July 28, 2022

It’s Not Always the Money

Everyone thinks that sales reps are motivated by money but while some are, many are not.

In my work in the printing industry, I often find reps who say they are motivated by money but won’t invest more time in selling or learning to facilitate earning more.

If all reps were truly motivated by money, product spiffs, sales contests and quarterly bonus structures would drive ever-increasing sales, but they don’t. Often the same people win the contests every time and the same people lose the contests every time.

Thinking that all reps are motivated by money is also a big cop-out for sales leaders and owners managing sales teams. If it were true, a compensation plan without a top stop would be all that’s needed to keep a team of sellers achieving at high levels. Sales management takes much more than that and it’s largely because it’s not always about the money.

It turns out that sales reps, just like the rest of us, are motivated by different things. Figuring out what motivates each individual on your team gives sales leaders the best chance of maximizing results. It’s one of the key functions of a sales leader.

Sales Management Focus Areas:

Sales Leadership – includes developing a strong sales organization vision, developing goals, generating new ideas and direction, creating a culture of continuous improvement, and motivating teams.
Planning and Organizing – building sales plans, budgeting, and organization of sales functions.
Hiring and developing teams –includes hiring and onboarding activities, training, coaching, and professional development of reps.
Performance Management – monitoring progress toward sales goals, holding reps accountable for achieving goals, and reporting to senior management.
Personal Development – assessing person development needs, building and executing plans for personal growth and development.
Motivating teams falls under the leadership area of sales management and crosses over into hiring and developing teams where coaching includes motivating reps to assess their skills and work to improve them.

Key Definitions

Motivation: the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way or the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.
Extrinsic Motivation: behaviors driven by external rewards.
Intrinsic Motivation: behaviors driven by personal satisfaction or enjoyment instead of external factors like reward or punishment.
Altruistic Motivation: behaviors are driven by a motivation to support and serve others.

Reps who are extrinsically motivated will continue to perform a task even though it might not be in and of itself rewarding. Reps who are intrinsically motivated are driven by personal gratification and a feeling of accomplishment.

Extrinsically Motivated Reps

When I am hired to coach a team, I often find a situation where reps are doing what they are supposed to do – coming to work each day, responding to customer inquiries, providing quotes, following up on quotes, and checking in with customers periodically. For this they earn a salary and/or commissions. Often their extrinsic reward – commissions- are declining and may have been for a number of years. Their owners or sales managers think they are motivated by money so they have tried to change behaviors with reduced commission rates on existing business, increased commissions on high profile services or adding new customers, and adding annual bonus options, to name a few, but the behaviors have not changed. The reps often say (and may even complain about their ability to earn more) that the prospect of money is not enough to change their behavior. They have not taken stock of their skills, identified what must be done to improve, or defined a path to move forward. In most cases, reps haven’t even resolved to do the barest minimum which might be finding more selling time. They come in at the same time daily, spend their days on unproductive selling activities, and head for the door at 5:00 PM. The prospect of earning more by either working harder or smarter hasn’t motivated them to change their behavior. Money isn’t motivating them.

Occasionally I do find reps clearly motivated by money. They work hard, they grind out the activities, and they do what it takes to increase their earnings. They also may not have taken stock of their skills, what they could change to sell more, or embarked on a plan to grow their incomes without working all the time. Eventually, they run out of hours in the day and their incomes start to stagnate. Luckily, because these reps do work hard, they are often the beneficiary of accounts when other reps retire or quit so they often maintain and even grow their incomes slightly. But if there are no large accounts to take over, they end up treading water.

Money motivation can also be a problem. When reps are only driven by money, they tend to correlate every ounce of effort to the potential dollars earned. These reps struggled when digital services were introduced because of the amount of commission on smaller jobs.

In situations when it is critical for the company to expand its service offering, reps motivated solely by money won’t take the time to learn new products or introduce them to their customers if they don’t think the commission to be earned is worth their time. Even when their incomes are solely driven by sales of legacy products, they will not devote the time to learn up-and-coming products.

When owners try to compensate by reducing their existing compensation to force a focus on the new products, reps motivated only by the money tend to go into a tailspin that can take months to correct. They also tend to react negatively when territories are redesigned or customers reassigned. Money-motivated reps are used to making money, typically spend most of it, and their focus is not on figuring out how to be successful in spite of changes in the world or made by their companies. Their focus is always on how to avoid an immediate impact on their incomes. They can jump ship easily for a competitor who dangles a financial carrot when their world is disrupted by change.

