4 new ways to engage your sales force

Tim Houlihan

Is HR telling you your millennial sales reps don’t like their incentive plans? Are you really going to have a different incentive for the 26-year-old white female than the one for the 45-year-old Asian male?

Fact: Reps are complex and the psychological underpinnings that lead them to engage change over time and under different situations. Your salesforce is diverse, but...

Stop chasing unicorns.

The 4-Drive Model

Originally developed by Paul Lawrence, PhD and Nitin Nohria, PhD while at Harvard University, the 4-Drive Model is a framework for understanding motivation at its root. The model satisfies a wide variety of motivations so everyone on your team will be engaged. Furthermore, it’s been successfully tested on some of the world’s largest sales forces.

1: Acquire and Achieve. We all have a drive to acquire things, status, experiences, rewards, etc., and it is a common foundation for incentive plans. In our consumer-driven world, millennials and your 50-something reps appreciate receiving Apple watches. We never stop acquiring.

Kurt Nelson, president of the Lantern Group, a sales incentive and communication consultancy, has modified the 4-Drive Model for sales. He recently noted “The standard ‘pay them more and get more performance’ mantra doesn’t work anymore. A note of appreciation can generate more motivation than a big check.”

2: Bond and Belong. We drive to create positive relationships and engage with others to fit in socially. This transcends age, gender and ethnicity and comes from your sales team’s work environment. Reps’ subconscious minds demand satisfaction in this area, to fit in and be recognized by the tribe. Your tribe.

The modern sales force is not a bunch of individual gunslingers, but rather players on a team. As Nelson noted, “Successful leaders look for opportunities for their people to interact and form social connections.”

3: Create and Challenge. Our need to create, improve, master, learn and overcome challenges never ends. It’s commonly overlooked when considering what motivates sales reps. An assignment with tremendous challenges can contain more motivational power than an average assignment with a big bonus.

That said, it’s more than just having a challenging job, it’s also about improving selling skills that reps need to succeed. “To maximize performance,” said Nelson, “make sure there are regular opportunities or even requirements to engage reps in learning.”

4: Define and Defend. Defining our purpose and defending our status, ideas and relationships. Our “tribes” hold immense motivational power. While saving face is one such reactive aspect, the proactive side enables reps to stake a claim for themselves. Give them an opportunity to define themselves.

“Employees will fight long and hard for a company they believe in and one that has their back,” says Nelson. “But the moment they sense deceit or feel belittled, those same employees can turn into your biggest liability.”

Applying the 4-Drive Model

Nelson recently leveraged the 4-Drive Model with a global pharmaceutical firm in revamping its sales incentive trips. The firm historically offered lavish trips to exotic destinations for top performers. However, the company wanted to dial down public perception without sacrificing motivation for the reps. After private interviews, brainstorms and input from senior leaders, they created a menu of trips so teams could choose (bond and belong) with learning-centric experiences (create and challenge) including senior leaders (acquire and achieve) that were relevant to their team’s achievements (define and defend).

Nelson noted that an improvement in each of these drives impacts organizational performance independently. However, satisfying all four drives simultaneously initiates an exponential increase in performance. Firms see a performance increase of 3 to 6 percent for satisfying any individual drive versus a 36-percent performance increase when all four drives are satisfied.

Stop chasing unicorns in a magical forest. Leverage the four drives to develop incentives that get better results.

Online Bonus Content: How you treat your employees impacts how they treat your customers.