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Dr Jack Singer
  May 5, 2016

The Most Powerfull Motivators for Salespeople is Not Usually the Cash!

by Jack Singer, Ph.D.

Professional Industrial/Organizational & Sport Psychologist

Allison is a very successful insurance sales professional.  Last year her income was higher than she ever imagined that she would earn.  But, Allison consulted with me because she dreaded going to work each day.  It was not the process of selling that she dreaded…it was the fact that she was struggling to motivate herself. You might wonder how someone making a great income could be unmotivated regarding her job.

Research on motivation began with the pioneering work of Dr. Abraham Maslow, who determined that people are motivated according to a hierarchy of needs, and money happens to lie near the bottom of that hierarchy.  Consequently, once someone makes a good income, the higher order needs become paramount in driving that person’s passion.  Earning more money does not satisfy a deficit in higher order needs, such as a feeling of belonging and a sense of accomplishment.

In Allison’s situation, she didn’t trust her sales manager, believed he didn’t genuinely care about her, played favorites, and rarely gave her verbal recognition of her success. As a result, Allison didn’t see a future with the company, regardless of her sales success.

Another pioneer in the research regarding job-related motivation was Frederick Herzberg, with his two factor model.  Herzberg’s research showed that salary or commission rarely motivates people; instead, having not enough money will make them dissatisfied with their jobs. Earning more than they need is nice, but will not motivate them or enrich their jobs.

So, what motivates an insurance sales force? It’s an age-old question, of course. Money has always been the big carrot for sales people.  But, as both Maslow’s and Herzberg’s research showed, financial compensation is an important determinant of job satisfaction only when a person doesn’t have enough for her/his needs.

David Joyner, executive vice president of sales for Caremark Pharmaceuticals describes it this way: “Salespersons in general have more needs than simply getting a paycheck. That is part of the reward, certainly, but once you have a fair compensation plan in place, then the real work of employee motivation begins.”

To create satisfaction, a sales manager needs to provide job enrichment by addressing what motivates his team to do their jobs, then finding out how to make it better and more satisfying for each of them.

My own research into job stress showed there are marked individual differences in the way working people are motivated. However, we can generalize from the vast number of motivational studies conducted with thousands of sales professionals in hundreds of working situations.  Survey data shows that beyond a good income, most sales professionals need to feel a sense of trust, for both their colleagues and managers, a real sense of achievement, and recognition of their hard work.

Creating a culture of trust. Sales professionals need to trust that their supervisors want them to succeed, not just to hit quotas and the monetary rewards. They need to feel that their supervisors genuinely care about them.  As a sales manager, it is critical to take the time to show a genuine interest in the families and lives of your sales people.

Creating a culture of achievement. Setting individual and team sales benchmarks is fine, but it is even more motivating to show your sales force how their performance has enhanced the image and success of the company.  They need to feel as if they are important ingredients their company’s success. They need to buy into the important role that their products or services play in the lives of the end user.  All of this ties into Maslow’s need for a sense of belonging and feeling like an important a part of a successful group.

Creating a culture of recognition. Sales professionals feed off of recognition.  This means that managers need to be personally recognizing them frequently.  A common misconception by some sales managers is the belief that “their paycheck shows them how well they are doing, so I don’t need to pat them on the back.”  This notion is absolutely wrong.  Everyone loves a pat on the back.

There are other forms of recognition that are just as important.  A sales manager at Nortel Networks emphasizes this kind of recognition and states, “There are two things that Nortel has never stopped or changed, even through challenging economic times. One is our annual sales conference, where we bring our sales team together, both to interact with each other in a forum setting, but also to do peer recognition. You get the sales team up there on stage and you reward them in front of their peers. That is hugely important to them.”

The other way to feel recognized is to belong to an exclusive group…such as the high producer’s group that is invited to attend seminars with powerful speakers at lavish locations, at company expense.  This feeling of being a member of this elite club is the ultimate in personal recognition.

Sales Performance= Sales Skill + Knowledge + Motivation  Minus Distractions.

This simple formula tells it all.  The more the distractions, the less the sales performance, regardless of skill, knowledge and motivation.  And, the number one distraction is negative thoughts and beliefs about feeling unfulfilled in terms of trust, belonging, a sense of achievement or recognition.  Sales managers can certainly eliminate these distractions from their sales professionals by consistently providing these powerful motivators to them. Frequently ask them for feedback to get a pulse on how they are feeling and what you could be providing that is missing for them.  You will be rewarded greatly with a highly motivated team!


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