After decades of working with salespeople, we have found that top salespeople are primarily motivated by two things – (1) Income and the things that it provides, and/or (2) Recognition and competition. In today’s world, most of our motivations either require income or are related to income in some way. However, many top salespeople really do not care about the money; they simply want to be number one and win at everything they do. These desires, stirring within their hearts, attach themselves to one of these two objectives and impacts daily activity management and productivity. Let us explore both of these motivations here.

Salespeople need to have enough personal financial needs and/or the competitive desire to win to keep them working through what I call the “Sweat Zone”. They need a reason to make calls when it gets hard, and to keep pressing through, whether they feel like it or not. Salespeople with financial needs, a desire for a better future, and/or a competitive nature (a desire to be recognized as a top performer) will keep going under difficult circumstances. Having goals for a better future gives you an indication about how mature they are in their ability to think about the future and to provide for it.


Motivated by Immediate and Future Needs

You want salespeople who are sufficiently motivated. Usually this means salespeople who are financially responsible for one or more people in addition to themselves, whether that is children or a spouse or an entire family—being financially responsible is good and motivating. Getting out of debt is another motivating factor, although you do not want salespeople who are so desperate for money that they cannot think straight or concentrate on the job. The best salespeople go to work every day because they are motivated to meet their immediate financial and physical needs. Once immediate needs are met, they set goals for making a better future for themselves and others. Mature people focus on future needs. Everyone has immediate needs.

To screen for motivations, we want to measure the immediate and future financial and physical needs that can be met if salespeople perform well in this job. We want their needs and future desires to be in line with the job opportunities, and we want to make sure they are “doers” and not just dreamers.

Examples of immediate needs might be to understand and improve upon relationships or to increase strength of character. Immediate financial needs might include personal and family care. Financial needs include providing for contingencies for yourself and a spouse, such as life, disability, long term care insurance, investments, savings and debt reduction. More long-term financial goals might include education for children, home purchase, care for extended family, or retirement funding. Physical goals might include improving the candidate’s working environment, diet or health. Longer-term goals might include community projects or changing something in the world, or otherwise making a difference in the lives of others.

Evidence on a resume of a candidate’s sufficient level of motivation would include a history of job changes that have resulted in progressive advancement and income growth, and a resume objective that uses words like “advancement”, “opportunity” and “growth”.

If candidates cannot articulate their financial and/or physical motivations, pass them by. If they can live on $30,000 a year, they are not likely to push to do well in a $60,000 a year sales job. They are going to be satisfied with much less.

You want salespeople who will keep going when the going gets tough, because they are motivated by outside circumstances, such as family responsibilities, or motivated internally through a constant drive for improvement. These are salespeople who set goals, reach them, and then set more goals.

A sense of duty, being conscientious, and wanting to take care of someone else are all important factors that must also be present, but in commission based sales0 where one must make a certain amount of sales in a given period of time, it is critical to have an income goal that is at or above the company’s required sales level.

A salesperson can work hard and in the most conscientious manner of which they are capable, but still not be efficient in their sales efforts without an income goal tied to the expectations of their organization.

You want to make sure that the candidates whom you are considering for a sales position need and want to make the maximum amount of money that is available if they hit your sales targets for them.

For example, if you want a sales team member to sell 50 policies a month at a certain amount of premium, and by doing so, they will make a total of $4,500 monthly in base plus commission, it is critical that you make sure this amount equals or exceeds their personal income needs.

The need for the money is even more of a motivation if the candidate or team member can show you their budget and how they will spend the money.

Many sales managers have told me about the hiring mistakes they have made when they hired someone who didn’t need the money. Reasons for not needing the money vary from having a working spouse who makes a lot of money, living on a trust fund, a pension, or living at home with parents. Red flags are statements like, “I’m bored”, or “I work for fulfillment”.

To measure money motivation, ask these interview questions:

  1. What are the three most important things in your life? (Is “Career” or taking care of themselves or others one of the three?)
  2. Which compensation structure do you desire, one with a lower base where you can earn more if you sell more, or one with a higher base where your over-all pay is more predictable? (People who desire safety and security want a higher base and will be stressed with a pay-for-performance compensation structure.)
  3. How much money do you need to make? …Want to make? What is your income goal for this year? How do you track progress toward this goal?
  4. What is the most money you have made in a calendar year? (Have they ever come close to the amount they want to make? What is the most challenging personal habit that is keeping you from reaching your potential income goal?)

Motivated by Competition

Some people work very hard and make a lot of money; however, money is not the motivation. These people are usually very competitive. People who are competitive have a very strong desire to win and be the best they can be at everything they do. They want the trophies and public recognition from having competed and won, seek out opportunities to compete and win, and usually start competing at a very young age. It’s not just sports, it can be participating in competitions in the areas of music, academics, chess, dance, art, games, or any area that offers the opportunity to start at the bottom and work your way to the top by improving your skills and becoming better than your opponent and receiving recognition for your achievement.

People who are motivated by competition have a focus on the score and the reward for having the best score. They put in the time and effort to improve their performance and become an expert in everything they attempt.

Many people say, “I’m competitive”, and a lot of people who say this are, but, many people who say this are dreamers and not doers. They live their lives vicariously through other achievers.

A manager made the comment that they knew a candidate whom they were considering and said he was very competitive. When I asked him why he thought this about the person, he said that he gets really upset when his favorite team doesn’t win. I asked this manager to describe other areas of this person’s life where they compete on a regular basis. The candidate didn’t personally compete in anything. He lived his life through the efforts of others and got upset when his chosen heroes lost. This candidate was a dreamer, not a doer.

To measure whether or not a candidate is competitive, first look at the CTS Sales Profile for the trait of Recognition Drive. If this score is above 60, and the closer it gets to 100, this person is most likely competitive, because they like public recognition. Then, ask these interview questions:

  1. What recognition have you received in the past that you feel good about? How did you feel when you received it? What was important to you about that? Where did you put the trophy/plaque? (Do they get excited about the public recognition of plaques and awards? Do they display them prominently?)
  2. Which is more important to you – Money or Recognition or Competition?
  3. Describe an event where you competed. In what place did you finish? What was it about you that caused you to want to be in this event? Do you compete on a regular basis in other events? (People motivated by competition compete on a regular basis, and they place in the top performers on a regular basis.)

Most recruiters start the selection process by looking at sales skills and skip Attitudes and Motivations. You can have salespeople with great sales skills, but if they do not have something in their lives they want to change, they are not likely to apply those skills well or consistently. If they do not have something they want to change, they likely do not have any goals. If attitudes and motivations are not there, I do not really care about going further with my interview. They just do not need this job badly enough.

The truth is, we live in a world that is constantly falling to pieces. So if we are not growing, we are going to decay. We want someone who is always driven to make it better, no matter how good it gets. We want salespeople who understand that the state they are in today, left unattended, will get worse automatically. So they have got to make it better, or weeds will grow. They understand, “If it is to be, it is up to me.” And they are never satisfied with mediocrity.

Thank you for joining me. Feel free to reach out to me with questions and comments. If you want more information regarding the resources to deploy the above strategies, email me at Go make it a great day.

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