Creating and maintaining a well-motivated sales force is a challenging task. The confidence and motivation of salespeople is usually out washed by the inevitable rejections they suffer from buyers as part of everyday activities. Sales managers do not motivate salespeople but should provide the circumstances that will encourage salespeople to motivate themselves.

An understanding of motivation lies in the relationship between needs, drives and goals: The basic process involves needs (deprivations) which set drives in motion (deprivations with direction) to accomplish goals (anything that alleviates a need and reduces a drive).

Improving motivation is important to sales success since high levels of motivation lead to:

  • Increased creativity;
  • Working smarter and a more adaptive selling approach;
  • Working harder;
  • Increased use of win–win negotiation tactics;
  • Higher self-esteem;
  • A more relaxed attitude and a less negative emotional tone;
  • Enhancement of relationships.

Definition of Motivation

Motivation is basically the collective set of ideas and forces that influence people to think in certain ways or do certain things. It can be defined then, as an internal or external factor that might rouse /incite an individual to work towards a goal. There are a variety of ways to motivate people, including the fear of losing a job, financial incentives, self- fulfillment goals and goals for the organization or groups within the organization.

Motivational theories

A number of theories have evolved that are pertinent (relevant) to the motivation of salespeople.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory

This theory proposes a tiered system of importance for factors of motivation; them being physiological (basic necessities), safety, love (inclusion into society), esteem (recognition in society), and self-actualization–i.e. the completion of the individual. Maslow advanced the following propositions about human behavior:

  • Man is a wanting being.
  • A satisfied need is not a motivator of behavior, only unsatisfied needs motivate.
  • Man’s needs are arranged in a series of levels – a hierarchy of importance. As soon as needs on a lower level are met those on the next, higher level will demand satisfaction. Maslow believed the underlying needs for all human motivation to be on five general levels from lowest to highest, shown below. Within those levels, there could be many specific needs, from lowest to highest.
  • Physiological – the need for food, drink, shelter and relief from pain.
  • Safety and security – once the physical needs of the moment are satisfied, man concerns himself with protection from physical dangers with economic security, preference for the familiar and the desire for an orderly, predictable world.
  • Social – become important motivators of his behavior.
  • Esteem or egoistic – a need both for self-esteem and the esteem of others, which involves self-confidence, achievement, competence, knowledge, autonomy, reputation, status and respect.
  • Self-fulfillment or self-actualization – is the highest level in the hierarchy; these are the individual’s needs for realizing his or her own potential, for continued self-development and creativity in its broadest sense.

Herzberg’s dual factor theory

This theory distinguished factors which can cause dissatisfaction but cannot motivate (hygiene factors) and factors which can cause positive motivation.

Motivating (hygiene) factors included physical working conditions, security, salary and interpersonal relationships. He assumed that directing managerial attention to these factors would bring motivation up but would not result in positive motivation. If this were to be achieved, attention would have to be given to true motivators. These included the nature of the work itself which allows the person to make some concrete achievement, recognition of achievement, the responsibility exercised by the person, and the interest value of the work itself. The inclusion of salary as a hygiene factor rather than as a motivator was subject to criticisms from sales managers whose experience led them to believe that commission paid to their salespeople was a powerful motivator in practice. Herzberg accommodated their view to some extent by arguing that increased salary through higher commission was a motivator through the automatic recognition it gave to sales achievement.

The salesperson is fortunate that achievement is directly observable in terms of higher sales (except in missionary selling, where orders are not taken, e.g. pharmaceuticals, beer and selling to specifiers). However, the degree of responsibility afforded to salespeople varies a great deal. Opportunities for giving a greater degree of responsibility to (and hence motivating) salespeople include giving authority to grant credit (up to a certain value), discretion to offer discounts and handing over responsibility for calling frequencies.

This theory has been well received in general by practitioners, although academics have criticised it in terms of methodology and oversimplification.

Vroom’s expectancy theory

This theory assumes that people’s motivation to exert effort is dependent upon their expectations for success. Vroom based his theory on three concepts – expectancy, instrumentality and valence.

  1. Expectancy: This refers to a person’s perceived relationship between effort and performance, i.e. to the extent to which a person believes that increased effort will lead to higher performance.
  2. Instrumentality: This reflects the person’s perception of the relationship between performance and reward; for example, it reflects the extent to which a person believes that higher performance will lead to promotion.
  3. Valence: This represents the value placed upon a particular reward by a person. For some individuals promotion may be highly valued; for others it may have little value.

According to the theory, a salesperson believes that by working harder they will achieve increased sales (high expectancy) and that higher sales will lead to greater commission (high instrumentality) and higher commission is very important (high valence), a high level of motivation should result.

It can be noted that different salespeople will have different valences (values) for the same reward. Some might value increased pay very highly; while for others higher pay may have less value. Also, different salespeople may view the relationship between performance and reward, and between effort and performance, in quite different ways. A task of sales management is to specify and communicate to the salesforce these performance criteria, which are important in helping to achieve company objectives, and to relate rewards to these criteria. Further, this theory supports the notion that for performance targets (e.g. sales quotas) to be effective motivators they should be regarded as attainable (high expectancy) by each salesperson. This model provides a diagnostic framework for analysing motivational problems with individual salespeople and an explanation of why certain managerial activities can improve motivation. Training in sales skills, for example, can improve motivation by raising expectancy levels.

Adams’s inequity theory

Feelings of inequity (unfairness) can arise when an individual’s effort or performance on the job exceeds the reward they receive. Salespeople who feel they contribute more than others to the organisation expect to receive proportionately greater rewards. This is the essence of Adams’s inequity theory.

For a salesperson, inequity can be felt in the following areas:

  • monetary rewards;
  • workload;
  • promotion;
  • degree of recognition;
  • supervisory behaviour;
  • targets;

The outcome of a salesperson perceiving significant inequities in any of these areas may be reduced motivation as a result of the feeling of unfairness.

The implication is that sales managers must monitor their sales force to detect any feelings of unfairness. This can be done informally during sales meetings or through the use of questionnaires. Some sales organizations survey their sales representatives periodically to measure their perceptions of inequity and the effectiveness of the company’s motivational programme in general.

Motivation is often equated with incentives but Adams’s work emphasizes that the elimination of disincentives (e.g. injustices, unfair treatment) may be an equally powerful influence.

Likert’s sales management theory

Unlike Herzberg, Maslow and Vroom, who developed ‘general’ theories of motivation, Likert based his theory on research that looked specifically at the motivation of salespeople. His research related differing characteristics and styles of supervision to performance. One of the hypotheses he tested was that the sales managers’ own behaviours provide a set of standards which, in themselves, will affect the behaviour of their salespeople. He found that there was a link. High performing sales teams usually had sales managers who themselves had high performance goals.

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