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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

What Lights Your Fire? 6 Tips for Employee Motivation

What Lights Your Fire 6 Tips for Employee Motivation

Everyone you manage is uniquely wired with differing drives, values, and motivation levels. If you take a moment to reflect on your team, you can probably identify those who only need a little spark from you to light their fire and motivate them, while others require you to gather kindling, get down on your hands and knees, and rub sticks together before they’re fully motivated with fire in their bellies.

One of the questions I love to ask salespeople is simply – what motivates you to get out of bed and go to work in the morning? I’ve collected a variety of answers over time. Below are some of the most frequent answers I’ve received, along with tips to help maximize each motivation.

What’s Your Motivation?

1. To make money and pay the bills.

Sometimes people work only because they need to. Or because they want to sustain the type of lifestyle they’re currently living. These people don’t get a strong sense of joy or fulfillment out of work; they do it simply to sustain. Necessity is the core motivation, and it doesn’t typically translate to a “go-getter” mentality at work.

How to manage this motivation: When managing this meager level of motivation, set clear and specific expectations. Provide due dates and deadlines. Always ask about their “next steps” and leave no room for miscommunication. Hold tight on accountability, and when “wins” occur, reward and recognition through monetary means will go far. It may even give them a little extra motivation to perform well next time.

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2. To connect with clients and co-workers.

Some people thrive when connecting with others. They enjoy interacting with colleagues, prospects, and clients. Are these people fun and engaging to talk with?

Absolutely. Are they motivated? Sort of. The water cooler conversation (or video call) may have a high time/low productivity ratio.

How to manage this motivation: This seller wants to be friends with everyone and is likely a people pleaser. The people-pleasing extends to their manager as well. Capitalize on that by emphasizing what you want them to do with how it will make them liked, loved, or popular. You can tell them people are “counting on them” when you need an extra push. Make sure they have a business goal for every call and every meeting. As a reward, put them in charge of the next company gathering.

3. For continuous self-improvement.

Some people continuously push themselves to be (and beat) their own personal best. They strive to work a little harder and/or work a little smarter every day. They want to be the best possible version of themselves, and they are willing to go above and beyond what is comfortable to achieve their level of success. This person is highly motivated.

How to manage this motivation: Ask how this person defines success and follow up with career-building questions such as: Where do they see yourself in one year? In three years? How will you measure your success? And how much money is good money? Knowing where they are trying to go will open up a world of opportunity for you to light their fire. You can support them, help them create a plan, and add some stretch to their goals when necessary.

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4. To be Number 1.

Some people are obsessed with numbers. They keep score, measure, and track their performance. Competition is their motivator. As long as they can keep identifying others who are doing better than they are, it fuels them to reach beyond what they’ve achieved before and grab for something bigger, something more. They’ll fish for whales and ultimately have the potential to build a bigger book of business.

How to manage this motivation: Keep this employee informed about how they’re being measured and find out how they’re keeping track on an individual level. Ask them, how are you keeping score? What does a win look like? Use benchmarks, measurements, and scorecards. Show them how they stack up to the rest of the team. Challenge them by saying, “I bet you can…” and “no one else has been able to …” and “you are x percent away from ____.” Get specific!

5. To be the “superstar.”

For some, it is not enough to know they are winning. They need rewards, recognition, and accolades all throughout the process. Benchmarks and numbers motivate them for sure – but they’re also motivated by the thrill of the impossible. Sound intense? It is! Strong talents require a strong coach!

How to manage this motivation: These sellers have enormous talent, but it can come with an enormous ego. They need a lot of attention, so make sure they are noticed. Watch their performance, sit in the front row, tell them exactly what you saw and what you liked, then watch them deliver another sold-out show.

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6. To help others.

Some sellers are truly motivated by helping people. They gain a high level of satisfaction from solving their clients’ problems and will be sincere and empathetic throughout the process. They pride themselves not just on the relationship-building process but in knowing they’re truly making a difference for their clients. These sellers strive to over-promise and over-deliver on their over-promising.

How to manage this motivation: This seller needs to know what’s in it for their clients. Your coaching should always focus on how they can help others. Frame anything you want them to do in terms of how it will benefit their clients. Make sure they know what they’re selling is the best of the best and share specific client success stories to stoke their fires. If you find them hesitating, talk about the results their clients will likely see and ask them which part of the solution they’re particularly excited to share.


It would be a mistake to assume someone’s motivations are the same as someone else’s. And it’s an even bigger mistake to assume someone’s motivations are the same as yours. Some people light their own fires, and as managers, we need to stoke them. Others may need a bit more support to maintain an adequate level of motivation.

Don’t leave yourself out in the cold. Take time to ask each of your sellers what motivates them. Find out what lights their fire, get specific, and put a solid plan in place to support them.

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*Editor's Note: This blog was originally written in 2014 and has since been updated.

Topics: motivation