What Add job title, key skills
Where Add location, town, city
Scroll for more!

Motivating sales staff: The psychology of engagement

Published: Tuesday 6th December 2016

We all want to know the secret to motivating sales staff. But what does that actually mean, and what can we learn from psychology research? More pay doesn’t produce more motivation every time; people often stay for less money than they could get elsewhere. Yet we still use it to try to ‘motivate employees’…

What else is at play in the complicated equation of human motivation, if it isn’t a simple linear equation of more money = more motivation?

Male using a loudspeaker in an attempt to Motivate employees

Engaged Staff


The psychological theory behind engagement is called intrinsic motivation. The benefits of being intrinsically driven are more perseverance, and it has been shown that people are more likely to come up with creative solutions to problems too. The challenge in a sales environment, when commission is an external carrot (or lack of commission and earning is a stick), is how to create an environment that encourages employees to be self-motivating


Motivating staff


Intrinsic motivation is when we do something for the love of the activity itself. We aren’t doing it for any other reason than what is internally fun or satisfying to us; just for the pure enjoyment of it. That hobby you choose to do in your spare time – running, pottery or building websites, is probably an intrinsic motivation. Assuming there is no extrinsic reward of money or fame, you do it simply because you love it. Self-determination is when someone is intrinsically motivated to do something for themselves, rather than extrinsic rewards.

How do you create an environment to encourage an intrinsically driven workforce?

1. Autonomy

Control. Employees are more engaged when they (perceive) they have a choice. People are more likely to follow through and want to see something done if they came up with it themselves. Giving some choice, discussing strategy as a group and empowering your employees will mean they take ownership of the solutions and are driven to see it through.

2. Positive Competence Feedback

We all like to see progress, so it’s important we celebrate successes and milestones regularly. The caution is being to outcome focused (the sales scoreboard), and instead finding or defining successes in the process too.

In sales, the techniques of closing, or making sure there are regular follow-ups and check-ins with clients could be measured and recorded too. This will build some positivity in getting ‘wins’ which will in turn give the best chance of a real win – that sales board.

3. Relatedness

We’re social beings so being part of a team is important. Encouraging this by celebrating birthdays, staff socials and being a positive environment can help. Including everyone and avoiding unhealthy and exclusive clues can help too. Emphasise the group goals and the power of something bigger than just each everyone’s own pursuit.


young male car sales executive


Extrinsic motivation on the other hand, is the drive for an external reward, like money or status. If you do an activity to get something else, it’s a means to an end.

You might have to study the road code, to get your licence to drive. Although you don’t like the tedious reading of what lines on the road mean, you are doing it for the ultimate reward of being allowed to drive. A sales environment is generally geared towards this with commission an external factor. It’s the salesperson’s interpretation of this that’s important.

Is Extrinsic Motivation worse?


External isn’t necessarily worse, and for many people the reality is they must work for money to make a living. The risk is when those factors are perceived as controlling, that we must make this sale for commission. But the desire for more money or status is there in everyone, and is part of their motivational makeup. It is unhealthy when it becomes all of it. View it like a pie – it is part of the pie, but not all the pie.

What can help those that need to work for money in a job they don’t enjoy, is to attach meaning (intrinsic reasons) to the work they are doing. A dentist might not actually love teeth, but they can place importance and meaning in making people smile better after they see them. To spread happiness is a far better reason to turn up for work than simply oral hygiene. This can move people closer to an intrinsic motivation.


Intrinsic Activity + Extrinsic Reward = More motivating?

What about the other way, does adding extrinsic rewards to intrinsic activities can have a negative effect? The term ‘over-justification’ is used to explain what can happen when people are externally rewarded for something they previously enjoyed and were intrinsically driven to enjoy.

If the reward is perceived as controlling (see autonomy above), it can take the enjoyment out of something that they used to choose to do, because they now feel forced to do it. Think of an amateur footballer who used to play for fun. Now a paid professional, he is told when and how to play, and because of insurance is restricted on physical activities he can do elsewhere in his own time. This can reduce the motivation and love for something he used to do for no reward other than the enjoyment of the activity itself.

And that is the consideration between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. So, if you can engage your staff intrinsically, what is the worst that can happen? Would you prefer engaged staff that get so good you risk losing them to further their career, or disengaged staff who constantly need motivating that don’t leave?

What environment are you creating and encouraging for your staff? Are you motivating them in the right way?

More reading on intrinsic motivation here: https://www.verywell.com/what-is-intrinsic-motivation-2795385

Interested in finding out more about the subjects raised on this page?
Simply click on the tags below to read related blog posts...