money motivationI ran across this great post  What Really Motivates Sales People.  The author, Jim Keenan, a sales exec who also writes the A Sales Guy blog, shares thoughts about the significance of money in motivating sales reps. He also shares comments from members of his LinkedIn group. The bottom line from his perspective is that “sales people are not motivated by money. They, like others, are driven by accomplishment, self-actualization, challenges, and recognition.”

This is a thought-provoking topic to be sure and in many years of working with sales reps, building sales teams, managing and recruiting sales professionals, I generally agree and so do many others.

“The man who does not work for the love of work but only for money is not likely to make money nor find much fun in life.” – Charles M. Schwab

“If you work just for money, you’ll never make it. But if you love what you are doing, and always put the customer first, success will be yours.” – Ray Kroc

I agree that the best salespeople are usually motivated by a higher purpose which may be anything from a personal mission, to personal achievement, but it is important to keep in mind that the best sales people are often very competitive – even with themselves. There is a fine line between being driven by achievement and being driven by money. Donald Trump put it well when he said: “Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score.” I have seen many people crave a certain level of income only to achieve it and then decide it is not enough and they want more.

Still, not everyone is the same. If money was the main motivator for everyone, sales people would simply work 24/7 and earn more commissions. But they don’t. At some point, money is not the main motivator and that line is different for everyone.

Perhaps as the career of the average sales person advances, they are less focused on money as they have achieved a decent base and are meeting their basic needs.  There is interesting proof of this from Dave Kurlan at OMG. “If we look at the data from the 450,000 salespeople that have been assessed by Objective Management Group, the percentage of findings showing lack of money motivation, especially among higher income earners, has been increasing each year. It’s not that they aren’t money motivated anymore, as much as they aren’t as money motivated as they were earlier in their career, when their money motivation got them to their current income level.” (from What We Think About Sales Motivation is All Wrong)

When candidates tell us they are more interested in the opportunity than the compensation, we know what they actually mean is they need to make a certain level of income but they have can trade-off some income for a more interesting opportunity. They are still highly motivated by money and will not accept a position below their target income, it’s just that money is part of the mix of things that is important to them.

Being too motivated by money can be a problem. If you have ever had a rep on your team that will break every rule to make a commission, then you know what I mean. Reps who forget that they are on board to make customers successful, help build the company and get paid well in the process are highly disruptive to your business and your team. No one needs people on the team putting themselves before the team. Integrity plays a huge role in success.

Another downside of a team purely motivated by money is noted by CJ Ng at Psychselling. “When companies use money as the only motivator, it is also a riskier proposition. There’s nothing to prevent competitors to use the same motivator to entice your best people (along with your best customers) to defect.” (Good post here How to Motivate Sales People Without Money?)

But it still comes back to money. Although less empirical our experience speaks to the relevance of money to sales people. We meet thousands of sales people every year and there is no question that compensation is top of mind for most and particularly the top performers. In fact, we often joke that if someone is not interested in money, they probably haven’t made much.

Our clients want to build teams of high performance sales people and it is certainly true that to be successful requires a lot more than an interest in money. Depending on the type of sales role and selling environment there can often be dozens of necessary personality traits and competencies required to be a top performer.

Money is certainly a useful lever. Companies that pay below market have trouble attracting the attention of the top performers. In a study of more than 2000 sales people, conducted by Barnett Consulting (Money Motivation in Sales People), “74% reported that their primary career motivation is money and less than 25% disagreed with the statement “my most important goal is to make lots of money.” The report goes on to say that companies that put less emphasis on money are likely to attract less money motivated people, who are described as “antithetical to productive sales behavior.” Put another way, “companies that pay more tend to attract better talent.”

Whatever works. I admire Jim’s stance and more power to him if he can build a successful team of members who are motivated by things other than money. There is a lot of evidence that his experience may be the exception rather than the rule.

Either way, it is likely that your team includes people that are both money motivated and motivated by other factors and in order to get them to perform well, you will need to serve each of their unique needs.

Good luck!


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

Contact us to speak directly with a
Peak representative

Privacy Policy & Terms of Use
Share This