Motivating the Unmotivated

Published on July 14, 2012

Many of my clients are working to leverage their time through hiring additional sales people.  This can be a double edged sword to say the least. The goal is to have someone on the team who is self-directed and capable of not only handling business given to them, but also going out and generating new business.

I can't tell you how many coaching conversations that start out with the client asking, "How do I motivate _____ to generate more business?" Well, I came across a great article  (below) that shares some insights directly related to that question. Enjoy...


Leveraging a Sales Person's Motivation

By Ron Foss

Expert Author Ron Foss

Sales people who have clear objectives, the required competencies, and a supportive working environment still require a level of desire, willingness and positive thinking to complete tasks or sales activities in order to optimize performance. This state of willingness could be restated as motivation, the mental game or the internal forces that affect the outcomes, intensity and perseverance of a sales person's voluntary behavior.

Sales Managers need to evaluate each sales person's motivation, skills and the thinking supporting them due to shifting corporate goals and competitive threats. Given that there is a broad range of individualistic practices within the sales population, it is likely that each sales person is motivated in different ways and a good sales manager or sales leader, according to my experience, has the responsibility to identify those differences and leverage the individual potential from each and every sales person.

In David C. McCelland's theory of learned needs he suggests that achievement, affiliation and power are the important sources of motivation. As he suggests, however, high achievers are self-motivated to high levels of achievement while low achievers require direction and reinforcement from others. He goes on to say that employees can learn to become more achievement oriented but recognizes that there are different types of employees bringing a balance to our social framework.

This is why it is so key that sales managers understand sales people for the individuals that they really are. Daniel Goleman, who has done extensive work in the area of Emotional Intelligence, suggests that those employees with potential are motivated by a desire to achieve for the sake of achievement and states further that managers with strong emotional intelligence are themselves self-motivated individuals - These principles should then apply to sales people and sales managers.

If motivated sales people are more willing to exert certain effort over a period of time in order to achieve a goal, then what role does the sales manager have in his or her interaction with that sales person?

It is important for sales managers to have a grasp of each sales person level of ability and motivation according to Dr. Paul Hersey. He suggests that the ownership of the task between the sales manager and the sales person be shared in accordance to the various possible levels of both ability and readiness. A training company named Gilmore and Associates devised a model that incorporates these notions and I have worked with them to further its usefulness.

It is important that a sales manager determines what the over all ability of a sales person is prior to attempting to teach, share or transfer the key aspects of the tasks to that employee.

The same holds true for motivation but I would suggest that the aspects of motivation are often overlooked by sales manages as it is the more difficult of the two to identify and manage. Just as with ability an evaluation of motivation should be considered and then skillfully engage, encourage and recognize the mental game and thinking of each individual sales person.

[I believe that ability is mind to hand while motivation is mind to heart. Think of it this way - Sales Performance equals Ability (Mind to Hand) times Motivation (Mind to Heart) or SP=A(MH)XM(MH)]

Sales managers often remedy performance issues with more skills training when from my experience more often than not the underlying performance issue is the thinking and motivation of the sales person. This generally means the wrong solution for the wrong problem incurring more overhead cost, lost opportunity cost and often a further slippage in the motivation of the sale person.

Different levels of the sales person's ability will mean a different coaching style on behalf of the sales manager in order for the task to be completed at the required level of performance. Lower ability will mean more sales manager involvement and a specific teaching style will be necessary. As ability increases so too does the ownership of the task by the sales person increase, as he or she will begin to determine what is required in order to complete it. A sharing style becomes the most commonly used style by sales managers during this next phase. As the sales person's ability level optimizes the role of the sales manager shifts more to a transferring style. Involvement of the sales manager is far less and ownership for the task is now primarily that of the sales person.

Typically the same holds true for levels of motivation (M) with respect to the same task although the characteristics and processes for engaging it are more emotional than behavioral. It is here that the passion for sales managing sales people comes to the forefront.

Sales managing a sales person with low motivation will require a nurturing sales manager, one that will engage in the values and principles of the sales person more so than technical abilities for that task. I believe that emotional factors have to engage the sales person's values in order to stimulate the whole sales person. As the sales person's motivation improves you follow through with encouragement reinforcing the positive and helping them see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. At the highest level of motivation you simply recognize their capability supporting them to the highest possible level of success.

A sales person with high ability and motivation with respect to a specific task is more apt to have higher levels of success with the role of the sales manager being that of a provider of information or in a position to just delegate and reward with little need for intense interaction.

As a sales manager's proficiency increases with the use of this model, his or her competency at identifying the issues of ability and motivation will also increase. This will provide the sales manager with an advantage as he or she mentors and coaches his or her sales people for greater results. For the longest time I have used this model intuitively but from time to time I have been known to reference a wallet size cheat sheet that I have carried with me for at least twenty years. A real testimonial to the Gilmore model!

Ron Foss is the Senior Partner of EQ Management Group committed to improving management capability and more information can be discovered at

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