If your best tried-and-true motivational techniques don’t seem to be working on the otherwise talented members of your sales team, you might want to try appealing to their intrinsic motivations.
According to a recent survey, 95% of managers think money is the most motivating factor for employees. In fact, an adjacent survey of 12,000 employees found that emotional rewards led to greater performance.
Not every salesperson is motivated by promotions and money, and using the same old motivations may unexpectedly fail. That doesn’t mean it’s time to look for a new hire — it means you’ll have to break out a different tool from your managerial toolbox.
Understanding and identifying intrinsic motivation
The key to spotting and rewarding intrinsic motivations in your salespeople is knowing the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation is the classic and most obvious motivation for most salespeople: you do well, you get a reward. On most sales teams, extrinsic motivation is fed by commissions, bonuses, free vacations, gift certificates, better parking, spa days, days off, and tickets to movies or events.
There’s nothing wrong with extrinsic motivation. In fact, it’s proven to be extremely effective as a motivator for salespeople.
Intrinsic motivation is the exact opposite: you perform tasks well because it makes you happy. Happiness could take the form of pride, a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of belonging, moral righteousness, positive feedback, a feeling of security, or the knowledge that they’ve taken a step toward a larger goal or purpose.
Neither motivation is “better” or more useful; they just require a different managerial approach.
Extrinsic motivation is generally easier to feed, though it is more expensive, while intrinsic motivation can be slippery but shockingly inexpensive to cater to.
Some people are simply more internally focused, while others are looking for a physical reward. Whether we’re born this way or it’s a product of our environment is a question for developmental psychologists. Our job is to figure out our team members’ motivations and light the fire.
How can you tell if a salesperson is intrinsically motivated?
Not every intrinsically motivated salesperson is alike, but we can keep an eye out for the most common signs. The following are easy-to-spot hints that you have a team member who’s more interested in how their job makes them feel than how much it pays them for their work.
One of the trickiest ways to recognize an intrinsically motivated salesperson is to look at how they interact with their manager and teammates.
They frequently bring both little and big wins to their manager. Do they often communicate with you or another lead about their little wins throughout the day? Maybe even too much? If this person frequently lets you know how difficult a task was or how they turned around a teetering customer, they probably want to hear “good job!”
While everyone enjoys positive feedback, intrinsically motivated people tend to crave it. The money and the perks aren’t enough: they want to know people appreciate their hard work.
A classic conflict between intrinsic and extrinsic motivational styles
To the intrinsically motivated salesperson, money is neat, but many would take a pay cut in exchange for a more grateful and empathetic work environment. These kinds of employees are great to have around and keep because they tend to focus on morale and making everyone around them feel good.
They don’t seem competitive with other teammates. While competition is a classic motivator, especially in sales, intrinsically motivated salespeople often come at competition a little sideways. If you’re finding a team member hard to motivate, and they don’t seem particularly interested in “beating” the other salespeople, take a look at their work ethic. If they’re a hard worker but seem apathetic to competition, it’s likely because they are competing with themselves.
Beating the guy in the next cubicle over doesn’t interest them — they want to beat their own record. They want to see improvement; they want to be better than they were before because it feels good. They love winning because they’ve proven to themselves what they can do, not because they defeated someone else. In fact, they may be overly apologetic when they beat another team member.
In essence, they’re seeking self-validation instead of external validation.
These employees tend to foster cooperation in their teammates and won’t contribute to a feeling of toxic competition.
They ask about the reason behind company services or initiatives. Selling “product A” isn’t enough for the intrinsically motivated: they want to know why and how. Why does this product exist? Why do people need it? How does this product help people, or industries, or the environment? Why did a seemingly superior product get retired for a newer, cheaper alternative?
Intrinsically motivated salespeople want to know that they’re part of a cause, that their work reflects their self-image and beliefs. And it isn’t just to motivate them: you’ll find that an intrinsically motivated salesperson who believes in the product or service can be practically evangelical to clients and customers.
This is a motivation you definitely want to cater to.
Okay, so how do you motivate the intrinsically motivated?
