Salespeople who are engaged in their roles, who are motivated to succeed, and who’s goals are aligned with the organizational goals have been shown to have a significant impact on helping an organization succeed (Badovick, Hadaway, & Kaminski, 1992). Successful organizations understand this and try to keep their sales employees motivated and engaged through a variety of motivational methods – mostly involving extrinsic rewards.

While much has been much written about how extrinsic rewards may have a detrimental effect of on a sales person’s intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, Kohn, or Pink – note: there is also a lot of research on how this extrinsic/intrinsic effect can be mitigated) there is little disagreement on the short-term impact that extrinsic rewards can have on a company’s performance . The short-term benefit of extrinsic rewards assures us that these rewards will be used in businesses no matter what Dan Pink has to say on the topic.   However, this does not mean that these types of programs can’t be improved.

Successful organizations and leaders of the future not only need to focus on the optimization of extrinsic reward programs but also on moving other levers within the organization that can drive sales motivation.  Using the Four-Drive Model of Employee Motivation (Lawrence and Nohria, 2002) provides a clear framework for how to do this.

Sales and the Four Drives

First, the Drive to Acquire & Achieve must be met.  This means that extrinsic incentive programs need to be optimized around the Acquire aspect, but the Achievement element needs to be focused on as well.  Thus, the way that outstanding performance is recognized, the type of perks that are provided, the career path that is provided must be looked at in terms of their overall motivational value.  The standard “pay them more and get more performance” mantra doesn’t apply – it means that sometimes a written letter of appreciation generates more motivation than a thousand dollar check (see here).

The Drive to Bond & Belong is also key to driving motivation.  Leaders need to understand that sales representatives thrive on building relationships – both inside the company and with their clients.  However, systems, processes and rules that are put in place have a way of getting in the way of this.  Today’s clients often don’t allow for your sales people to take them out on the golf course or to a fancy dinner.   Sales representatives often work out of their home office with little interaction with other employees.  Successful leaders will look for new and unique opportunities for their sales people to interact and form social connections.  Social media is a new tool that holds a huge potential for building these relationships (see here).

The Drive to Comprehend & Challenged motivates many sales representatives to higher performance.  For years it has been known that setting stretch goals can greatly impact sales performance.   This type of goal creates a challenge that drives motivation.  This is a key motivation in a sales culture.  It is why competitions (President’s Clubs, Top Performer Awards, Circle’s of Excellence) work.   We are driven to overcome challenges – and sales people are typically highly attuned to these types of programs.  This drive also focuses on comprehension or learning.  This is something that is often missed in sales incentive programs or sales jobs in general.  To maximize performance, make sure that there are regular ongoing opportunities or requirements that get the sales representative engaged in learning (learning more about the customer, how to sell, product information, program information, etc…).   This is beyond the standard two week intro training and the training that happens in a crash course over the three day National meeting.  The more that you can keep the sales people engaged everyday with learning, the more engaged they will be.

The Drive to Define & Defend is often the hardest lever to pull.  This drive is focused on providing a larger purpose for what sales people do – more than just “selling” whatever product or service your organization is offering.  This means that you need to align their job to something larger and meaningful.  For instance, pharmaceutical companies’ sales operations often focus on meeting sales numbers but neglect to focus on how their drug can save or improve people’s lives.  Take a tip from your advertising or marketing team – make sure to focus on what the company is doing for your customer.   It also means that leaders need to communicate more often and about both the negative and the positive aspect.  Sales (as well as all employees) have an innate ability to pick up BS.  They will fight long and hard for a company that they believe in and one that has their back – but the moment they sense deceit or feel belittled, they can turn into your biggest liability.

This means…

If we are truly focused on improving the performance of sales people, then we have to look beyond the typical extrinsic reward paradigm.  This means taking a holistic look at all the drives that impact sales performance and having them work in tandem together.  The impact that this insight can have on the bottom line for an organization is significant.

How do you motivate your sales team beyond the standard extrinsic rewards?  Would love to have you comment on that…