How do you like to be motivated? What is it that if your manager did, you’d be inspired to go the extra mile?

Keeping your sales team motivated is an incredibly important part of being a sales manager.

However, there is no “one size fits all” approach to motivating people.

Organisations commonly have ways to single out people to acknowledge a job well done.

They might have an employee of the month or an awards dinner at the end of the year. Or it might be as simple as praising them at your weekly sales team meeting.

Take Sally for example. She was tasked with preparing the sales team report for the board of directors for the last quarter. Not only did she create an excellent report, the directors asked you to make sure she was acknowledged at the next team meeting.

So, that’s what you do.

Instead of beaming with pride, Sally looks embarrassed. She doesn’t stand up straight and bask in her colleague’s praise. Her shoulders hunch and she avoids eye contact with you and anyone else. As soon as the meeting finishes, she quietly and hurriedly slips away.

What just happened?

Surely everyone wants a public pat on the back? I do.

And that’s the mistake. People are motivated differently. They respond differently to feedback and praise and certain tasks fit some people better than others.

As a sales manager, it’s important to understand that your team may not be like you and it’s beneficial to discover what drives them, in order to help them reach their potential.

One way to do this is by understanding David McClelland’s Human Motivation Theory.

Introducing Human Motivation Theory

McClelland’s Theory (also known as Three Needs Theory, Acquired Needs Theory, Motivational Needs Theory, and Learned Needs Theory) was developed in the 1960s and built on Abraham Maslow’s (you may remember him from your university lectures) Theory of Needs that came out two decades earlier.

In short, Maslow came up with a number of basic needs that human beings have and the order of their importance. McClelland identified three motivators that we all have: a need for achievement, a need for affiliation, and a need for power.

Everyone has these drivers and depending on your life experiences, one will be the dominant motivator.

Sally’s dominant motivator is affiliation. She wants to fit in with the team. Not stand out.

A more effective way to praise and motivate her would have been to provide the board’s feedback and commendation in private.

Identify What Motivates Your Team Members

Firstly, you need to work out what motivates each of your team.

Depending on their dominant motivator, they will have different characteristics.

These are:


·        Needs to set and accomplish challenging goals

·        Takes calculated risks

·        Likes to receive regular feedback

·        Often prefers to work alone


·        Wants to belong to the group

·        Wants to be liked – will often go along with the rest of the group

·        Prefers collaboration over competition

·        Doesn’t like high risk or uncertainty


·        Wants to control and influence others

·        Likes to win arguments

·        Enjoys competition and winning

·        Likes status and recognition

People who have power as their dominant motivator can be divided into two groups. Those who are driven by personal power want to control others, while people driven by institutional power are motivated to organise their team to further the company’s goals.

No prize for guessing which fits better in your sales team!

So, you’ve gone through your team and figured out each person’s dominant motivator. What’s next?

Put It into Action

The next step is to use this knowledge about each of your team members to adapt your leadership style, allocate tasks, and provide feedback and praise.

Matching their dominant motivator will achieve better results for your team members, the team as a whole, your role as their manager, and prevent situations like Sally’s public acknowledgement, which backfired.


·        Tasks – challenging but not impossible projects where they need to overcome difficult problems or situations

·        Others – work best on their own or with other high achievers

·        Feedback – fair and balanced so they know what they are doing right and doing wrong, in order to improve


·        Tasks – avoid giving them tasks that feature uncertainty and risk

·        Others – they prefer to work in a group environment

·        Feedback – still provided balanced feedback but keep it personal and private, as opposed to public


·        Tasks – work best with goal-orientated projects or tasks where they can satisfy their need for competition

·        Others – they like to be in charge

·        Feedback – it’s important to be direct and focus on how the task or project can help further their career goals

Looking at your current sales team you can probably start to see why you’ve been a more effective manager with some people more than others.

Influencing People

Regardless of whether you run a sales team or not, you can use Human Motivation Theory to better manage and influence people.

When I was in my late teens, I ended up leading a charity that provided afterschool programmes for children who came from tough backgrounds, as I had.

Most of the other volunteers were a lot older than me and it was my job to lead to them.

Not an easy situation for a teenager that’s for sure!

One particular instance sticks in my mind.

As a reward for doing well, we used to give out lollies to the kids. However, there was this one lady how would sit at the back and eat the lollies that had been donated for that night’s programme.

It drove everyone crazy! They all knew she did it, but no one wanted to confront her.

As the leader, I knew it was my job to deal with it. I couldn’t let it continue.

At our team meeting that night, I commented on how there appeared to be a gap in the number of lollies we were donated and the number that we had to give out to the kids.

That was it. I didn’t single her out – though she and everyone else knew what I was talking about.

And the behaviour stopped.

Just like Sally, affiliation was her dominant motivator. Singling her out from the group would have victimised her and while she would probably have stopped the behaviour – it would have been because she stopped coming!

This would have been a real shame because she was a valuable member of the team.

You can use Human Motivation Theory to not only effectively praise people for doing well but also motivate them to change their behaviour to better fit with what your team is trying to achieve.


Overall, there are a few different theories about motivating people, such as Sirota’s Three-Factor Theory. Use your judgement to see which theory is best suited to driving your team to success.

Personally, I’ve found McClelland’s Human Motivation Theory a simple model to understand the different personalities in my sales teams, how to motivate them, delegate projects, and deliver feedback.

We have a number of events and programmes specifically designed to help sales managers excel.


Sharn Piper – Partner, Attain NZ

Hi, I’m Sharn, and I love nothing more than getting that ecstatic phone call from a client who has just smashed their sales targets after a session with Attain.

Over the course of my career I’ve led numerous sales teams, built multiple successful businesses and learnt how to craft a sales process that is robust, repeatable and produces consistent results.

I love a challenge and have acquired a reputation for being quick to get to the core of the issue and find out-of-the-box solutions to unleash better sales. These skills have proven useful time and time again as I’m approached to boost the results of high-performing teams wanting to take the business to a whole new level.

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