Did you know that the word motivation was not a part of the lexicon until 1904, yet we know of the word hope from as far back as the Greek philosophers?  James Sales has recently published a book entitled, Mapping Motivation for Top Performing Teams, and his two articles in the “Epoch Times” capture the essence of it. Let’s look at his thoughts, our leadership of sales reps, and our part in creating highly motivating sales cultures.

First, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a typical sales rep. All of them, whether its major accounts, wholesale distribution, or high-activity fast sales cycles sales, are the goal achievers of industry. Of all the job positions in the world, theirs is on the high-end of getting a certain level of production out of people—often people they did not know before their first interaction with them.

They do one of the hardest tasks in the world. They move toward previously unknown people and then convince them to buy their product, and they have to do this enough times in a specific time period to hit a sales target. They are hopeful initiators and motivated achievement experts interacting with, and winning the business of, the most complicated machines on earth—other people.

Because of this, the best salespeople persevere in the face of interpersonal and marketplace obstacles to serve and persuade often skeptical people to buy what they sell.

Salespeople are hired to achieve sales goals which include sales at certain levels and at a high enough profit.  That’s from our perspective. From theirs, it’s all about one of three motivating and hopeful focuses. The best salespeople will have more of one of these three focuses than other salespeople. They are:

  1. Recognition, competitive achievement, and ranking.
  2. An income at a certain level.
  3. Their duty to the organization. 

As you think of them, which of these motivating perspectives, the company’s numbers or the individual’s numbers, supply the most motivation or hope to a salesperson with the least amount of pushback?  Which of these keep reps reaching to increase their sales and incomes?

This is important. Because as leaders of people, how do you know what to do, ask, say, or stress unless you understand the hopeful and chosen sources of motivation for each of your reps? Without that knowledge, you will default to the company’s numbers and language—widgets per hour, week, or month, dollars per sale, sales per location, closing percentages, etc. 

This will get the attention of those motivated by duty, but, as you increase their quota or the minimum sales standards, you will get pushback and discussions in the culture about how the company increases quotas. People will lose hope fast, and you will then lead demotivated people of duty. You will not lead a sales force of people with independent sources of personal motivation.

Focus on Goals Important to Your People

I recently spoke to a sales force of a very large wholesale distribution company. It was full of technician turned salespeople—people of service, knowledge, and duty who had performed pretty well in a good housing economy.

The company was undergoing a major change and their “duty” was changing. Many of them were demotivated and with a lower optimism because of the changing goals of the company. That’s because people of duty often flounder in fast-changing sales environments where new strategies and quick changes require an entrepreneurial, independent decision-making, and goal-setting mindset to keep sales increasing. 

Actually, most organizations and their leaders default to organizational sales targets. They talk about them, display them, and reward based on them, because the company’s numbers are most important to its owners, stockbrokers, and, as a result, its management. But they are not the most important and motivating numbers to the best reps. 

Sales per category, store, or region do not supply hope and inspire performance to a salesperson motivated by their own personal income or by public recognition for personal achievement. 

Let me say that again, “Sales per category, store, or region do not supply hope and inspire performance to a salesperson motivated by their own personal income or by public recognition for personal achievement.”

While most of the top salespeople in the world are not motivated by duty, a few are. Because of salesperson selection criteria, some technicians become salespeople, because they are conscientious and knowledge experts. These duty-oriented people sometimes do well enough in a good market where prospecting is not a huge requirement and where they have an existing customer base. 

However, in sales positions where prospecting new customers is a main requirement, the best reps often possess either a specific money amount or recognition as their main source of motivation and hope fulfillment. They are also more assertive and controlling about their environment in order to fulfill what their ego is driven to acquire and receive.

Putting This Into Practice

First, remember this, motivation is a present-tense term. It is about what we move ourselves to now. It is highly-centered on a person’s desires—what they want. It is about performance or action to achieve goals. The more motivated our reps are, the more energy they have available for goal achievement.

When a loss of motivation occurs, it can lead to a depressed spirit within a person. James Sales, in his “Epoch Times” article, quotes an English psychiatrist and author Dr. Raj Persuad from his book Staying Sane: 

“A breakdown in motivation not only becomes self-fulfilling, but can also lead to severe psychological problems if it leads to hopelessness and the feeling that things are not going to get better in the future.” 

Any salesperson that is duty-motivated, recognition-motivated, or money motivated, can, when the world changes for them, become disoriented, demotivated, and eventually less hopeful and optimistic about future goal-achievement. 

So, here’s what I want you to do. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Am I mostly duty-motivated, recognition-motivated, or money motivated?
  2. Is my sales force mostly made up of duty-motivated, recognition-motivated, or money motivated individuals?

As you begin to think about this, please realize that you often attract and hire people motivated like yourself, or a culture often hires sales reps motivated like the leadership of its sales culture.

Next, begin to sit down with your reps and ask questions that discover each rep’s bedrock motivation. 

Here’s something that you will find interesting. If you find duty-motivated sales reps, and they are doing well, it will usually be because they have a high level of conscientiousness toward their job and other people. It will not be because they set their own goals.

Finally, here are the three things to do, and they are simple and powerful.

  1. For duty-motivated people, supply them with the goals their company needs for them to meet and explain these goals in a way that shows them helpful to people in the company and to existing and new customers.
  2. For recognition-minded people, put together contests, games, and ways to win to receive high-fives and public rewards. Each day, touch base with them and find ways to recognize what they do well and better than others.
  3. For money-motivated people, you will find and discover what specific lifestyle a monthly income will fund. Is it for their home, their children’s education, travel, savings, debt-reduction, or a new house? Remember to speak with them about their progress and the realization of their dreams.


All three of these ideas will require a deeper level of knowledge about an individual. This scavenger hunt for the hope that motivates will be rewarding for them and for you, their leader.  It will show you care about their motivational sources of hope. It will show you want to be a helpful mentor, coach, and skill builder—that any transformation you promote will be about their interests.

You can learn to do this, and I want to help you. Now, go out and make a difference. Do your duty, get recognized, or earn more money for the dreams you have in the future. Do it all for the benefit of others.

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