Find Out Which Type of Motivation Is Most Effective

Michele Warg
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When you motivate your sales team, you have to keep in mind that you're working with a very diverse group of people who respond to various types of motivation differently. You need to motivate the stars of your team without discouraging the rest of the group. You also need to realize which of your employees respond to different reward strategies, such as greater compensation in the form of bonuses or prizes versus emotional compensation, such as hitting a target or enjoying the company of the rest of the team.


Many salespeople respond emotionally to the concept of hitting targets. While this is key to motivating all types of salespeople, many respond specifically to tiered targets. Some salespeople love to push themselves to meet not just the goal that everyone is meeting, but the goal that some people can't hit. You may find that your most solid salespeople, whom you consider the core of your team, are most responsive to this type of motivation.


Your very best salespeople are likely to be motivated by prizes. However, you don't want to create a situation where the same people are winning the prizes all the time. While this may motivate your top tiers, the bulk of your sales team is likely to find it demotivating. Instead, offer prizes at various tiers, making sure that the prizes are different enough for your true sales stars to feel appreciated when they win them.

Social Pressure

Many people are motivated by the approval of their peers. On a sales team, this can manifest in a couple of different ways. You probably have employees who are people-pleasers. They want to please you as the boss, of course, but they also want to maintain peace and friendly cooperation among the sales team. Appeal to their sense of camaraderie by making them team leaders and emphasizing how their success will be appreciated by everyone around them.


Salespeople are motivated when they sense that they are being paid fairly for the effort they're putting into their work. One of the best methods to accomplish a sense of equity is to pay people the same amount in salary, but to look for performance-based rewards that can be added to the base pay. Bonuses, stock options and profit-sharing plans are all the types of rewards that can provide extra motivation to your crew.

You should also be aware of which employees view their jobs as simply a way to make money. Although this type of employee may not have a great deal of motivation, the way to his heart is very clear. Motivate him by being very clear about your expectations and by providing specific instructions and deadlines.

Deciding how to compensate and motivate your salespeople is a crucial decision. Take the time to get to understand the personalities on your team. Once you know your people well, you can design a multi-tiered approach to compensation, reward and motivation that takes those personalities into consideration and lights a fire under your team for greater productivity.

Photo Courtesy of Stuart Miles at


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Jane thanks for your comment but I disagree. A prize is to be won, not given. There's a commercial where a kid has just won his first championship and, when the rewards are handed out, the trophy just says "participant". What a way to burst ones' bubble! If you work hard and you win, it's because you earned it. But if the manager is going to hand out prizes to everyone, why bother working harder?

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    I worked for a company that treated prizes as a zero sum game. It was theoretically possible for one person to win them all and some people never won anything, and for those employees, the situation was very demotivational. I was a top producer and constantly won the best prizes and I actually gave some away to other employees that I thought were deserving but for various reasons just couldn't hit the right metrics to get a prize. That was helpful to keep my team together and keep their spirits up, but it would have been nice if upper management had created some incentives where everyone got a prize if the team as a whole did well, and then make sure that happened.

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    I like the concept of giving rewards for good performance. I also agree with the idea that It is appropriate that the prizes are diversified in such a manner that the same people don't get the prizes all the time. How can this be efficiently effected without making the performers feel unsatisfied with the new trend or making the lagging performers complacent in their under-performance?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. I can't speak for everyone but I have done sales in the past - door to door sales at that. So, even though I would make so much per sale of my product, I was still vying for a bonus which would either be a trip or cash. For me, it just make me work harder to get into more homes; to get my product into their hands and have them use it - made my closing so much easier. And that close brought me closer to the monthly goal which made me work even harder. For me, the incentive was money. That's not true for everyone. Whether the position is sales or in a factory, money can be a great motivator - making us do more than we would without it.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    Notice the lack of the word "threatening" in any title in this piece! Positive, encouraging rewards have been shown to be the most effective motivators for humans and animals alike. When we're trying to find new jobs or trying to get assignments done on time, goal-based rewards might be just what we need to achieve and excel!

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    @Jacob, I wonder the same thing. Sales people usually see a direct reward for their efforts so why is extra motivation needed? In my opinion the only issue might be pay. If pay is low even for sales people who are good at closing sales, then morale can suffer. And I know some employees are required to sell products but don't see any extra pay for outstanding performance. So in these situations, I guess employers need to reexamine their pay structure. For the right pay, I think most people stay motivated.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    I've always wondered why salespeople would need extra motivation to do their jobs well. I can't think of another profession in which incentives must constantly be provided to get people to do their jobs, at least not those that intend to remain long employed. If a $50 bonus is enough to motivate somebody to find a way to close a sale or reach a new customer that they may not have done otherwise, I would posit that is a situation that would require a more prepared, focused employee.

  • Mike Van de Water
    Mike Van de Water

    Erin, when I'm dealing with a diverse staff of people I always have a range of options of bonuses from which employees can choose. For example, if my bonus options have a monetary value of $50, I'll have some Starbucks gift cards, a gym membership, and maybe tech gadget or two. This way everybody can find something that they want instead of the employees thinking that the rewards are ultimately irrelevant. As the article mentions, it is extremely important for managers to understand what motivates different types of employees.

  • Hema Zahid
    Hema Zahid

    I’ve always found that I work best when I know that I am being paid the same base pay as my peers. It assures me that the company values the work and interpersonal relationships don’t play a part when it comes to paychecks. When everyone is paid the same, there’s no resentment between coworkers and that is ultimately beneficial for the entire team.

  • Erin H.
    Erin H.

    Where is the line between motivation and turning people off? I once worked for a company that offered prizes and incentives for performance. That really backfired on the company because they failed to determine what was valuable to the employee. The incentives were viewed as pathetic and ultimately insulting. How does a company avoid this?

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    I think gamification adds a little motivational tool into the mix. Pretending everything is a game, with a leaderboard or fantasy sports-style teams, can help office groups stay focused on sales goals. When everyone on the team knows the ranking of others, it makes the sales team look at the numbers every day. Tracking daily progress helps employees visualize goals and determine how fast it takes the team to accomplish something.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I really like the idea of pay incentive as a way to motivate employees. This is a way to offer more for those who work harder and perform better, without negative feelings. If an employee doesn't perform as well, they simply don't get additional pay. This is a great way to motivate those who have the ability to push themselves further.


    I think another way to create motivation incentives for salespeople or other types of workers is providing them with company awards when they have gone above and beyond expectations. I've always felt really good about receiving awards for my hard work and it looks really good on a resume for future employment opportunities.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    There are so many different things that could be offered in the way of bonuses, time off, name recognition on the company's website, an office instead of a cube, first choice of vacation days and the like. Incentives don't always have to be monetary, either. The manager knows his sales people and what might motivate them without them trying to knife someone in the back in order to come out on top.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    Motivation is absolutely essential, especially in sales. The sales professionals I have worked with are some of the most competitive individuals I have ever met, which is what made them successful. What are some types of incentives/programs managers could implement to encourage friendly competition without prompting a war among employees?

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