Over the last 5 years, when conducting keynote sessions or workshops, senior sales executives overwhelmingly want to know – How do I motivate my sales people and keep them motivated?
The answer that I give them is one they never like, but they soon understand: You cannot motivate them nor can you keep them motivated. Let me make this clear; I am not a student of motivation. I’ve read many, many business books, management books and self-help books. I do not profess to be the expert in this area. However, I do understand it well enough to make the following comments.
But, first, my personal story about motivation:
It was late August in 1963 when I went to my Dad and told him I wanted to play football. He told me he knew someone that coached Peewee football in town, which was Hammonton, NJ. He said he would get the number for me and then I could call the coach and tell him I wanted to play. That night, Dad handed me a slip of paper, I made the call and I was signed up to play for the 9 year old team and we immediately started practice.
I do not remember all the details about practice. I remember the field was a dirt field, probably still is. There were 3 other groups of boys practicing, running, throwing and catching. We did various football drills, exercises and stretching and we finished with wind sprints. I came off of the field to where my Dad was standing and he asked me, “What do you think?” I said, “I’m going to go to college someday and play football.” He replied, “Well then, take off your helmet and shoulder pads and go run some more. To play college football you have to be in great shape.” I ran two extra miles that night (and for many nights after that) until I was sweaty enough to go home.
My Dad had to coach me and manage me in a lot of things in my life like “Don’t pick on your little sister, Tresa”, but he never had to coach me again about running or being in shape. It was my goal. It was what I knew I had to do because I believed in and trusted “the manager” that told me I needed to run and be in shape.
Once, when Tresa and I were working together making blueberry crates, I was picking on her. She ran home and told our dad. Dad came across the street, opened the door and just looked at me. Dad was a tough dad. Then he said, “You wanna pick on your sister? YOU make all the rest of the crates before you go to practice.” I explained that practice was in 2 hours. He said, “Then you better stop talking and get to work.” You need to understand that the work Tresa and I were doing would take us all of another 3 hours if we BOTH did it. Now, I had to get it done all by myself in 90 minutes to make practice. And I wanted to get to practice.
Two hours later, I was at practice.
Over the next 13 years, I ran a lot of sprints (and a lot of miles) through the blueberry fields of home to get in shape. My dad and I would lift weights together across the street in “the old brick building”. When we would finish lifting, we’d play ping pong to loosen up the tight muscles.
I finished my career as a player in November of 1977 in the Stadium of Holy Cross in Worchester, Mass. We lost 41 to 40 and I stood there on the field and cried. Cried like a baby because I knew I’d never play again. Goal accomplished. I loved my dad. I loved football and everything about it including the conditioning.
This is just a simple story about a young boy who played hard enough and well enough to earn a scholarship to keep playing the game he loved. I was able to do that for a variety of reasons, but as I think back today, it was mostly because I loved the game so much that no one ever had to tell me to get ready for practice, get my gear together, get in shape, practice hard, study the playbook, be fair and a good sport. I was my own motivator.
In 1989, while I was in Cincinnati working as an insurance agent for David Zimmerman (who actually recruited me to play at UCONN), I attended a life insurance conference. The main speaker was Mark Victor Hansen, who later became the creator of all those “Chicken Soup” books. During his presentation on “visualizing is realizing”, he said the following:
“Motivation is an inside–out job”
This is the moral of the story and the lesson of motivation. Your sales people don’t give a rat’s a** about shareholder value and year over year growth of the division or the department. They care about their kids in school, paying off college debt, building a deck on the back of the house, saving for the wedding, the vacation home and the retirement years. That is their motivation. That stuff is on the inside. If your people don’t have it, you cannot give it to them.
You CANNOT Motivate them, but you can do THIS!
You can create an environment where they believe their dreams can come true. You can foster the ability to pursue those things that are near and dear to their heart. You can create a recognition program (or incentive process) that recognizes the things that are important to them. You can find a way to mesh what they want, with want you want, and with what you have to have for success in your role. THIS you can build; THIS you can control. Do THIS and you won’t have to worry about them running to be in shape. They will just do it.
Tony’s Online Course on Motivation
Harvard Business Review Article - Three Things That Actually Motivate Employees
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