What Motivates a Salesperson to Sell?

October 12, 2017
Author: LaVon Koerner

First things first, let’s agree that the sales profession does not always get the credit it deserves. While it may not be fair, as they say “it is what it is.” While the sales profession has its share of knuckleheads, stereotyping all salespeople as being pushy, uncaring and heartless people aggressively pursuing selfish financial commissions at their customer’s expense is not only flat-out wrong, it shows they do not understand what really motivates a good sales professional. Let’s take a moment to clear the air on this.

The question is, “What makes a salesperson sell?” Selling is one of the highest paid professions, yet the vast majority of the financial income generated from selling is made only by the top 10% of all sales professionals. Because of that, the sales profession has a high turnover rate and hiring successful salespeople is one of the hardest roles to fill.

Hidden in these realities and turnover is the misunderstanding of what motivates a salesperson. How, as sales managers, do you motivate your people to do better? Do you throw more money at them through a cranked-up compensation package? Do you organize more internal competitions, because all salespeople are competitive, right? Or, do you put the screws on them and increase their accountability to hit call goals and threaten them? 

These and other popular schemes do not have a lasting impact. Once you start down these roads, you can very quickly develop an organization that becomes addicted to external motivational systems and gimmicks, or a “coin-operated" sales force.

To unpack this motivational challenge, begin to separate and appreciate the differences between the external and internal motivational approaches by reviewing the chart below.

External vs. Internal Motivations


As more and more Millennials join the ranks of sales professionals, intrinsic motivation will become more necessary and important. Millennials are motivated by their internal, personal aspirations more than they are by your external company’s goals. To achieve long-term and consistent motivational impact, any motivational plan must appeal to the inner man (Intrinsic) of the sales professional. Understanding this should shift more of your focus to making sure that intrinsic motivation approaches are being installed in your sales culture. 

Since we know from our psychometric testing, that one of the most dominant personality attributes of a high-performing sales professional always involves the personality characteristic of “Empathy.” So, if you want to motivate a salesperson who has scored high in the area of empathy, you must connect their sales cycles intrinsically to that attribute. This means you will need to establish a sales culture that both triggers and activates the emotional driver of empathy, this involves moving the “pain of the customer to the heart of the seller”, which can be accomplished through good marketing messaging, well-crafted value propositions, and personal coaching. When that is achieved, that sales professional will become naturally and continuously motivated.


Personal Challenge:
Before you attempt to motivate your organization to a higher level of performance, pause to reflect on your own personal motivation. Study the Motivational Chart in today’s Coaching Moment and come to grips with your own personal intrinsic motivations in all five of the areas delineated. Be both ready and willing to share how each of those areas are a source of motivation to yourself. If you can share them in a transparent manner, your people will be much more willing to be open and candid with you. Such a discussion will take your relationship to a whole new level, both personally and professionally.

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