Many salespeople are Type A personalities who need no motivation beyond a bonus structure that rewards their efforts and success. Give them a phone, a car, a computer, and an open door, and they’ll blaze a trail to door-busting sales.

Or so goes the theory.

The reality is a different, far more nuanced story, one that highlights how many sales organizations might be missing the boat by not properly incentivising their salespeople. If the research reported in Daniel Pink’s book Drive is to be believed, humans (salespeople included) are as motivated by intrinsic rewards as they are by financial compensation and the other outward trappings of sales success.

According to Pink, human motivation is largely intrinsic; he attempts to divide it into three areas:

  • Autonomy: the desire to be self-directed and in charge of our own lives
  • Mastery: the urge to improve our skills
  • Purpose: the need to contribute to a cause greater and more enduring than ourselves

While intrinsic motivation is typically more powerful in the long run, the study on salespeople highlights how extrinsic motivation can be useful, too. Pink further explains how extrinsic motivation is ideal for tedious tasks and —activities like completing paperwork.—that provide little internal satisfaction. They can also improveHowever, extrinsic motivators can also result in internal satisfaction, such as a more flexible schedule that could allow a sales team member to spend less time on the road.

For sales team leaders, it’s essential to find constructive and effective ways to motivate team members—ways that have value to the individual but that do not move the sales staff from competitors to antagonists. The key is to make certain that the activities add value to the individual and to the team.

Have family, will travel

Especially for junior salespeople, frequent travel is a huge perk. There are dinners and drinks with clients, and new cities each week to enjoy—until a new relationship is in place, or family becomes more of a priority. All of a sudden travel becomes a chore, not a benefit.

Why not make travel fun by tying it to an in-house competition? The winner could be rewarded with the chance to take theirhis family on one out-of-town sales call, with airfare for a spouse covered by the company. Another potential prize: Allow junior salespeople to upgrade the vehicle they use to a sports car or luxury car. This is a seemingly small reward, but one that resonates for up-and-comers.

At a previous employer, the executive sales team would hold sales challenges every other Friday, and we would see which account executive could make the most calls in an hour. The two winners of the bi-weekly event would go head-to-head at the end of the month to see who would get to rent a convertible sports car during the next out-of-town sales call.

As one of the account executives said, “It might not seem like much, but in addition to helping [sharpen] my sales skill, it also allowed me to drive a car for the weekend that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise afford to drive.”

The type of competition doesn’t matter. What does matter is that it is fun, low-pressure, and beneficial to the entirelty of the team.

Training is the rising tide that lifts all boats

Salespeople are often seen as lone wolves, out on an island of their own, with nothing to worry about or concern themselves with but their numbers. The reality, however, is that sales departments are judged as a whole, and weak performers can, will, and do drag down the numbers of the team.

This is where in-house training comes into play—but with a twist.

Instead of having top performers impart sales advice and training, junior salespeople (one or two at each session) would share their methods with the entire group, who would be allowed to critically analyze and grade them.

When done correctly, this can actually be a fun learning experience. Senior salespeople would likely be happy to impart wisdom to their young or struggling teammates, who in turn would gladly trade some good-natured ribbing and constructive criticism for enhanced future sales numbers.

To sweeten to pot, the junior salesperson who scores highest as a trainer each month would receive a lavish prize, like a free dinner at a four-star restaurant or a cash bonus. In instances such as these, competition creates the proverbial win-win we all look for.

Everyone can be a winner

In many ways, sales organizations are no different from military outfits: They win from within. It’s not so much that you’re better than the person next to you, but . But the goal is to be better than the person you were yesterday.

Sure, salespeople want to be the best in the competition at what they do, but the main person they are competing against is themselves. That’s why one of the most effective, yet simple ways to foster healthy competition is to find small but consistent ways to reward salespeople for exceeding last year’s or last month’s numbers.

Maybe that reward is a bottle of wine or a free round of golf. The key is that the gift or prize reaches the threshold of adding value for the salesperson. If it does, the salesperson will likely chase it with fervor. What’s more, because the prize is neither exclusive nor expensive, the company will likely end up with numerous salespeople exceeding their earlier numbers at little expense to the company.

Summary

Sales teams thrive on competition. The higher you set the bar, the more willing they often are to work to reach it, provided the carrot being dangled is worth the effort. But while healthy competition is the goal, the needs of the team must remain at the forefront, which means the goal must impart value to the team as readily as to the individual.

To do this, make certain there are opportunities for everyone to take part, even if not everyone can reasonably expect to win—yet.

If the targets and rewards are in alignment, junior employees will see the competition as something to work for. Senior salespeople will view the competition as a field leveler that helps bring out everyone’s A-game. In the end, salespeople won’t simply welcome the competition: They’ll all revel in it.

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