If the Wolf of Wall Street, Glengarry GlenRoss or Jerry MaGuire are to be believed, salespeople are only motivated by money. Surely that’s why they’re in the profession in the first place - to hit the targets and bring in the big bucks?

They hunger for it. They would step on their grandmas for it. They want you to show them it.

And, yes, in a study of more than 2,000 salespeople conducted by Barnett Consulting (Money Motivation in Sales People), 74% said their primary career motivation is money, while less than 25% disagreed with the statement “my most important goal is to make lots of money”. The report goes on to say that companies that put less emphasis on money are likely to attract less money-motivated people, which sounds like the antithesis of a good sales rep whose primary goal is, after all, to generate revenue.

But it’s not the only motivator.

The top reasons American workers feel demotivated, according to global employee engagement company, Reward Gateway, are:

  • lack of recognition (69%)
  • feeling invisible or undervalued (43%)
  • having a bad manager (42%).

It also found US businesses lose between $483 billion and $605 billion each year due to lack of motivation. That’s not just because revenue and productivity take a hit when sales reps couldn’t care less, but high employee turnover loses you the investment you’ve made in hiring and ramping.

Everbridge’s Director of Sales Enablement, Jenn Haskell, backs this up by looking at the other side of the coin: “Companies that focus on employee motivation and engagement realize 27% higher profits, 50% higher sales, 50% higher customer loyalty levels, and 38% above average productivity. Motivating a sales team does matter.”

Whether you’re a sales enabler, sales manager, or part of the C-suite - it’s your responsibility to make sure your reps are excited about going to work.

Extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation

Employee motivation factors can be divided into two categories:

Extrinsic

This is reward-driven behavior: either the desire to earn a reward or avoid punishment. The most obvious examples are monetary rewards: salaries and bonuses. But these can also include flexible working, healthcare, life insurance, profit sharing, employee stock ownership plans, gym membership, childcare, company cars.

But it’s not just about material incentives: extrinsic motivators can also include less tangible rewards such as praise or winning the biggest sales of the month.

Intrinsic

Intrinsic motivation is when internal forces like personal growth or a desire to succeed fuel someone’s drive to complete a task, and is typically seen as a more powerful incentive for behaviors that require long-term execution.

This makes the culture of the company and design of the job itself are potent motivators. Intrinsic rewards include giving reps autonomy and freedom to do their jobs. Reminding them that they're selling interesting and useful products that help their customers.

Giving them a sense that the company is loyal to them and fostering a sense of community and belonging and social rewards that may seem like nice-to-haves but, without them (as anyone who’s felt that Sunday night feeling of dread will know), work can feel like a pretty demoralizing place.

Motivating factors to focus on

Recognition

We all love to be recognized and appreciated for our accomplishments, and there are certainly salespeople who love being in the spotlight! So show your appreciation on an ongoing basis - in staff newsletters, social media, Slack, whatever you use  - you don’t need to wait for an official appraisal.

Drew Boyd, Associate Professor and Executive Director: Master of Science in Marketing Program, University of Cincinnati, says “Sales reps are very motivated by recognition as it reinforces their choice to work hard.

"Sometimes the lack of recognition can be just as powerful when a rep sees his colleagues winning sales awards and he hasn't. Schedule regular events to recognize successful reps in front of others. Arrange to have the senior leaders in your company, especially the CEO, take the time to visit with the top reps and thank them.”

But recognition doesn’t necessarily mean making a massive fuss.A simple pat on the back or saying “well done” or “thank you” may seem trivial to you, but acknowledgements like these are extremely important. Celebrate the small wins as well as the bell-ringingly epic.

Money

As we’ve seen, money is not only the key driver, but it certainly is one of them. If the income of a sales rep increases each time they make a sale and this motivates them to find leads and close deals.

