What motivates people to sell? What drives people to sell more and reach for higher goals? The traditional business view is that incentives like bonuses, prizes, and awards are the best way to drive production. In the last couple of decades, though, social scientists have been looking at things from a different perspective.
When tasks are simple and goals are clearly defined – make 20 cold calls; schedule 4 sales appointments – incentives like money and pats on the back work well to foster productive behavior. The “this – that” incentive model promises if you do “this” you’ll get “that” reward. It’s the old carrot and stick idea: people want positive rewards and don’t want to get stuck on the bottom of the sales chart.
In situations when the goals are more complicated though, these kinds of extrinsic incentives don’t work as well. In fact, according to business analyst and writer Daniel Pink, extrinsic financial incentives can actually dull inspiration and lower results.
Think about it this way. Extrinsic motivators cause us to narrow our focus and keep efforts and attention concentrated on the goal at hand. The problem is that when our eye is fixed so closely on the prize – closing the deal, winning the trip to Cancun, hitting the numbers – our personal inspiration and creativity suffer.
Pink observes that business in the 21st century requires a different perspective, one that sees internal motivators as the fuel that drives successful behavior. He mentions three core principles that underlie personal satisfaction and achievement. The first is autonomy: people want to feel in control of the direction of their lives and activities. The second is mastery, the desires to keep improving at the things we feel are important. The last principle is purpose or meaning; people have a natural longing to live and act in the service of something larger than themselves.
In the short run, in situations where work is less complex and more mechanical, external rewards provide the right kind of motivation to keep people on task and drive productivity. But when activities involve creativity solutions and higher cognitive functions, these core principles of autonomy, mastery and meaning are the real drivers.
You may know that Google famously adheres to a 20% policy that encourages employees to spend 20% of their workweek, one day out of five, developing their own projects as they see fit. Other companies have created a ROWE or Results Only Work Environment that allows employees to work when, how and where they like as long as the work gets done. Providing a business culture that fosters personal autonomy, mastery and a sense of purpose is one of the best ways to incentivize employees whose jobs require more than simple mechanical tasking. You don’t have to be in a cutting-edge tech field to see this work.
Our call team at PMA is responsible for not only making sales appointments for our client agencies, but making sure those appointments are well-qualified. This means asking questions to determine a prospect’s “buying attitude” as well as finding areas of dissatisfaction or pain with their current agent. Engaging prospects and asking the right questions is a creative process that involves active listening and empathy – skills that can’t be easily incentivized.
Commercial insurance sales often involve more complex activities – evaluating risk, finding particular coverage solutions, networking, relationship-building, and much more. Writing a policy with a lower premium is one way to win new accounts, but when the variables are more complex and the potential solutions more diverse, the studies show that extrinsic rewards and the narrow focus they encourage just don’t work.
Agencies, on the other hand, that foster the principles of autonomy and mastery and give their people a sense of purpose beyond reaching monthly sales goals realize a better return on their motivational investment. Employee retention is higher, too, because people enjoy a deeper satisfaction from their work and develop true loyalty to their employers.
Since producers are competitive by nature, external rewards serve as benchmarks for achievement. But when it comes to the fire at the heart of the engine, companies investing in these core human values have a happier, more productive sales force.