"Show me the money"

Motivational factors have been for long a highly-researched subject across many of its dimensions since around the 1940’s and 50’s. The most famous one of a general nature might be Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” and my favourite more specifically looking at productivity is the “Two Factor Theory” from Frederick Herzberg. Both have one thing in common, money plays no or a tiny role and if, largely around being able to cater for the basic needs of life. 

Motivational or remuneration strategies in the commercial field, especially sales have received an extraordinary amount of attention and reached a dangerous level of only one dimensional incentive or extrinsic motivation.  

In 1980, Stephen X. Doyle and Benson P. Shapiro, conducted a study published in the Harvard Business Review, entitled “What motivates your sales force most”. Their results were clear, the most important determinants of motivation are:

  • The nature of the task
  • The personality, particularly the strength of the salesperson’s need for achievement
  • The type of compensation plan.

At the time of this study, most participating companies had a straight salary plan only, i.e. no flexible or performance based component and focused mostly on recruiting the right people with the right attitude. About 10% of the article, at most, focuses on the compensation element as a sales motivator.

Then I found a more recent article, posted in 2015 by Doug J. Chung, again in the Harvard Business Review, entitled “How to Really Motivate Salespeople”. In this case, I would guess that about 95%, if not more, of the article is about incentive plans and nothing else.

How comes that we see such a reversal in the importance of the key motivational factors in a relatively a short period of time? Is it only money that matters now, not the business activities and it longevity and prospects? What about the importance of products or services compared to other companies one could work for? What about the principals and values of the company one works for or just being proud of having achieved results and getting recognised by colleagues and management?

It seems that cash and winning the Presidents Club are now the main goals.

We had a glimpse into what monetary incentives can do during the 2008 economic crash. In my view, money corrupts and more money corrupts more, to modify a different saying about power. Now it seems that most sales peoples’ actions are focused on monthly and quarterly results, long term vision and goals being no longer relevant. “Show me the money” is an expression that comes to mind.

Sadly, the sales pushers, quarter-junkies and money driven corporate slaves with their sheer pretentious conviction of believing in what they sell as if they created it, roam and rule the sales world of today.

Marketers know that sales is only one function of a business’ success. If the products and services are good, and made available in a way that make them easily consumable, the importance of the sales people in a company’ success is considerably diminished.

I therefore conclude that there might be a direct correlation between the emphasis on sales and its compensation and the relative greatness or ‘rubbishness’ of the product or service a company markets.

Andreas Hipp