Trending This Week: Sales Motivation Isn't Magic. It's Biology.

March 16, 2018

Sales Trends

Motivation. It’s one of those words that made you cringe during your youth.

As a sales leader, the word still causes you angst, but for different reasons. This time, you’re scratching your head wondering how to help the talented, yet unengaged members of your team to realize success for themselves. You’re not alone. A 2016 Gallup report indicates less than one-third of the US workforce is engaged.

The secret to motivating sales employees may no longer be more money coupled with the traditional perks. A new book by Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick titled, The Best Team Wins: The New Science of High Performance, reveals today’s salespeople are giving greater weight to other employer attributes when deciding which companies they represent. The book points to these workplace motivators, ranked in order of importance:

  1. Family: balancing work and home time
  2. Impact: doing work that's important
  3. Learning: trying new things and growing
  4. Problem-solving: finding solutions to a crisisFriendship: developing close relationships at work

And although money is an important motivator for 17% of the 5,800 sales pros surveyed, money is more of a satisfier than a motivator for the majority of the group.

For most, compensation facilitates basic requirements like safety, shelter, and sustenance. Motivation, on the other hand, fulfills intrinsic needs like personal satisfaction, confidence, and happiness.

Without meaningful work, even well-compensated employees lose their zeal.

Why Motivation Matters

Elton and Gostick’s findings are consistent with that of psychologist Dan Cable, author of Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Cable discussed how engagement entails making sure individual employees are activated to find purpose in their work. Finding meaning in our activity is a natural function of our brain’s seeking system, which controls our impulses to learn new skills and take on challenging tasks.

With our seeking systems activated, we’re driven to experiment, apply ourselves to learning, try new things, and pursue objectives. When we find joy in those processes and experience success because of them, the pursuit becomes routine.

How Leaders Can Motivate Sales Teams

How do you, as a leader, activate the seeking systems of apathetic sales team members? Cable points to three concepts:

  1. Self-Expression. See to it that employees can play to their strengths.
  2. Experimentation. Create opportunities for employees to experiment without disrupting organizational goals and standards.
  3. Purpose. Help employees personalize the purpose of the work.

Let’s build context around each concept.

Self-Expression: Whether we’re part of a large organization or a small one, we each want to feel like we bring unique value or perspective to the workplace. Sales leaders can give employees room to showcase their best selves in the following ways:

  • Flexible job titles - Conformity can kill individuality. Employees who choose their own title are likely to use terms that showcase their unique strengths.
  • Specialization - When it’s time to overhaul an internal system or develop new processes, let employees self-organize into skill or interest-based groups to handle the undertaking.
  • Internal learning opportunities - Help individuals thrive under the spotlight. Internal breakouts can give employees time to showcase their knowledge of emerging technology, a best practice, or share a recent discovery important to the team.

Experimentation: When employees are given opportunities to color outside the lines, they often come up with creative solutions. Leaders who encourage experimentation demonstrate their belief that employees should be empowered to help the company beyond the confines of their job descriptions.

  • Wiggle room - While quotas and revenue numbers reign supreme, leaders can give employees modest allowances in which to try new things. The allowance may be in the form of a nominal budget for a project, a tech trial, or time to improve a process that needs attention.

Purpose: Humans are driven to find meaning in our work. A paycheck may compel us to arrive on time, but it’s our work purpose that draws us through the door with a smile and a cheerful word. When employees are given visibility into how customers and end users interact with their work product, they are often motivated to improve their personal contributions. In this manner, work advances beyond an abstract concept to a become a meaningful aspect of our lives.

  • Onsite visits - Encourage sales teams to visit customers regularly. The face time can be great for the relationship, but moreover, it can give salespeople deeper insight into the customer’s daily challenges and processes. The increased context can help salespeople realize the downstream outcomes of their work, and spark new ideas that could improve product design, effectiveness, or efficiency.

Employees are biologically driven to find purpose in their work. Sales leaders who afford their teams opportunities to showcase their unique talents, experiment with what interests them, and see their work in the wild are rewarded with an engaged, motivated team by their side.

For more ideas on helping sales teams succeed, subscribe to the LinkedIn Sales Solutions blog.

Photo by Guillaume Jaillet on Unsplash