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What motivates sales people? Its not what you think.


Topics: Purpose, Employee Experience, Company Culture

After reviewing the results of tens of thousands of people who’ve now taken our Motivators Assessment, a few interesting trends have emerged. For example, more than 5,800 assessment takers classify themselves as salespeople; and in sales, the most common top motivators are not what you might think.

Topping the list of sales motivators are:

  1. Family—balancing work and home time
  2. Impact—doing work that’s important
  3. Learning—trying new things & growing
  4. Problem-Solving—findings solutions in a crisis
  5. Friendship—developing close relationships at work

Coming in second to last—ranked 22nd out of 23 possible motivators—was money. Only 17 percent of sales people have money ranked in their very top motivators after completing the 100-question Motivators Assessment.

Now, this doesn’t suggest compensation isn’t important to people who sell—that’s ridiculous! Money is how they keep score. And who would say no to more of it? Also, we can’t forget that money is a strong motivator for 17 percent.

Now, what we take away from this data is that money is more of a satisfier than a motivator in sales. If a salesperson can’t make enough to survive and really thrive, if her compensation system is not fair, if she has ridiculous limits or onerous quotas placed upon her, she may become dissatisfied and might leave. But it’s not money that gets most salespeople out of bed in the morning; there are other factors contributing to engagement on the job for successful sellers. As Charles M. Schwab once said, “The man who does not work for the love of work, but only for money, is not likely to make money nor find much fun in life.”

Motivation, we learn, is very personal. While for some sales people, money and prestige and recognition are going to be their most motivating concepts. For many more, it’s all about balancing time with their loved ones, making a difference in the world, learning new things, solving complex problems, and building lasting friendships with clients.

And isn’t it fascinating that family emerged as this profession’s most common top motivator? In the dozens of jobs and industries we’ve studied, this is one of the very few where this concept topped the list; and chances are, you probably haven’t seen many other work-oriented research studies that show family as a driver of productivity or motivation. It might be a little uncomfortable to consider such a touchy-feely subject in our buttoned-down business teams, but it’s not a bad thing. Not at all. There’s a large body of research that suggests employees working long hours—subsequently ignoring those important to them outside the job, like family—does not help companies. It doesn’t seem to result in more output. In a fascinating study conducted by researchers at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, managers they observed were not able to tell the difference at all in output between employees who worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to. And researchers were not able to find any evidence that those employees who worked a normal week accomplished less, or any sign that the overworking employees accomplished more.

The bottom line for those of us who manage sales people: We must find out what motivates each of our people individually. And from a macro perspective, it's important to pay attention to this finding that the way to keep a greater number of our sales people motivated, engaged, and focused is not only by having a well-designed compensation system but alsoby worrying about ideas like work/life balance and developing a powerful vision.

Chester Elton

Chester Elton

One of today’s most influential voices in workplace trends and #1 best-selling author, Chester Elton has spent two decades helping clients engage their employees to execute on strategy, vision, and values, supported by research with more than 850,000 working adults. His book The Carrot Principle and What Motivates Me have sold 1.5 million copies worldwide in 30 languages. www.carrotguys.com