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What Motivates Sales People?
by Rob McKay

If you think sales people are motivated by money, think again. SalesMax is one of our highly validated and reliable assessments for selecting consultative sales persons. It is a unique psychometric test in the assessment arena because it not only measures sales personality (the most important measure), but also sales knowledge and sales motivations. It's the latter measure I wish to address in this article.

From years of observing SalesMax reports I have always been puzzled why the motivation of money is not a key sales driver. Last week the team at AssessSystems dived into the SalesMax database and crunched the numbers from the motivations scale. The results were in line with my casual observations. Of the eight motivators measured, the extent to which one is motivated by financial rewards, such as money and material possessions, ranks number five on the list.

Before expanding on possible reasons, lets look at what the motivations scales in SalesMax measures.

1.Recognition/attention -- The extent to which one values recognition for work well done; enjoyed being the centre of attention

2.Control - The extent to which one prefers positions of leadership with control, like being in charge.

3.Money -- The extent to which one is motivated by financial rewards, such as money and material possessions.

4.Freedom - The extent to which one values personal freedom to make decisions and function independently.

5.Developing expertise -- The extent to which one values becoming an expert in developing skills in their chosen field.

6.Affiliation - the extent to which one is motivated by interactions with other people. Enjoys helping and dealing with people

7.Security/stability - the extent to which one is motivated by stability and security of life and their career

8.Achievement - the extent to which one is motivated by overcoming successful challenges: enjoys challenges for their own sake.

The development of the motivations scale began with the research into existing literature concerning sales motivations and values, as well as more general theoretical frameworks of human motivation. In addition, existing measures of sales values and motivations were also reviewed.

Based on this research, the list of eight motivational dimensions (outlined above) most relevant to sales persons were selected. Psychometrically appropriate items were then created to measure each of these dimensions.

Each item presents the respondent with the beginning phrase of a sentence and asks the respondent to choose three endings (ranked, most, second most and third most) that closely matches his/her opinions, feelings, or attitudes. Each ending is associated with a particular motivational dimension.

The SalesMax motivation scales provide insight into the relative strengths or importance of each motivator to the candidate. This is indicated as a percentage of the times the candidate selected this particular motivator over the other possible motivators presented.

The result of the motivation section helps the new manager in selecting motivational techniques that are appropriate for the individual. The hiring interview provides further opportunities to probe that the candidate's motivational needs fit with the organisation.

Now to our results

In rank order, these are the scale scores (as a percentage) prospective sales persons chose one motivator over the rest. Scores have been rounded:

Achievement = 50%

Developing expertise = 20%

Affiliation = 8%

Security = 7%

Money = 7%

Freedom = 4%

Control = 2%

Recognition = 1%

Although we did not go to the extent of grouping scores by sales types, we did do this by clients. In all cases the Achievement scale came out a clear winner.

However, the Money scale did have variations depending on the sales process and method of remuneration, identified by client type. For example, where the sales process involved selling a consumable item on a retainer/commission basis the Money scale score was 19%; on the other hand, if the processing was more "service orientated", or consultative, the score was 2%. Despite this obvious difference, I remain quite surprised that the Money scale still rates low.

One of our distributors did make the comment that there may be some management of self-impression going on here; the candidates did not want to be perceived as "money hungry". I made the counter comment that this may work against them, in that a potential employer may feel that if the person had no drive to earn good money then their sales drive could be equally lethargic, particularly if remuneration was commission orientated.

Another explanation could be the "cart before the horse" approach, that is being driven by the recognition and attention for a job well done will naturally result in increased earnings. What are your thoughts?

SalesMax is not only ideal for selection, the development report and associated 3 hour power development workshop is a great way to target sales training and set non-monetary sales development targets and goals.

To understand more about SalesMax, go to or call Rob McKay at +64 9 414 6030 for a web meeting demonstration

Rob McKay may be contacted at

Rob McKay MA(Hons) is an Organisational Psychologist and Director of AssessSystems Aust/NZ Ltd. He specialises in employee assessment for selection, development and performance appraisal. He has over 30 years of practical hands on business experience. He can be contacted at Go to for a copy of the free mini-course, "7Tips for Hiring the Right Person First Time".


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