Pay Day or Pat on the Back, What Motivates Top Salespeople?

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 2.58.18 PMWe can’t all be that bad… right?

It has been said that salespeople are greedy, money hungry, selfish … the list goes on. Luckily, with sales becoming more of a lucrative and fulfilling career, the stereotype is changing. More universities and colleges are recognizing sales as a specialization, even a required course for some business schools. In 2015, after analyzing millions of profiles, LinkedIn found sales to be the most common career transition. “Salesperson” has solidified its top spot on job satisfaction lists, as well as top paying jobs and most in demand jobs.

That’s a pretty good set to nail down.

As I’ve seen the perception begin to change over the years it made me wonder, was the stereotype ever true?

A look at the data

The easiest way to approach the question is to understand the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is defined as an interest in the task itself — a focus on the concept of mastery learning. Extrinsic motivation is defined as an interest in the goals, rewards and evaluations external to the task itself — a focus on demonstrating your ability to others (Deci & Ryan, 1985).

The stereotype would suggest that salespeople are highly extrinsically motivated, looking for fame, fortune and the corner office.

The question is, which type of motivation leads to greater selling success?

The study

A study by Sujan and colleagues (1994) measured salespeople’s learning orientation, an intrinsic interest in one’s work characterized by a preference for challenges and an eagerness to master how to sell effectively. They also measured salespeople’s performance orientation, an extrinsic interest in one’s work characterized by the desire to achieve external rewards and praise from their colleagues.

These researchers found that salespeople were motivated both intrinsically and extrinsically. The results seem simple but actually reveal a lot about the ideal salesperson’s disposition.

Ji-A Min, head data scientist at Ideal, explains, “Having a learning orientation motivated salespeople to work smart (i.e., plan strategies and develop knowledge about sales situations) and to work hard (i.e., their overall amount of effort and persistence), whereas a performance orientation only motivated them to work hard. Both smart work and hard work increased sales performance.”

The one thing you can change today

The best sales reps find their motivation from both intrinsic and extrinsic sources. The research shows us that swaying too far to either side is when things begin to break down.

So are we all greedy and egotistical?

Nope. However, the research shows that salespeople are also unlikely to shy away from praise.

How can you use this information to boost your motivation strategy and encourage the best performance from your reps today?

Here is a way to assess and optimize your motivation strategy:

Sujan and colleagues recommend encouraging sales reps to change their perception of what is within their control. How can you do this practically? You can influence the way a sales rep perceives their actions based on your feedback.

For example, you can encourage them to perceive a failed call from “it was too difficult to close anyway,” which would be out of their control, to within their control. “Next time try the ___ strategy, I’ve seen it work for you in the past!”

This framework encourages reps extrinsically to increase their intrinsic desire to get the next one.

In the end

Your best reps will be those who are motivated by the love of creating solutions for your prospects and the money that comes with it. I’m happy to see that landing a job in sales is no longer frowned upon but rather desirable, and a top choice for an increasing number of people.

Do you assess intrinsic or extrinsic orientation when you’re hiring sales reps? I’m interested in hearing your experiences. Please let me know in the comments.

To learn more sales motivation techniques, download this free ebook.

Sales Motivation and Gamification eBook

Free eBook: How to Use Gamification to Motivate Your Sales Team

Gain access to Ken Krogue and Chuck Coonradt’s best practices to motivate and gamify your sales process.

Somen MondalSomen is the CEO of Ideal, a job matching marketplace for sales professionals.

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