Intrinsically Motivated Reps

Most of the best reps aren’t extrinsically motivated at all. They are driven by intangible awards of recognition, a sense of achievement, or conscious satisfaction in their work. They are motivated by their internal desire for purpose, growth, learning, and self-competition. Intrinsically motivated reps believe they are capable of winning most deals and they will work diligently to avoid the loss of a qualified opportunity. Often they fear failure just as strongly as they want to win which drives them to do the things necessary to avoid a lost sale or falling short of their goals.

Their incomes are a byproduct of their drive to learn new things, solve complicated problems, have an impact on their company’s growth or be recognized as not just the highest earner but the rep with the most proficient skills. They desire to be respected for their business acumen, skills, and use of the sales process.

These reps are alert to changes in the marketplace, they dive deeply into the problems of their customers because they are driven to create value by solving them. They push their companies to expand offerings and they use what they learn with one customer to grow relationships with new or other customers. These reps challenge themselves not just to do more but to do it better than their peers.

Intrinsically motivated reps need feedback, and they will seek it out so you must give them time and thoughtful conversations. They want acknowledgment for their observations, their reasoning, and their planning. They have to know that you see what they are doing to sell, not just sales numbers and that you recognize the value of their process. They love to win and will redouble their efforts when both the sales win and the preparation to achieve the win are recognized. They are self-competitive and will find ways to challenge themselves even if management or the company aren’t. When they are given accounts, they don’t just babysit them, they challenge themselves to grow the account. They are often the first to sell new services, the first to make inroads into a new market, and the first to sell a program rather than a job.

Altruistically Motivated Reps

Altruistic sales reps find motivation through supporting and serving others. They want to know their efforts are going to help and benefit the people around them which can be their customers, their co-workers, and or their communities. They feel accomplished when they have made someone else’s day better.

Altruistically motivated reps often sacrifice their own well-being for that of their customers. Their desire to be helpful often compels them to discount jobs or bend over backward to help their customers or colleagues in spite of the impact of their actions on their incomes or time. They have trouble challenging customers and often take on so much of the customer’s work in order to get the sale that their level of service is difficult to replicate if they leave the company. Their customers like them as people but typically do not respect them as thought-leaders or business advisors.

When pushed to achieve sales numbers, these reps often argue about the importance of customer care and how they are likely to lose the customer if they don’t go above and beyond to keep the customer. I often refer to this as delivering a deluxe car wash at the regular car wash price. The customer is always less likely to pay for a deluxe carwash when they have been getting it for free. Providing safeguards in terms of discounting and ensuring fees are charged for additional services rendered can keep altruistically motivated reps from negatively impacting the company’s financial performance.

It is difficult for altruistic reps to be top performers because they do not value their own time and are more sensitive to their customer’s needs than making their sales goal or increasing their income. Some firms move altruistically motivated reps to account management positions but without growth goals and strong management, account revenues tend to decline. For this reason, reps who are altruistically motivated are often better as customer service reps than they are in sales positions.

Management’s Role

The people on your team are likely not all motivated by the same things. Taking the time to understand what motivates each rep on your team (or employee for that matter) will help you ensure you have them in the right positions. Figuring out how each individual is motivated lets you provide the right environment for each to succeed so they can reach their full potential.

Once you understand their motivation you can tap into the language and drivers that keep them focused and engaged in accomplishing the company’s goals.

Spend time building trust with your team by meeting with each rep individually on a regular basis. Be in the moment by practicing active listening which means putting your phone on “do not disturb” and closing the door so you can give each person your undivided attention.

Plan your questions thoughtfully so you can identify what motivates each person and help them define what they really want to accomplish both personally and professionally. Work with each individual to build plans to achieve their professional goals and encourage them to use the same process to develop plans to meet their personal goals. If you can help with a personal goal, do it. I have owners who have connected reps to financial planners or helped them find professional and lifestyle coaches, realtors, or other resources. Work with each rep to develop metrics so they can measure their progress toward achieving their goals. Meet with each person regularly to hear how they are implementing their plans and to give them feedback.

Learning and using individual motivations to help your team takes longer than blanket initiatives like a lucrative commission plan but it pays off with increased employee engagement, improved results, and happier people. And in the long run, that’s want helps your company grow.

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