Flipping the Switch and Motivating Your Salespeople

Flipping the Switch and Motivating Your Salespeople…

It Doesn’t Work That Way!

I knew her little pep talk wasn’t going to change the way I was feeling, but it’s not like you can refuse to meet with your direct report, right? I didn’t want to continue on with the position or the organization. My emotional gas tank was near empty. No harsh reflection on her or the company, it was simply that the reasons I’d worked so hard for all those years had begun to go missing for me.

So, I sat there drinking her brand of truth serum—a bottomless Corona—while she reminded me of the incredible run we’d had during the previous decade, all the fun times we’d shared, and all the success we’d created. She had her cheerleading costume on, her pom poms out and she was working it hard. She evoked a few laughs out of me, recalling some of the stupid human tricks we’d witnessed, late night, in the bar after some of our sales meetings. After she’d exhausted her repertoire of old stories she asked me to think about how much money I’d be walking away from if I quit. But ultimately, I had no good reasons of my own to stay around. Not even the money.

2 Thumbs Up

She continued trying to sell me on the upcoming changes. She stated they were going to be “awesome for me.” Yeah, I thought, “awesome”, if “awesome” meant I’d be moving farther and farther away from the business objectives and things that were important to me personally.

It was clear that she wasn’t going to stop waging her Corona war and my blood alcohol was on the rise, so I switched to water and finally told her what she wanted to hear. I assured her that I’d stay on, plaster a big smile on my face, and continue to be a key part of the team. But it was all BS. I didn’t mean any of it. It was just a way to end the conversation and get home for dinner.

So what happened here?

My direct report—a skilled high-level executive—was trying to flip a switch and motivate me, persuade me to stay on and accept some of the changes she wanted to make. These were changes that I wasn’t in agreement with and felt were not in the best interest of the organization. She was keenly intent on not losing me. That was clear. She was pulling every motivational rabbit out of her magician’s top hat…

…except the right one.

On that late summer afternoon in 2008, she believed that she could persuade me, motivate me, coax me, and induce me to stay. She baited the hook with everything she had in her tackle box. However, as bright as this lady was, she failed to employ the one device that might have made the difference. She failed to engage me by asking the question…

…”What’s really important to you, Joe?”

If she would have asked me that question, I could have, at least, told her what things were important to me, what things fueled the purpose and reason that would supply me the motivation to stay around and continue to do the work. Then, she could have assessed whether she wanted to adjust her strategies and decisions to support those things. Together, we could have looked at the opportunity to create alignment between her objectives and mine.

However, like most high-powered leaders, she was on her mission, focused on what she wanted to take away from our session. She wanted to make her changes, the way she wanted to make them, and she wanted me to like them. She was actually naïve enough to believe that she had the power to motivate me. She believed that she could flip that switch, tell a few old stories, feed me four Coronas, and it would motivate me to do exactly what she wanted.

But motivation doesn’t work that way, and it never has.

Okay, so you’ve read this blog article to this point and all you’ve learned is that if you give Joe B. four Coronas he will tell you anything you want to hear. But, as a sales leader, what you really want to know is…

…“How can I motivate my people?”

You CAN’T motivate your salespeople. It’s NOT possible. The best you can hope to do is INPIRE them.

Motivation comes from within. The motivation to do what we do is something we have to supply for ourselves. It comes from the reason or purpose we would take the risk to be a commission salesperson in the first place. It is those deeply rooted reasons and purposes that supply us the motivation to pick up the phone or walk in a door. It isn’t the empty rah-rah words that some sales manager utters. We aren’t just going to do it for the Gipper. We’re too advanced for that kind of old-fashioned motivational rhetoric.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things we can do or say that will inspire a person. In fact…

…simply asking about what’s really important to them is one of the most inspirational exchanges we could possibly have.


There are two reasons:

#1 They’ll actually think you care about them. (And you should)

If you ask them questions that uncover what their driving purpose is, you have demonstrated to them that it’s not all about YOU! You have begun to build a relationship based on trust and influence. You are sending out a message that you give a darn about what they are thinking, what’s important to them and their families. You have begun building influence with them versus simply being a leader because you carry a title on your business card.

