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It’s a bit of a cliché, but managing sales teams is often compared to herding cats. They’re typically strong characters, sometimes maverick, sometimes obstinate.

A rare few, are naturally competitive and highly ambitious. These are the ones who consistently do well. But how do you manage them all? How do you get the high achievers to continue achieving? How do you get the mid-level achievers to do a little more? How do you get the under performers to do at least something, or should you just get rid of them?

Motivation can be a tricky subject for any manager. Different people want different things from their jobs. Most sales people will be motivated by hard cash, but some may also be driven by personal satisfaction and growth, whilst others may be inspired to work hard because of the difference they are making to a customer.

Herzberg’s “Motivation-Hygiene Theory” identified certain elements that are linked to satisfaction (motivators), and others that are consistently associated with dissatisfaction (demotivators).


Achievement – The perception that a sales person has that he or she is growing and improving.
Recognition – People love having their egos pampered.
Work itself – The best sales people simply enjoy selling. Use this motivator to your advantage. One way is to link the sales person’s work to a larger goal or purpose; whether that’s a personal objective or a wider social value. Help them understand why their work matters…. To them, to their colleagues, to their customers.
Increased responsibility – The desire to expand duties and authority.


These include company policies & procedures, supervision, working conditions and… believe it or not…. pay!

It’s interesting isn’t it? You’d think that pay was a motivator, but Herzberg’s research actually found the opposite.

Herzberg calls the demotivators “hygiene factors” because hygiene is related to maintenance. In other words, good hygiene is a daily thing you should do to stay healthy. Hygiene factors, or demotivators, don’t give us satisfaction or lead to better motivation, but if they’re not present, they produce dissatisfaction.

In other words, pay, even if it includes commission or bonus payments, is more of a basic expectation, something you get in exchange for your work. Because of that, compensation on it’s own is not enough of a differentiator to make a sales person stay at one job in preference to moving to another. Plus, compensation is easily replaceable for top sales people. They understand that they can get paid well anywhere they go because of their talents and work habits. All of this means that if money is an equalizer, then they will look for other quality-of-life factors.

So what does this mean for you now that you’re employing one or more sales people?

Firstly, you need to understand that fair and clearly communicated compensation packages are important, but they aren’t in isolation enough to motivate people. Try to find ways to incorporate achievement, recognition, meaningful work and increased responsibility into the way you manage your sales team.

So, just like we ask prospective customers what’s important to them, it’s important to do the same with your sales people (and, to be honest, all of your employees). Find out what’s important to them, what they care about and then be sensitive to what makes each person tick.

By the way, don’t confuse a lack of confidence with a lack of motivation. If someone is underperforming, candidly assess whether it’s a motivation issue or a confidence issue. If confidence is the problem, then reassess the individual’s sales skills to understand what steps you need to take.

Do your clients have underperforming sales staff? Maybe we can help

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