Motivational factors - Sales Management

To maintain and improve performance and productivity becomes a full-time job for many supervisors and managers within their teams. This is particularly likely to be the case where managers fail to understand and apply some basic principles of motivation.

While this is the subject of many specialized texts, from the practical perspective there are several interesting approaches that readily translate into a sales environment. They have all been tested over the years, each having some validity in various circumstances.

However, most of the attempts to verify motivation theories are based on tests in western cultures, and even within these there are found to be variations in cultural response to efforts to motivate improved performance and productivity.

Hierarchy of needs theory

This approach to understanding motivation (initially propagated by Maslow, see Figure) recognized five main types of needs:

  • physiologicalneeds, addressing the basic survival requirements of the individual
    (e.g. food, health, security)
  • safetyneeds, addressing the need for physical and emotional security
  • socialneeds, such as the need to belong and to be accepted within social groups, to give and receive affection
  • need for esteem, both internal esteem (selfrespect, achievement) and external esteem (status, recognition, public attention)
  • self-actualizationneeds, those higher-levelneeds relating to self-achievement and selffulfilment.

Primary physiological and safety needs in the main are more easily met in developednations, as an employer is providing a job, income and range of benefits that address these needs, usually satisfying basic comfort and survival needs through:


  • security of employment
  • basic salary meeting financial commitments
  • earnings protection during periods of sickness
  • pensions to provide for post-retirement income
  • sickness and life assurance cover
  • safe working environments.

Goal setting theory

This approach to management and motivation has gained many supporters amongst practising managers. It postulates that setting and agreeing specific and difficult goals will lead to higher performance. Goals tell people what effort they can expect to have to expend to achieve it, and, if broken down, what actions they need to take. Gaining acceptance of, and commitment to, a goal presupposes the individual sees it as realistic and achievable. Self-set goals typically have more impact on individual behaviour, particularly where the goals are made public within a team.

While on the one hand easier goals are more likely to find acceptance with many employees, once a harder goal is accepted effort towards achieving it normally increases until it is achieved, lowered or abandoned. While it is also recognized that feedback on progress towards a goal is important, it is also recognized that self-generated feedback is a more powerful motivator than external feedback.

Goal setting also assumes that:

  • individuals can influence outcomes
  • individuals have the independence topursue options
  • challenging goals will be accepted
  • performance is seen as important in the work and cultural environment.

Managers who travel internationally will realize that this goal setting approach to motivation is less effective in some cultures, particularly where: employees are adverse to taking risks

  • employees have little independence, and possibly have little involvement in active management and decision-making processes
  • personal performance is not such a driving force in motivation.

Equity theory

This theory will, again, be recognized by managers who are familiar with situations the theory depicts. It recognizes that individuals in a work environment will be concerned not just with the absolute levels of rewards from a job, but also with their rewards relative to those received by others in appropriate reference groups, such as colleagues doing similar jobs. It assumes then that they are likely to seek to eliminate what they judge to be inequities. It is this desire to remove inequities that provides scope for motivation towards increased productivity and performance.

Individual employees have four main reference options (illustrated in the table following) in making equity comparisons.

Internal self Experiences of an employee in different positions in the current company organization

External self Experiences of an employee in or with different positions in other (former employer) company organizations

Internal others Comparisons by an employee with other individuals or groups within the current company organization

External others Comparisons by an employee with other individuals or groups outside the current company organization

Employees do make frequent comparisons with colleagues, friends and neighbours, and form views about their relative income and value. How they judge themselves in relationto other reference groups or individuals isconsidered within equity theory to affect their motivation and behaviour.

When making comparisons individuals do tend to consider the variables of sex (most men favour comparisons with other males, most women favour comparisons with other women), length of service with an employer, seniority within the organization, and education or training that will give a measure of comparative suitability or professionalism in the job.

Where any individual employee judges that he or she is in an inequitable relationship to others in reference groups, then possible courses of action include:

  • reducing effort and input to the job, thereby balancing their perception of their relative equity (rewards) with their inputs
  • increasing effort and input, trying to raise their equity to a higher level commensurate with that of reference groups or individuals
  • justifying the inequity with particular reference groups by looking for other reference groups where there would not be such an imbalance (i.e. instead of making comparisons with colleagues in, say, the private sector, making comparisons with persons employed in public service)
  • distorting perceptions of themselves and their contributions, self-justifying positions (such as developing a view that they are indispensable in a role, or that they work harder than others)
  • distorting perceptions of others they have drawn relative reward comparisons with, such as by claiming they have no interest in the job functions or responsibilities of some of those who they consider inequitably rewarded in relation to themselves
  • quitting the job and going to look for another that appears to offer a better equity relationship with reference groups.

McClelland’s achievement – power – affiliation theory

This theory postulates three key needs of:

  • achievement: the individual’s striving to perform to a high level, excelling in relation to standards and colleagues
  • power: the desire for power and controlover other persons, influencing theiractivities and behaviour, the desire to make an impact
  • affiliation: the desire to build close and harmonious relationships.

Within the scope of this theory it has been recognized that in a business organization environment high achievers tend to be people who have stronger needs for achievement and power, and who prefer to tackle tasks or projects where they have a reasonable chance of success, but which are also not too simple to accomplish. They like responsibility, good feedback, and a moderate (preferably measurable) level of risk. Typically they would like successful outcomes to be the result of their inputs rather than as a result of uncontrollable external factors.

High achievement does not necessarily equate to a good management style, as high achievers are often more self-centred in pursuing achievement. The good manager tends to be stronger in the power drive area, with less concern to develop close affiliations.

Expectancy theory

Another motivational theory that has gained credibility is Vroom’s expectancy theory. This proposes that the strength of an employee’s inclination to act in certain (predictable) ways will depend on his or her expectation that the act will be followed by a predictable result (outcome or reward) and the attractiveness of that to the individual. The desired outcome or reward might be to benefit from a good performance appraisal, move up the promotion ladder, receive a pay increase or bonus.

It is implicit that the rewards will satisfy an employee’s personal goals. Figure illustrates how expectancy theory is seen to work. Readers may note that this is a development of the most basic motivational model illustrated earlier in Figure . Managers must understand the goals of individual employees, and show how improved performance resulting from individual effort leads to company rewards, leading on to satisfaction of personal goals.

Expectancy theory

The expectancy theory offers some insightsinto why some employees might appear not to be motivated to increase productivity or improve performance. They may be asking themselves a number of questions, such as:

  • ‘Is the reward worth the effort?’
  • Will the performance improvements justify the effort?’
  • Will the effort and performance improvements give me extra recognition through appraisals?’
  • If my appraisal rating improves, will it lead to promotion or new responsibilities I
  • Will all my extra effort and performance improvements increase my job security?’

As this section illustrates, there is quite a range of traditional and more contemporary theories concerning motivation. They all have merit, and the practising manager probably adopts a number of them. In a sales context the sales manager concerned to improve performance must ensure that:

  • there are no obstacles that can prevent the salesperson increasing effort or improving performance (while the sales manager cannot control external limiting factors, he should ensure internal factors are addressed; e.g. if there are production or supply limitations these will work against improving sales through extra effort)
  • appropriate resources are made available to assist the salesperson.

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