#2 When you know what their reasons are, you can begin to ALIGN with those purposes and INSPIRE them.

You want to get what you want, right? So, if you are a real student of leadership, you know that Zig Ziglar would tell you that you need to help them get what they want.

We are talking about you not being so lazy and self centered that you don’t invest the time to determine what makes them tick—what their reasons for being in your business are. We are also suggesting that there has to be some alignment of your objectives and theirs.

If you know what they want, and you create alignment, then you can inspire them to find the motivation within to do the work to reach their goals.

So, what have we learned today kids? (Here’s yet another checklist!)

  • You can’t flip a switch and MOTIVATE people
  • You must determine what’s important to them (Their reasons)
  • You must ALIGN to those purposes
  • Then you can INSPIRE them (Help them find their motivations within)

As for me…

I didn’t pull the trigger on myself for another few months, but the decision to step away was made that late summer afternoon in 2008. You see, we often quit on things emotionally weeks and months before we actually do it physically.

My direct report and her hierarchy hadn’t bothered to simply ask the question, “What’s really important to you, Joe.” As a result, I concluded that I was not important to the organization any more. I had enough money in the bank and I needed to be a little more present to my family, so I walked away.

If she’d just asked that question, the one about what was really important to me, it could’ve spurred a different conversation. It could have inspired me to open up; it could have caused her to adjust her strategies. I could have found the motivation from within to carry on for a few more years. It could have resulted in different career outcomes for both of us.

But the problem with all that was, she was trying to flip a switch and motivate me, not align with my driving purpose and inspire me.

And like I said, motivation doesn’t work that way.

Leave me a comment…I enjoy the feedback.

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Important Note: Joe Buzzello is launching the very first CAP Leadership Platform on February 18th. This is an exclusive 13-week program that requires only a small investment on your part, but will transform the way you think about leading salespeople. Joe’s CAP Leadership Platform will also give you access to multiple personal coaching sessions with him. Program access is limited to only the first 32 qualified registrants. For a one-page sheet with full details please send an email request to: jbuzzello@buzzellogroup.com

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4 comments on “Flipping the Switch and Motivating Your Salespeople”

  1. Virgil White

    Wow Joe! I totally agree with you 1000%. So often in sales, our immediate managers are so focused on hitting their numbers that all too often we are seen as a tool in their overall system to be used to get them where they want to go! Then when that “leader” adopts the mantra of “Your business is my business” (read as ‘what’s yours is really mine by default’), their transparent attempts at motivation are seen for the self serving tactics they really are. Servant leadership is truly a lost art.

    Like you I checked out emotionally once I realized that I no longer mattered as a person in the organization I was in. Once that happened my motivation followed my emotions and went down the drain. Make no mistake, my lack of sales was my own fault and I take full responsibility for that: I quit on myself and that is no one’s fault but mine. But for those would be leaders out there, lets not miss the vital role that connecting with and caring about your people can play. Had someone above me taken me aside and sincerely asked me, “What’s really important to you Virgil?” instead of issuing an ultimatum of what was expected of me by such and such date, maybe, just maybe, things would have turned out different. Took awhile but I too eventually pulled the trigger and moved on to where I felt more wanted.

    Joe I was never in the high position you occupied nor would I suppose that I could even begin to hold a candle to your success and business acumen, but I have had the privilege of leading others a couple times. In those roles, small though they were, I always worked with the attitude of ” On my own I can only move a number so far…but if I can move people then the number doesn’t matter.” For me, my team was never a means to the end, but rather the end of the means. Hope that does not sound too corny!

  2. Marci Sanchez

    Thank you Joe! I loved this blog.

    You are light years ahead..

    Much respect to you 🙂

    • jbuzzello@buzzellogroup.com

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Marci. Sometimes being OLD SCHOOL puts you “light years ahead”, right?

  3. Pingback: HOW You RE-RECRUIT Them (Part 2 of a 2-Part Blog) | The CAP Equation

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