The Sales Rep Motivational Disconnect

By: James T. Berger, The Wiglaf Journal

When it comes to personal selling, the 21st century sales representative is a different animal from the 20th century version. Willy Loman is dead and so are the assorted characters in Glengarry Glen Ross. The 21st century salesman is a professional consultant who should be far more interested in establishing a long-term relationship with the customer based on giving the customer advice on how best to buy.

This modern salesperson needs a unique set of qualities to be successful. Because the sales rep. is so crucial to the success of the firm, it is mandatory that she or he be properly motivated. Moreover, the selection/hiring process is costly and time-consuming.

Once a qualified and capable sales rep. is in place, the firm should do its best to (1) keep the rep. and (2) keep him or her happy and motivated. For these reasons it is rather remarkable that studies have shown that there is a major disconnect in what the company thinks propels the sales rep. and what the rep. believes are the most important motivators. One of the most meaningful studies on employee motivation was done by Kenneth A. Kovack and published by George Mason University.

While the study, a working paper entitled “Employee Motivation. Addressing a Crucial Factor in Your Organization’s Performance”may be a bit dated (1997), it involved inputs from 1,000 employees and their managers. The Kovack study ranks 10 motivational areas by employees and managers.

Here are the 10 most important factors, ranked in the order of importance by employees and managers: It is rather easy to see the disconnect. Managers believe that compensation is the No. 1 motivator yet employees ranks compensation No. 5. Employees rank “Interesting work” as their No. 1 motivator yet managers rank this as No. 5. Employees rate “appreciation of work done” No. 2 while managers rank it No. 8. While employees rank “growth and promotional opportunities” No. 3, managers again are totally unsympathetic and rank this No. 6.

The most interesting aspect of this ranking system is that managers who are so concerned with the bottom line could really save a huge amount of money by learning what really incents employees. Many of the leading motivators for employees cost very little in monetary terms.

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