Selling Power Blog

News & Insights for B2B Sales Leaders

October 23, 2019

How to Uncover What Motivates Your Salespeople

By Warren Kurzrock

This may shock you, but you can’t motivate your salespeople! The fact is, no one truly motivates anyone else. Motivation is an internal drive – and everyone motivates themselves.

Yes, your salespeople are already motivated to sell, but why? Some are also motivated to improve and master their selling skills; others want to work independently; some want recognition; and many work hard for a potential “bonus.”

The Six Sales Motivation Categories

Once you understand what motivates salespeople, you can more effectively manage their performance. You can think of motivation in terms of six main categories.

  1. Money
  2. Opportunity
  3. Teamwork
  4. Independence
  5. Visibility
  6. Excellence


Money is the most obvious motivator. Money (or what money can buy) is important to many salespeople, but it isn’t necessarily the most important factor to everyone. In fact, many sales and incentive experts have indicated that money, per se, has currently declined as a motivator.


Many salespeople are driven by opportunity. What constitutes an opportunity varies from person to person. However, motivational opportunities usually fall into the categories of challenges – and the possibility of improving one’s situation on the job or in life in general. When you’ve recognized this motivation in members of your sales team, you should try to create an environment or activity that offers opportunities.


Many salespeople are motivated by the social aspects of being part of a team and contributing to the team’s success, as well as the challenge of selling. These people may get satisfaction from team success, problem solving, contributing to a team member’s performance, being part of the number one district in the organization, or even playing a major role at a sales meeting.


Some salespeople prefer to be independent and are motivated when left to their own devices. This involves empowerment, independence, and freedom, enhancing feelings of power and control. This motivator should not be ignored or minimized because people belong to a team. Instead, use it to help independent salespeople be successful on their own.


Recognition, approval, or a need to stand out from the crowd drives some salespeople. Whereas opportunity comes from internal recognition of achievements, visibility involves recognition from others.


Most people want to perform well – even if they aren’t currently meeting expectations. The difference between the “excellence” and “opportunity” motivators is that the excellence-motivated person wants to excel at what he does and is not necessarily seeking higher and more challenging goals and opportunities. Excellence means the person takes great pride in achieving or surpassing personal and professional expectations, becoming a “master.”

How to Identify a Salesperson’s Intrinsic Motivations

One of the topics I discuss in my recently published book, Sales Management Success: Optimizing Performance to Build a Powerful Sales Team, is how to identify a salesperson’s intrinsic motivations. There is no magic formula, but there are methods for observing background, actions, and behavior as bases for reading motives. They should all be used in concert to support and reinforce what you’ve discovered.

#1: Search for the real salesperson: Pay attention to the salesperson’s behavior, personality, ambitions, lifestyle, finances, interests, hobbies, and family. The more you know about the person, the more you will know about what drives him or her.

#2: Monitor behavior changes: Any kind of change in observable behavior may indicate a change in dominant motive. A slacking-off in completing paperwork or making prospecting calls may indicate a motivating force is not being addressed. A salesperson who begins to develop outside interests or hobbies may be looking for new opportunities. Someone who joins a club or organization may be satisfying his teamwork motivation.

#3: Ask the salesperson: Discuss motivations individually with each of your salespeople and ask them to define which one or two motives or goals are most important to them. Many occasions are available, including counseling, annual performance reviews, quota setting discussions, and even over a drink after work. You may be surprised at the responses you get to this direct approach!

The bottom line for supporting and enabling the traditional drives is simply staying involved: 1) Try to understand each team member’s drives, if possible, 2) Frequently reinforce positive behavior to strengthen the salesperson’s skill and related motivation, and 3) Quickly recognize a gap in performance and try to improve performance or behavior. Use coaching and counseling (the latter for serious shortfalls) – particularly if you suspect motivation (or lack of it is) part of the cause.

In summary, these motivation tactics will help you manage better and with more confidence in the motivational impact.

The above is adapted from the new book, Sales Management Success: Optimizing Performance to Build a Powerful Sales Team, by Warren Kurzrock. The book contains tested strategies and abilities developed by Porter Henry & Co. over the past 75 years. Thousands of companies, from Fortune 500 to small independents, have invested heavily to train their sales managers via Porter Henry workshops and have gained greater sales management success. 

Headshot of Warren Kurzrock

Today's blog post is by Warren Kurzrock.