little gang, do what they do.

It didn’t bother me too much, I’ve got one or two real friends – and I know none of them would ever try and hijack my career to make themselves look better.

Lobsteritis is highly contagious; it can spread like wild fire, one person quickly picking it up from another.

They’ll whisper in your ear, and invite you to walk next to them on the easy side of the street.

You see, they need to surround themselves with the camouflage of others who are acting in the same way – if enough join in, then their way will become the norm. No need for them to try too hard or raise themselves above mediocrity.

However, they’re constantly terrified that if you all climb out of the tank, they will be exposed for who they really are.

So avoid the doomsayers and pessimists; the layabouts and the nearly men; surround yourself with successful, positive, like-minded people who are looking for ways to take advantage of every opportunity to grow their business and improve themselves.

If you’re a team leader or manager, and you’re aware of one or two lobsters lurking in your ranks, introduce the concept at your next team meeting, tell everyone how they climb into a tower and then pull each other down. Watch as everyone nods in agreement with the analogy, and how they point out individuals from other areas of the business.

Everyone knows a lobster, nobody ever admits to being one.

Recognition is curative – once your team are aware of the lobsters in their midst, they will do their very best to avoid appearing like one to their peers.

Once everyone understands what lobsters are really all about, like any type of bully, they lose all their power.

And there is a great strength of feeling to be gained from simply saying;

“Hey – stop being such a lobster!” to anyone who is holding you or your team back from a future you’re all perfectly capable of achieving.


UK Sales Management Workshops


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Our Sales Management Open Workshops show you how to piece together the four main elements of successfully managing a team – Focus; Accountability; Motivation; Education – and show you how to get the best out of everyone involved.

At the end of this workshop delegates will be able to:

  • Work out how to focus on the real tasks that need to be achieved – and find a way to ensure every member of their team is doing that too.
  • Create a culture where every member of the team understands that they are accountable and responsible for their own success – and recognise exactly what that makes them accountable for.
  • Genuinely motivate people to over deliver -and even more importantly – learn how to make sure you don’t demotivate them.
  • Coach the entire team to greater things – learn how to give them a net of their own rather than continuously feeding them individual fish.
  • Feel competent and confident enough to conduct staff discipline in a professional (and legal) manner.


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