What motives people is hardly a surprise. Decades of research has demonstrated the requirements of high performance not just in business, but in sport and practically all other areas of human endeavor. The findings have filled the pages of countless leadership books, conferences and seminars.
It is time that sales leaders were provided with access to this body of powerful knowledge. Without it they cannot hope to get sustained high levels of performance from their teams.
Let’s start by addressing (in perhaps the clearest way possible) what motivates people (whether they are in sales, or in any other area). To do this we will borrow on Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in order to understand what motivates high performing salespeople.
Human motivation is a complex subject and it is difficult for any one theory to provide a universal explanation of human behaviour. However, in the middle of the last century Maslow suggested a hierarchy of needs and this has remained central to any discussion on motivation since. He represented human motivation in the form of a pyramid.
At the base of the pyramid are ‘physiological needs’ such as food, shelter and so on. Once those needs are satisfied a person’s needs are elevated to the next level; ‘safety needs’, such as health and security.
As each level of needs is addressed the focus turns to a higher-order need – ‘social needs’, ‘esteem needs’ and at the apex of the pyramid ‘self actualization needs’ – don’t worry about the labels for now, they are explained a little later. Well, that is the theory at least, but most sales organizations have a slightly different take on motivating performance.
managers have their own take on Maslo’s pyramid of needs and it looks something like this:
Bottom line the issue of performance management in sales has tended to adopt an overly simplistic view of human motivation. In particular it sees money as being the primary motivation for most salespeople. This is reflected in so many aspects of how sales people are managed, from incentive structures to performance reviews.
In effect many sales managers hold the belief that ‘if the prospect of earning a wage (and on top of that commissions) is not enough to get salespeople performing, then you have hired the wrong person’. This is a belief that is self-fulfilling and is a risky false assumption.
As we have discussed elsewhere many sales managers struggle with the issue of how to motivate salespeople to perform to the highest levels. The reason is that their truncated view of the pyramid of human motivation leads to some very limiting false assumptions regarding sales team performance:
When it comes to getting the most from their teams, many sales managers think that it is all about money. They think that the purpose of the sales team is to reach target and that its passion is to earn commissions. But what about the top of the pyramid?
If you think money is the key motivator, then think again.
Rather than writing pages on why this is the case, here is a powerful short video on the research that proves this point.
There is a lot more to motivating people than money and security. If you want high levels of performance then you need to climb further up the pyramid of motivation.
High performing salespeople have ‘a desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be’. It is called the need for self-actualization.
This leads directly to the need for people to have a sense of purpose about their work – one that goes beyond the corporate mission statement. If they are really to perform people need to feel passionate or fired-up about what they do. Yet our data shows that is not the case for most salespeople:
Igniting that passion has to be a key element of any sales performance improvement initiative. It is a key responsibility of sales managers to foster passion and a sense of purpose.