Thursday, 29 August 2013

Motivating a sales team is all about money - right?

August 2013

What gets you fired up each day?  Maybe it’s the enjoyment of your job, the people that you will interact with, the chance to participate in your favourite hobby, or even the randomness of your day?

Though how frequently do we share what motivates us with family, friends, colleagues or associates? I imagine not that often. Besides why would they want or need to know?  An interesting thought, yet how regularly have you heard others say “they don’t motivate me” or “my manager doesn’t know what motivates me”- challenging when the insight into what does motivate the individual might be less than obvious.

So surely motivating sales people should be easy and straight forward as they are all driven by the same things – money, company car, gadgets, sales competitions, more money –right? 

Well there is some truth in this and money can be seen as a strong motivator, yet I believe that this list paints quite a superficial picture.  Of course many of us need or want a source of income to pay our bills and to fund our lifestyle, albeit the company car and gadgets are often tools that enable us to do our jobs or perform them better.  I believe there are other factors at play that provide motivation for our sales people, particularly when the individual is established within the company.  This is supported by a TED talk by Dan Ariely that looks at this in more detail and draws on 7 studies that reported on what makes colleagues more productive and happier at work. Ariely summarises that it’s more than money, and that people are motivated by meaningful work, by other’s acknowledgement and by the effort they’ve put in.  I can see his point, that if you value the work you do and the way you do it, hopefully others will do so too – whether it’s your customers, colleagues or boss.

Yet this still seems quite broad, like the earlier list, and we may have to give more effort to discover what really motivates our sales teams and colleagues.  I was faced with such a situation a few years ago. Whilst I was gaining an understanding of what motivated my sales people, this was less evident across our sales division and comments like “my manager doesn’t know what motivates me” were starting to emerge.  It also made me consider whether my colleagues were aware what fired me up each day and what maintained my motivation through the ‘highs’ and ‘not so highs’ of sales leadership.  

The exercise I used was quite simple and required minimal preparation, and became the icebreaker to a sales coaching day I was facilitating for about fifty colleagues.  Each participant was asked to bring an A4 sheet with a drawing or image that represented what motivated them to work in sales and/or work for our organisation.  The sheets were collected and placed on the walls by one colleague and then we circulated and wrote on each sheet who we thought was the owner of the image.

This certainly played to our competitive streak and the results were very interesting, both in what we perceived motivated colleagues and the reality of what actually did.  Some were quite obvious to guess (apparently mine was) and yes there were numerous money images, yet others revealed drivers that some of their co-workers had been less than aware of.  There was a mixture of images of holiday destinations, photos of families, yet also images of our customers, teams and our organisation. Even some owners of the money images explained a deeper purpose that included spending time with family and lifestyle choices. 
So before you get around to purchasing that bottle of champagne, gift voucher or luxury weekend break to thank or motivate your sales people, think about or better still find out what they would truly value. It could be that your timely acknowledgement of a task done well and reinforcement that what they do has purpose and meaning has greater impact than the bottle bag left on their desk months later. 
Or maybe it's always just about the money...what motivates you and your team?


John is a Director of Vector Resources Limited and helps businesses increase sales and improve sales performance.  Find out more at