Intrinsic Motivation & Sales: Why is it the perfect job for certain people?
I love sales. It’s in my blood. I honestly couldn’t think of another career that I’d rather have joined, or one where I’d have equal success. As a former athlete and diehard sports fan, I find a lot of similarities between a sales floor, soccer field or tennis court.
Mark Cuban says that business (and sales) is the ultimate sport for those that want to compete. “In business, it’s 24 by 7 by 365 by forever, and you’re competing with everybody.” Damn…I love that.
If that quote makes you want to run for the hills, you may be better served as an accountant or be in another corporate job. But if it makes you crack a smile and makes your heart pump a little bit faster as it did for me, then you may be fit for a huge sales career.
In my experience, successful salespeople are motivated by one of four things: money, competition, recognition, and what I’d call autonomy. Let’s dive deeper into why each of these four motivators can be so powerful for salespeople.
Let’s cut straight to the chase: you can make a boatload of money in sales. It’s wild to me that in college, the only careers that are described as high-earning are lawyers, doctors, and investment bankers. It’s not uncommon for a great salesperson to earn high six figures or seven figures in a year. And they didn’t have to go through an additional 4 years of school either. Although 20 years later we may still be trying to legitimize our existence to our parents who swear you “would’ve made a great lawyer.” [We can unpack that topic another time].
For anyone looking to pay down student debt, a mortgage, and who wants to become financially independent quickly, this is the perfect job for them. The best part is that most sales jobs pay uncapped commissions, meaning there is no ceiling to what your payday can be after a great month or quarter (if you’re not receiving a commission in a sales job then we need to talk).
It’s not always about the money itself. Money is usually a means to an end: covering an expense, achieving a savings goal, or being able to afford something nice. The truth is that sales can help you achieve your financial goals if you get good enough at it. The truth is money gives you the freedom to do more of what you want, when you want to.
Sales is a great place to spend your time if you’re competitive. The stereotype is that former athletes make great salespeople. And while I’ve seen my share of athletes that suck as salespeople, the stereotype is true for me. I’m a sports maniac and played every sport under the sun while growing up. One reason that I love sales is that it reminds me of stepping onto the field again and battling for a win. I’m a competitor through and through.
I find a way to compete every day. I think I would shrivel up and die without it. Whether it’s competing with friends and colleagues over work targets, other leaders I know and their amazing accomplishments, or even coaching some of my private clients and seeing them rise to the top of the leaderboard; I want to win. I want to see the carrot in front of me. I want to chase it.
It can also be great to compete with yourself and the goals that you have. At the end of the day, your success isn’t hindered by what the salesperson next to you is doing. It’s almost like shaving minutes off of your mile time on the track or knocking down your golf handicap through practice. You control you. If you love setting goals and working to smash them, then sales would be a great job for you.
The third reason that people love sales is recognition. Early in my sales career, I would have preferred everyone in the company knew my name and that I was #1 rather than make “more money”. With a job that is so focused on numbers, your performance can be judged very easily. Plenty of companies I know have every sales rep’s name on a giant screen on the sales floor. I love this. Public recognition. Some names were green, some were yellow and others were red. That’s a hell of a feeling if your name is plastered up in green. If you enjoy seeing your name in lights, sales might be a good fit for you.
Recognition is a big piece of how companies lead sales teams. It’s easy for a sales leader to shout out a top rep for their performance or a big deal they closed. Your name may get a shoutout in a company-wide email or slack channel for a big win. Most companies have a Sales Rep of the Year competition and offer a President’s Club trip for their top performers to some exotic location. The only thing better than a trip to Hawaii is a free trip to Hawaii that you earned through having a killer sales year.
I can’t speak for every sales job here, but there is usually a lot of autonomy involved in your day-to-day. You have a quota and guidance on how to get there, but you should have some space for creativity on how to achieve that goal. As you gain more experience, you’ll likely be given more autonomy to run your business.
The most liberating part of sales is that you can control your own destiny. You’re not working on a big group project with minimal influence over its success. Win, lose, or draw: it is literally all you out there. To me, that is wildly freeing. I know that my work ethic and attitude will have a direct impact on how much money I make, how often I achieve my goals and the type of recognition I receive from my leads. That’s an amazing feeling that you don’t get with most jobs.
Want to continue earning more autonomy? Keep producing. If you are one of the top salespeople then a good sales leader will know to give you the freedom to operate in a space that is motivating and conducive to your success. If you are beating your goals month after month, why would I care if you made 20 dials vs 200 dials, and why would I care if you worked 6 hours a day instead of 10 hours a day? I wouldn’t if the results are there. That level of autonomy is extremely motivating for sales folks.
Look, sales isn’t for everyone. Some people are better suited for jobs focused in Excel spreadsheets or writing code all day. I think a big part of your formative years is about trying to identify what type of job is best for you so that you can grow in that field for the next few decades. If you can develop a killer sense of self-awareness you will be able to set yourself up for success by choosing a profession that fits your mindset and habits already.
But if any of the above criteria get you excited – money, competition, recognition or autonomy – then we may be in business here. As a leader, there are a ton of ways that I can try to motivate you but the best sales reps I know are intrinsically motivated. They know what they want and they won’t stop until they get there.