Luckily, it only takes a little thought, planning, and empathy to integrate the intrinsically motivated into your existing managerial style.
How to motivate those seeking thanks and feedback
Say “please” when you ask them to do something and “thank you” when they’ve completed a task. It may seem simplistic or even dismissive, but you’d be surprised how well the intrinsically motivated respond to simple gratitude and appreciation.
Remember: a hundred “thank yous” is still cheaper than one trip to Cabo.
Track your team’s accomplishments and make a point to announce them in memos, over the intercom, or as part of a normal meeting. If your team members go out of their way to learn something new, to expand sales to a new industry, or suggest a new training strategy that works, let the entire company know.
Any salesperson would appreciate these announcements, but the intrinsically motivated would feel that their company really sees them. Celebrate your team’s wins, and they’ll do their best to have more.
Don’t neglect regular evaluations. The intrinsically motivated salespeople on your squad want to know what their lead thinks of them; they want to know that their growth has been noted by the people they may look up to.
This doesn’t mean self-evaluations — you need to make time once or twice a year to have formal evaluations of your team members, covering their sales goals, their growth, and their future at the company.
How to motivate the self-competitive
Those salespeople who are competing with themselves need an extra push from their manager.
Praise their improvement. During your “win” announcements in meetings or memos, remember to not just praise those who’ve performed well but also those who have improved. Sure, shine a spotlight on the salesperson with the highest numbers; why wouldn’t you? But if you’ve noticed a team member has increased their own personal numbers by 20%, management should point that out and celebrate it.
Provide, subsidize, or encourage education. The self-competitive, intrinsically motived salespeople on your team are the most likely to seek out education to improve themselves. If there’s a license, a certificate, or a training course relevant to your industry, consider encouraging and rewarding team members who seek out this training. Offering to help cover or discount the cost of classes or the test is a fantastic way to not only motivate your salespeople but also to improve the quality of your team.
Recognize when they’re trying something new. Self-competitive people want to get better, and they’re often excited about trying new strategies for success. Even if a new sales tactic or training method doesn’t achieve all of the desired results, praise this person for trying new things and thinking outside of the box.
Not every new idea sticks, but those that do can lead to innovation and improvement.
How to motivate the believer
The believer wants to know what they’re doing is right, that it helps people, that it makes the world a better place.
Communicate the higher purpose of the product/service. It doesn’t matter what your service or product is: there’s a good chance it helps people one way or another. Obviously, if you’re selling medical equipment, communicate to your salespeople that getting quality equipment to the hospitals that need it can save lives.
If your product or service is less obviously altruistic — hot tub maintenance, let’s say — you’re still making people’s lives better. A hot tub may be a luxury item, but it’s still one purchased by millions of middle-class people around the world — people who work hard all day, or people with chronic back problems, or even just the highly stressed.
Stress kills, back pain deserves relief, and hard work should be rewarded. Communicate these benefits to your salespeople, and the intrinsically motivated may end up picking up your flag and charging into battle with it.
Praise ideas/initiatives that focus on altruism. If a team member suggests a timely charity to donate proceeds to, a canned food drive for the office, or a team-building bit of volunteer work, give it serious thought. There are likely multiple people in the office who would appreciate the effort and would enthusiastically jump in to help.
This can create a sense of purpose on your team, of respect for you and your company that will not only motivate them but also build long-term loyalty.
Tell your team “why.” Is there a new dress code going into effect, or is the company changing healthcare providers? Is the water cooler in the break room disappearing? Instead of just handing down a memo, explain why the company is making these changes.
Maybe the dress code is to bring a sense of pride into the office, and the healthcare switch gives the company a deal they can pass on to their employees. The intrinsically motivated on your team will appreciate that you care enough to explain to them and make them feel part of the company instead of merely subject to the seemingly mercurial whims of management.
Motivation is simple: what do you care about?
We like to think of motivation as a carrot and a stick or a psychological puzzle to crack, but it’s far simpler than that: what do your salespeople want? If every person is a lock, what is their key?
Once you find out what they want — by listening to what they’re telling you — you can light a fire under any salesperson that will get them slinging phones faster than you’ve ever seen.
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