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This might surprise you, but you can’t actually motivate your salespeople! Motivation is an internal driver and everyone ultimately motivates themselves. So whilst you might be able to help someone motivate themselves, don’t waste time with the wrong approach.

Of course, we’d hope that our salespeople are already motivated to sell, but why? Some are also motivated to improve and master their selling skills; others want to work independently; some want recognition; and many work hard for a potential “bonus.”

The Six Sales Motivation Categories

Once you understand what motivates salespeople, it becomes easier to effectively manage their performance. You can think of motivation in terms of six main categories … or MOTIVE


Money is the most obvious motivator. Money (or what money can buy) is important to many salespeople, but it isn’t necessarily the most important factor to everyone. In fact, many sales and incentive experts have indicated that money, per se, has currently declined as a motivator.


Many salespeople are driven by opportunity. What constitutes an opportunity varies from person to person. However, motivational opportunities usually fall into the categories of challenges – and the possibility of improving one’s situation on the job or in life in general. When you’ve recognised this motivation in members of your sales team, try to create an environment or activity that offers opportunities.


Many salespeople are motivated by the social aspects of being part of a team and contributing to the team’s success, as well as the challenge of selling. These people may get satisfaction from team success, problem solving, contributing to a team member’s performance, being part of the number one team in the organisation, or even playing a major role at a sales meeting.


Some salespeople prefer to be independent and are motivated when left to their own devices. This involves empowerment, independence, and freedom, enhancing feelings of power and control. This motivator should not be ignored or minimised because people belong to a team. Instead, use it to help independent salespeople be successful on their own.


Recognition, approval, or a need to stand out from the crowd drives some salespeople. Whereas opportunity comes from internal recognition of achievements, visibility involves recognition from others.


Most people want to perform well – even if they aren’t currently meeting expectations. The difference between the “excellence” and “opportunity” motivators is that the excellence-motivated person wants to excel at what he or she does and is not necessarily seeking more challenging goals and opportunities. Excellence means the person takes great pride in achieving or surpassing personal and professional expectations, becoming a “master.”

How to Identify a Salesperson’s Intrinsic Motivations

There’s no magic formula, but there are methods for observing background, actions, and behaviour as the basis for understanding motives. They should all be used in concert to support and reinforce what you’ve discovered.

1. Search for the real salesperson Pay attention to the salesperson’s behaviour, personality, ambitions, lifestyle, finances, interests, hobbies, and family. The more you know about the person, the more you will know about what drives them.

2. Monitor behaviour changes Any kind of change in observable behaviour may indicate a change in the dominant motive. A slacking-off in completing paperwork or making prospecting calls may indicate a motivating force is not being addressed. A salesperson who begins to develop outside interests or hobbies may be looking for new opportunities. Someone who joins a club or organisation may be satisfying his teamwork motivation.

3. Ask the salesperson Discuss motivations individually with each of your salespeople and ask them to define which one or two motives or goals are most important to them. Many occasions are available, including weekly, monthly or annual performance reviews, even over a drink after work. You might just be surprised at the responses you get to this direct approach!

The key to understanding what will motivate your team most effectively is simply to stay involved: Try to understand each team member’s drives, frequently reinforce positive behaviour to strengthen the salesperson’s skill and related motivation, and quickly recognise a gap in performance and try to improve performance or behaviour. Use coaching and counselling (especially for serious shortfalls), particularly if you suspect motivation (or lack of it) is part of the cause.

Do you need a plan to motivate your sales people individually or as a team? Perhaps we can help.

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