Motivating Sales Professionals, seeing Sasquatch and Other Great Myths Part 1

Now before you begin sending in mail to the editor on the fact that Sasquatch really lives in your town, please understand that this article is not a pro/con on the existence of Bigfoot.  I merely use this as an analogy to the difficulty sales managers face today trying to motivate their sales force.  Is it possible to motivate another person?  Can you make someone motivated?  I know this is going to sound nuts – but I think the answer is no!  It is my personal and professional opinion that it is virtually impossible to motivate another individual.  

I believe you can inspire, emotionalize or get individuals excited or angry fairly quickly and on a temporary basis only.  But to truly motivate someone, I believe is as difficult as seeing sasquatch or the loch ness monster.  Now to make sure we are all on the same page – here is what I define as motivation:  there are two types – intrinsic motivation – which occur when people are internally motivated to do something because it either brings them pleasure or they think it is important, or they feel that what they are learning is morally significant.  The second type of motivation is extrinsic motivation – which occurs when an individual is compelled to do something or act a certain way because of factors external to him or her.

Using the definition of extrinsic motivation, it tells us that it is possible to motivate someone with external factors.  This is true even though it is a short lived process.  Think about it this way, you recently hired a new sales professional.  Let’s also assume that they are a recent graduate or from a low paying wage position.  Initially this individual will be motivated by the money and by the potential to increase.  The money increases over time and the sales person is driven by the potential of making more.  This may continue for several months or even a few years.  Eventually the money can’t be raised at the same percentage in order to attract the sales professional’s attention.  At this point the bait loses it lure and the sales professional is satisfied at their current level.  

Now add tenure and job experience to the equation and it becomes virtually impossible to motivate this individual other than by firing.  I work with a large company that has some of the highest paid individuals in their industry.  If they run a SPIFF or Bogey to add $ 1,500 to $ 2,000 to a sales professionals check over a quarter, it doesn’t even register for the sales team.  Money is only a good motivator until basic needs or desires or met, once this occurs the ability to motivate with this carrot goes away.  The same is true of all external factors that can be used to motivate individuals.  Eventually they become less effective over time and lose their “power”.  Managers sometimes try and figure out as many “carrots” as they can in order to continually “motivate” a sales force.  This is a tiring task to say the least. 

It is also in the definition of extrinsic motivating that we confuse motivation with emotionalism.  It is easy to become emotional about a topic or subject for a period of time.  In fact you may have even heard a speaker or preacher say things that motivate you for a very short period of time.  I think these things have value, but do not provide lasting intrinsic motivation.  

Intrinsic motivation is something that occurs within the individual versus an external force.  By it’s pure definition and at first glance it may appear that we can’t have a large effect on the individual and their motivation.  I know that earlier, it was said that I believe you can’t motivate another person, however it is believed by this author that you can create an environment that fosters motivation.  

First we must hire individuals that are intrinsically motivated.  This is a very basic concept but critical in the overall process.  If you find yourself with unmotivated employees in your sales force, ask yourself this question – What is taking place in the hiring process that is allowing us to collect so many of this type of individual?  Assuming the person is a motivated individual is there anything else that can be done to help or foster them to be a motivated individual?  At another time in another article, I hope to cover how to find, hire and retain motivated sales professionals. 

It is our job as sales managers to provide the environment for employees that fosters motivations.  Here is what that landscape looks like.  There are three basic questions that we need to ask as the bedrock of motivating our employees.  Once these are answered we can look at the overall concept of how motivation works.  These questions are:

What do you want them to do?

When does it need to be done?

How will you measure success or failure?

Pretty basic – huh?  But as are most great things in life – business is not overly complex.  The tendency is to try and make business more complex for any number of reasons – but that is a subject for another article at some other time!  

From these three basic questions, I believe the most difficult to answer is the first one.  What do you want them to do?  Typically this is where most sales managers will disagree.  We know what we want them to do - -we want them to sell!  However, most sales managers tend to focus on this single aspect of sales and that becomes the what.  That focus is usually a sales number only.  Now before you begin an all out mutiny – I believe that a sales number is a critical part of the overall health of our sales team.  But we are talking about assisting a person at intrinsic motivation.  

One of the key components to the intrinsic motivation definition is “something because it either brings them pleasure or they think it is important”.  This speaks more than just go out and get more sales.  This concept lends itself more to a “vision”.  This is far different from a task.  At its essence, it is how do my job and its performance affect the overall goal of the team?  Now if you were around in the 80’s and early 90’s you might have gotten your fill of vision statements and mission statements. During this time period companies spent an enormous amount of time and energy coming up with a statement that was to provide their vision or mission to all of the employees.

There is great value in this process.  However as all good things can be ruined – there was an abundance of over thinking that went into most of these statements.  And the philosophy that more is better became the mantra of the day.  Companies developed these ornate statements that individuals in the company either did not understand or chose to ignore because they were so removed from the day to day activities of the company. 

It is my belief that you want your sales professionals to do more than just sale more.  Most sales managers want sales professionals to sell products at a certain margin.  Most industrial sales managers don’t want product pushed, they desire to have clients needs met with solutions.  They desire to understand more about the market and the movements that clients are making.  They also desire to make their sales team more cohesive and better equipped in the key areas that are needed.  This can only be accomplished with the sales professional truly understanding what they are doing and how it fits into the overall scheme.  

Once the what question has been answered the following two questions can be answered much easier.  The when question involves the timing of the effort and the how question involves the metrics used to determine degrees of success or failure.  The when is directly connected to the strategies of our business plan.  As our strategies change over time, our date metric should reflect that change as well.  Each modification to our business strategy involves a when that a new set of results are expected.  If you have not revisited your sales strategy recently, it is paramount.  This is due to the changing landscape of competition and clients.   The overall goal of the company does not change, however the strategy is modified over time with more feedback for market conditions.  

The how question is connected to the measurements or metrics that are to be used in evaluating our strategy effectiveness.  At first glance your thoughts might be, “We measure our sales professionals with one key metric – sales!”  The importance of the sale number is critical, there are many aspects that determine success or failure.  As was mentioned earlier in the what question, there are many other aspects of our sales professional’s life that we should consider measuring.  By measuring other aspects of our sales professional’s activities, we can look to improve our coaching of the individual and the team.  This will be covered in more detail next month when we discuss the 6 key areas for a motivated environment. 

If I can be of help please call or email.  Remember, business isn’t for the faint of heart – it is hard but rewarding work!  Hard work pays off! 

Mitchell Harper