According to Harvard Business Review (HBR):

“Salespeople were paid by commission for centuries before economists began writing about the principal-agent problem. Companies chose this system for at least three reasons. Firstly, it’s easy to measure the short-term output of a salesperson, unlike that of most workers.
"Secondly, field reps have traditionally worked with little (if any) supervision; commission-based pay gives managers some control, making up for their inability to know if a rep is actually visiting clients or playing golf. Thirdly, studies of personality type show that salespeople typically have a larger appetite for risk than other workers, so a pay plan that offers upside potential appeals to them."

Although overly complicated compensation systems have their downsides, research has found that a system needs to include enough elements (such as quarterly performance and overachievement bonuses) to keep high performers, low performers, and average performers engaged throughout the year.

However, we should be wary of putting a ceiling on commission. Academic research by Sanjog Misra and Harikesh Nair examined the impact of capping salespeople’s pay and found that the reps held sales under the ceiling. They cited one company that eliminated it and made other changes to the compensation plan, the company kept its salespeople motivated and increased revenue by about 9%.

Purpose

Everybody wants to feel useful, important and worthwhile and the challenge to identify customer needs and offer a solution that will genuinely help them is one of the biggest motivators for sales reps. They want to be thought of as advisors,  not just as salespeople. They love to problem-solve and help customers and coworkers - so enable them to do that.

Employees need to have this sense of purpose and direction in order to be energized and committed to the team.

Autonomy

Reps need the freedom, responsibility and flexibility to come up with individual strategies, guided by coaching and the tools to enable them. Put decision-making power in their hands, as this allows them to become truly invested in the outcomes.

Get them involved in things like your training programs, invite them to important sales planning meetings, have them mentor newly hired sales reps, or perhaps ask them to be part of a sales advisory council for your company.

Trust

This goes both ways. Reps need to be confident they can rely on your support, but feel like you have trust in them also.

Jenn Haskell says, from a sales enablement point of view: “We're their advocates guys. We advocate what they need to our sales managers and leaders, we advocate for what they need to our product marketing team. That is how you achieve ultimate trusted advisor status.”

Clear communication

Keep employees up-to-date with business objectives and major developments. Making sudden changes or withholding information (or even the perception that you are) can lead to rumors and worries about job security. A culture of uncertainty can be mightily demotivating, so openness, transparency and clarity are key.

Seek employee feedback and let them know you take their concerns and suggestions seriously. Seeing your company through their eyes can help you make improvements that benefit both the workplace and your customers. If you promise to take action on something, ensure you see it through.

Investing in personal development

Obviously, ensuring reps’ skills are up-to-date and on-point is a huge part of your job as a sales enabler. But as a motivating factor, workforce development is win-win: it increases the skillset within your business, boosts engagement and improves retention – the more opportunities there are within your business, the less likely reps are to look elsewhere.

Identify individuals’ aspirations and ambitions and agree on a program of personal development with achievable goals and clear career path. Help them stay enthusiastic about their career in sales.

Gamification

An effective incentive scheme can be a powerful driver of employee motivation, productivity and bottom-line results. Healthy competition is always appreciated by sales reps and a ‘play-to-win’ culture in which, for example, prizes such as gift cards for employee of the quarter, can be great incentives for salespeople to achieve their targets and go beyond.

Simplicity and transparency are the basis of a successful incentive program - you need to set clear, realistic targets that are directly linked to rewards.

For maximum impact, it should be completely clear to employees (and managers too, for that matter): what they need to achieve and what they will receive in return. Make it easy to understand and participate, or you’ll struggle to gain buy-in.

Not all salespeople are the same

Sales teams are usually mainly made up of solid performers who consistently meet quota, with smaller groups of laggards and top performers.

Another quote from HBR: “Though most compensation plans approach these three groups as if they were the same, research shows that each is motivated by something different. By accounting for those differences, companies can coax better performance from all their salespeople.”

Being too motivated by money can be a bad thing

Reps who lose sight of the fact that they are on board to make customers successful, help grow the company and get paid well in the process are highly disruptive to your business and your team (see our blog, How to manage conflict within the sales team).

If you want to get the best from your employees, place trust and respect at the heart of your business’ culture.

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