Money Matters

By Malcolm Fleschner

Ask salespeople what they want as a sales incentive and you’ll get a near universal response: cash. However, according to John Jack, senior vice president for Minneapolis-based BI (formerly Business Incentives), the key to motivating salespeople through incentives is not to ask what they want, but to discover what stirs them emotionally. “The question managers should be asking,” he says, “is what will engender the response that I’m trying to achieve here? What’s going to inspire my people? I’ve seen lots of interesting programs over the years and seen nearly worthless trinkets offered to people who really respond. Just like customers, salespeople make decisions based on whatever appeals to them and strikes them from an emotional standpoint.”

Money simply doesn’t do that, Jack says. “And besides,” he adds, “if money were such a great motivator, most salespeople would be selling like gangbusters.If you have a sales force being paid on a commission-bonus arrangement, they already have the opportunity to get extra money through a higher commission or bonus if they sell more. So the money proposition is already in place. Then the question becomes, ‘If I throw more money at it, will I get a better result?’ And the answer is, ‘Not unless it’s a whole lot of money.'”

The reality about successful incentives, Jack explains, lies in connecting the company’s business goals with the personal goals and emotions of the the reps on the job. How do you do that? By interviewing people about their passions, he says. “Ask your people not what they want but what drives them on an emotional level,” he suggests. “Ask what inspires them and see how many people say ‘money.’ Very few will. Sure, if you ask them what would motivate them to increase their productivity, they’ll say ‘money,’ but if you ask what in their lives is most inspiring, fascinating or important, most people will talk about their families, their hobbies and whatever it is that turns them on. Tie your incentive program to those passions and magical things can happen.”