Sales Force Motivation – a black art?

The subject of sales force motivation is usually the hottest topic when you bring sales managers together. However, the principles of motivation are seen as a black art – some obscure and magical skill only known to a select few.

Sales managers often arrive on management programmes wanting to be inducted into this secret society rather like amateur magicians who dream of joining the magic circle.

What is Motivation?

Motivation is the process by which you encourage individuals or groups to move towards something they value. In a sales situation, it is the means by which salespeople are encouraged to improve their performance and to strive towards a specific objective or target.

Motivation can be either positive or negative in the way that it works: It is Positive when it encourages a movement towards something desirable or negative when it encourages a movement away from something undesirable.

Positive Motivation

The accepted view is that positive motivation is ultimately more powerful than the negative kind: Pushing someone into the water will certainly get them swimming but this will hardly create an endearing passion for the water. Similarly, threatening people with the sack might work in the short term, but is unlikely to generate the positive climate for improved performance in the long run.

The Rules of Motivation – is the objective desirable?

This might seem an obvious one, but not every objective is equally desirable to everyone. In sales for example, financial rewards are usually universally desirable, but other objectives can often be equally important.

Such things as status, social involvement & self-development can be equally motivational. These non-financial elements constitute the so-called Psychological Contract that exists between the individual & the organisation. These unwritten contracts are very powerful & represent the exchange of what an individual offers to the organisation, in return for what they receive. Each psychological contract is therefore specific to each individual and the only way to identify their elements is to know each individual & what is important to them.

Hygiene factor or Motivator?

The psychologist Frederick Herzberg identified that providing a sense of achievement, whilst offering recognition and responsibility is strongly motivational, whereas such things as interpersonal relationships, company policy & working conditions are merely Hygiene Factors, i.e things that do not motivate on their own account, but which can lead to demotivation if not addressed.

The implication is therefore to get the Hygiene Factors out of the way first to reduce any possible demotivation, but then to concentrate on those factors that create motivation.

How achievable is the Objective?

The best performers seem to prefer objectives that stretch them by a moderate amount, whereas lesser performers either accept average performance or alternatively set themselves such unrealistically high objectives that they soon become dispirited when they inevitably fail to achieve them.

The implication is first to recruit people who respond to reasonably challenging goals and then to set targets they believe they can achieve through reasonable improvements in performance.

Do Targets Conflict?

Too many different types of target can lead to confusion & lack of focus on the most important objectives. Similarly, the more targets there are, the more likely they are to conflict with each other. A good example is when managers stress the importance of teamwork & the sharing of business opportunities, but then only to reward individual performance.

Objectives as stepping stones

The importance of breaking down large objectives into a series of smaller interim objectives has been well proven. A series of monthly objectives is more motivational than a simple yearly target.

The implication is to chunk down objectives into those that can be achieved over a lesser time scale. Their achievement will also generate a momentum of success

Do the necessary abilities exist?

This would appear like an obvious one, but without the necessary abilities, no amount of motivation can raise performance.

An important implication is to ensure that the appropriate knowledge, skills & attitudes have been identified & that they form the basis of your training & development plan.

A direct link between effort & reward?

Many sales incentives schemes fall foul of this rule. Targets can be seen as unfair, or slanted towards certain individuals rather than others

A common problem in sales is to set territory targets that are seen to bear no relation to the actual business potential of that territory. This can lead to some people having to kill themselves to meet target, whereas others can return exceptional numbers by barely turning up. The implication is to ensure that targets reward effort, not just lucky geography.


Motivation is not a black art, but a range of interlinked techniques to ensure that management taps into that well of inspiration and effort that exists within all individuals. Management must then direct this effort towards the achievement of high performance and sales success.

Rennie Gould is a sales and marketing consultant.

He has worked with a number of high profile clients from around the world in all areas of sales, sales management and marketing.

Rennie formed Customize, a specialist provider of sales and marketing training and consultancy.

He has a Cranfield MBA.

Powered by Yahoo! Answers