Written Personal Goals, Motivation & Sales Force Effectiveness

Ed Marsh | May 26, 2023

Tl;dr - When we understand sales reps' style and degree of motivation, we can improve sales force effectiveness with tailored training and coaching. Written personal goals are an important indicator of motivation. Interviews help to gauge motivation, but common sales personality tests may not. Consider tools that accurately measure motivational characteristics to deepen your understanding of current reps and to improve the process for recruiting and hiring sales reps.

Understanding What Motivates People

To understand how to help people change, we must discover what's important enough to prompt them to embrace discomfort.

Because change, development, and growth are uncomfortable.

This is true of manufacturing marketing. We should understand the typical challenges our buyers face so that we answer the questions they're likely asking and help them discover the questions we know they should be asking. We seek to make them uncomfortable with their situation and confident that we can help resolve that with low risk. That's fundamental to lead generation, sales enablement, SEO, content, and more.

It's patently true of industrial sales. Great sales reps understand buyers' needs and wants, personal and corporate. Sales methodology and tactical techniques are tools for developing that understanding. Great probing questions, built on a nuanced understanding of business and a prospect's market, help to reveal explicit and implicit information. Consultative selling is the name often used for that process, and it's key to optimizing sales force effectiveness.

It is obvious, therefore, that we must also deeply understand our salespeople to help us hire, train, coach, and compensate effectively. To understand sales reps themselves, we can use a variety of indicators in combination with sales assessment tools.

Let's start with a simple and powerful differentiator - written personal goals.

The Importance of Written Personal Goals

Determining whether a rep has written personal goals helps to understand, coach and hire in two ways.

First, the value of goals is well established. Written, specific goals that are reviewed regularly are critical to achievement. They almost mystically help to convert hard work and perseverance into achievement. Written personal goals help with time prioritization and focus.

When hiring sales reps, a candidate with written goals, a plan to achieve them, a measurement system, and a system for regular review, is likely organized, focused and serious about achievement. It's reasonable to assume that they also bring analogous focus to their business obligations.

Coaching of existing reps is improved when you understand their goals and tie the changes in behavior to tangible personal outcomes. In many cases, a sales manager's job includes helping sales reps create those written personal goals and a framework for measurement and consistent review. This doesn't mean that you necessarily need to know what they are - some will indeed be intensely personal. But you need to know they exist and be aware of those that tie to their work. Then you need to help them achieve them!

Second, a sales job is about achieving written goals. Quotas, target account plans, prospecting objectives and goals for the ratio of new to existing business are all examples of business goals. Regrettably, they are not always written nor regularly reviewed (that's a sales management failure.) If reps have developed the muscle personally, they're much more likely to effectively persevere, adapt and change in pursuit of written business goals. That is essential to optimize sales force effectiveness.

Planning Sales Compensation



ai generated image by Dall E (prompt = "art deco representation of sales force effectiveness"

We tend to think of salespeople as being money driven. That's why they put up with the hassles they do, right? The hours, the rejection, the unpleasant cold-calling, etc. 

But is that a safe assumption? And if you're wrong about their degree of motivation or what actually motivates them, then you'll likely fail to create an effective coaching or compensation environment.

But how do we uncover these facts that a rep may not even know themselves? An important role of sales assessment tools is to ascertain the degree to which reps are motivated and what motivates them; sales reps can be motivated in various ways.

Extrinsically motivated reps will be motivated by money and awards. Unlimited commission plans and President's Club trips will help to motivate them.

Intrinsically motivated reps are normally more motivated by salary and bonus plans than commission. They'll cherish the opportunity to feel like they're part of an effort that's making a difference, and they'll likely value security and consistency over maximum income.

Altruistically motivated reps generally focus on "changing the world." They may even want a bonus plan which allows them to contribute to a favored charity or an opportunity to earn time off to contribute their energies to a cause. 

Knowing this information is helpful in three ways.

  1. Sales performance tends to rank in the order of the motivational styles listed above. Extrinsically motivated reps generally outperform, while altruistic reps are really best suited for customer service roles and intrinsically motivated reps fall between the two.
  2. Optimizing rep performance and satisfaction (therefore longevity), you should construct compensation plans accordingly. This might mean you have two compensation tracks - one for extrinsic and another for intrinsic.
  3. Coaching and planning should be tailored to a rep's natural inclination, and sales managers should be accountable for maintaining sales rep motivation.

It's also important to understand if reps are more motivated by a hatred of losing or a love of winning. Sales managers can effectively adjust their coaching style to help reps leverage their natural affinity.

Improving the sales force effectiveness for the current team is only part of the challenge. Sales leaders should also consider the insights of motivational degree and style when recruiting and hiring sales reps.

Improving Results When Hiring Sales Reps

Hiring great sales reps is hard. We understand that intellectually when we visualize a bell curve of talent. There are a naturally limited number of 2nd, 3rd and 4th standard deviation sales talents.

Typical levels of underperformance and sales turnover demonstrate most companies' struggles. After all, half of all reps are below average.

Understanding motivation style and degree is a critical aspect of effectively assessing sales candidates. But most sales hiring tests fail to accurately measure these factors. Common sales personality tests are inherently limited and, therefore, inaccurate sales assessment tools. Personality tests, like behavioral screenings, often don't identify these critical aspects of motivation.

  • How motivated is a rep?
  • What is their motivation style?
  • How will these characteristics likely be reflected in their sales performance?
  • What system do they have for written personal goals and accountability?
  • How should you optimize their compensation?
  • What type of sales role is best suited for them?

Effective sales assessment tools will help to more accurately define these characteristics than simple interview questions. You'll get the real answer rather than the rehearsed one. Further, the assessment results can improve interviews by helping an interviewer understand what points to probe to uncover potential underlying issues that will impair performance.

Sales Force Effectiveness Results From a Synthesis of Factors

There is no one silver bullet that improves sales force effectiveness. We are all complex creatures and sales success requires that we effectively engage with others who are equally complex.

It's hard.

One set of fundamental factors provides an important basis for understanding how likely a candidate is to succeed - their degree and motivation style. Having written personal goals is a strongly correlated characteristic of effective sales reps, and an empirical, scientific understanding of the motivation also helps.

Proper motivation supports training, coaching, change and perseverance. And understanding the nuance of motivation help to both support reps' success and deliver better outcomes when hiring sales reps.