The Sales Motivation Myth You Need to Stop Believing

November 20, 2018

Editor’s Note: This guest post was contributed by Mike Schultz, President, RAIN Group.

Some sales leaders believe that a quota and an attractive compensation plan are enough to ignite the hustle, passion, and intensity in a seller.

It makes sense they think this way given the recent Harvard Business Review articles with titles like “Motivating Sales People: What Really Works” focus 100 percent on compensation.

But there’s much more to it than compensation. As Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, said in the Washington Post:

The old carrot-and-stick notion of motivation is failing—in large part because it works very well for a type of work that most [of us] aren’t doing anymore. It’s very good for simple, algorithmic, routine, rule-based sorts of tasks: adding up columns of figures, turning the same screw the same way. But there’s 50 years of science that says it’s ineffective for creative, conceptual, complex work. And that’s what most people in both the blue-collar and the white-collar workforce are doing today. We’re not mice on treadmills with little carrots being dangled in front of us all the time. Sometimes we are. There’s no question about that. But in the workplace, as people are doing more complicated things, the carrot-and-stick approach doesn’t work.

Pink argues convincingly that autonomy (the urge to direct our own lives), mastery (the desire to get better at something that matters), and purpose (yearning to do what we do in service of greater fulfillment) are the ultimate motivators.

And what fulfills one person is not the same as what fulfills another.

Compensation is a motivating factor for many sellers, but in most cases, it’s only a piece of a whole. We can generalize to an extent about what motivates sellers, but deep down, everyone is their own special snowflake. What motivates one person does not motivate another.

Myth: Compensation is the greatest sales motivator.

Truth: Compensation is one piece of sales motivation, but it’s typically not the greatest motivator. Motivation is individual to each seller and what’s important to them.

Types of Sales Motivation

Along with autonomy, mastery, and purpose, there are other factors of motivation to consider. Sellers may be motivated by:

  • Money: Bonuses, sales commissions, salary
  • Incentives: products, vacations, extra time off
  • Achievement: being a top performer, completing a project, reaching goals
  • Altruism: desire to help others, giving to others
  • Advancement: promotions, climbing the corporate ladder
  • Creativity: thinking outside the box, creating new solutions
  • Recognition: awards, public recognition, team recognition, individual recognition
  • Leadership: leading teams and projects to success, mentoring and coaching others

The best sales leaders know this and take different approaches based on their understanding of each individual.

Fortunately, with today’s sophisticated sales assessments, you can get a deep sense of what motivates an individual. You can learn even more through focused conversations.

Setting Goals to Maximize Sales Motivation

Defining the right goals and strategies is a critical step toward maximizing sales energy, focus, and engagement. The key is to determine which individual motivators are important to each person, and then frame the goals and actions in a way that ties to what motivates them.

If the goals are genuine and the seller’s desire to achieve them is strong, you tap into something very powerful: purpose.

One study looked at assessment results of 400,000 sellers and compared the top 5 percent of sellers to the bottom 5 percent:

  • The top 5 percent of sellers: 100 percent have personal written goals
  • The bottom 5 percent of sellers: only 16 percent have personal written goals

When sales leaders tap into this purpose, seller dedication to action plans becomes stronger, sense of ownership for achieving strengthens, and perseverance in the face of obstacles becomes that much stouter.

Imagine an army of sellers who don’t just sell because it’s their job; they sell because their own sense of purpose is driving them to reach their potential. Powerful.

And the key to making this happen?

Sales leaders need to uncover what motivates individual sellers, and then have sales managers and coaches help sellers define their goals, build action plans to achieve them, and hold them accountable.

When you unleash purpose, the likelihood of unleashing sales motivation skyrockets.

About the author: Mike Schultz is a bestselling author of Rainmaking Conversations and Insight Selling, Director of the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research, and President of RAIN Group, a global sales training and performance improvement company. He and RAIN Group have helped hundreds of thousands of salespeople, managers, and professionals in more than 73 countries transform their sales results and unleash their sales potential. Follow Mike on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.  

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