Do You Know How Your Salespeople Are Motivated?

You may think that money is what motivates most, if not all, salespeople to succeed in sales. Think again. Salespeople are driven to sell for many reasons and how they’re fueled may transcend monetary compensation.  

Sales generate revenue for your organization, but what generates your salespeople to sell and do it well? It’s motivation and it exists in each of us. It’s the battery in our backs that charge us up for getting things done. It’s what makes us get up every morning and work another day. It’s what drives us to succeed. 

As a sales leader, you want to understand whether your salespeople are intrinsically (internally), extrinsically (externally) or altruistically motivated. Apply this knowledge to your management strategy to better coach your seller to achieve their goals, which contributes to the overarching sales goals you’ve set. Realizing how a salesperson is motivated may even help you fine-tune their sales role and strengthen your sales team. 

Is a Salesperson Motivated Intrinsically, Extrinsically or Altruistically?

The key to effectively incentivize an employee’s performance is to understand their motivation style. Typically, salespeople are either intrinsically motivated or extrinsically motivated. A small percentage of sellers are altruistically motivated (there’s a reason for that I’ll get into later). Some individuals have a balance of two styles, or all three.

Objective Management Group (OMG) has studied and assessed these motivation categories in sales for years. They even track the percentage breakdown of the types. Let’s take a look at what they’ve uncovered.

1. Extrinsically Motivated

These salespeople are motivated by money, rewards, vacations and material things. They are more effective in a shorter and/or more heavily commissioned sales cycle. 


Picture your stereotypical salesperson driven to close the deal by any means necessary - and will do so by year end because the big trip to Cancun is the prize in January.  

2. Intrinsically Motivated

These salespeople are motivated by recognition, fulfillment, satisfaction, enjoyment, love of selling, and knowledge. They are often more consistent in a longer and more complex sales cycle. 


Think of the salesperson who takes a 10-hour course on customer relationship building of his or her own accord just to learn and enhance this skill.  

3. Altruistically Motivated

These salespeople are motivated to serve others at a cost to themselves. They will put the customer ahead of their company’s needs and requirements. 


Think of the salesperson who prioritizes customer satisfaction over selling just about anything. 

I imagine the wheels are turning in your head about which style of motivation any of your salespeople leans towards. Now, you’ve got to identify them and pinpoint who’s driven in what way.  

Identify What Motivates a Seller

Discovering what motivates your sellers will be an ongoing conversation – literally and figuratively. But how do you go about doing this? Observe their sales behaviors. Talk to them about their professional and personal goals and listen.  

Something as simple as “What do you enjoy about selling?” starts a conversation that allows you to tap into your seller’s psyche. While it seems like an interview question, you may not get the true answer during that initial hiring stage for obvious reasons. During an interview, a candidate is selling his/herself to get the job. The conversation about motivation happens later when you get relaxed, yet honest answers. Keep revisiting that conversation to discover more answers.

sales assessment also helps you recognize a seller’s motivation style and suggests what drives them to perform. This is a quicker and more reliable way of identifying how a seller is motivated. 

You Know Their Sales Motivation Style, Now How Do You Use It?

You’ve got a sales force driven to sell in largely two different ways (intrinsic/extrinsic motivation) and for various reasons. Work this into your strategy for coaching them toward success and fulfillment 

Extrinsic Motivation

extrinisically motivated salespeople; salespople motivated to success in sales

Extrinsically motivated sellers perform well in order to earn tangible compensation for their efforts.

  • Incentivize them based on stellar sales performance  
  • Discuss financial goals with them (the company’s and their own) 
  • Reward them with promotions and increased salary  
  • Discuss milestones and rewards throughout the sales cycle 

Intrinsic Motivation

intrinsically motivated salespeople; sales motivation; salespople motivated to success in sales

For intrinsically motivated sellers, external motivators like bonuses and big-ticket prizes like winning the Big Green Egg aren’t the draw for them. Those are nice, but dangling the carrot for these people to get them to sell isn’t the way to go. It won’t feed their sense of purpose (or pride) to sell and may undermine their internal motivation.

  • Explain the company’s mission and how your sales rep’s efforts contribute to the bigger picture and overall success 
  • Publicly recognize their accomplishments and efforts 
  • Let them compete and celebrate their wins 
  • Discuss and set goals for their career path 
  • Delegate special projects and provide them with autonomy  

Altruistic Motivation

altruistically motivated salespeople; sales motivation; salespople motivated to success in sales

A seller who skews heavily towards being altruistically motivated is rare because… it can actually be counterproductive to sales. These individuals are motivated by being of service to others, even at a cost to themselves.

This is a seller who may prioritize the customer’s emotions over their selling success. The strength of these individuals lies in customer success or customer service teams. In the right role, they feel accomplished when they have made someone’s day better by helping them. 

Adjust Your Coaching Strategy to Fit Your Sales Rep

Every salesperson is motivated to perform and wired to do so in a certain way. One of your tasks as a sales leader is to figure out how the individuals on your team are motivated, which helps you speak their language and know what levers to pull to help them thrive. As you evolve as a sales coach, you’ll understand how to inspire your team, sharpen their strengths, and perhaps even cultivate any serviceable areas in your overall salesforce.  

Happy, productive and motivated salespeople become top performers. If you really want to unlock the potential of your sales team, you have to find out how they’re motivated and then incentivize them accordingly. 

If you’d like to build your sales team with sellers who have strong motivation and positive sales mindsets, explore our sales hiring assessment tool. 

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