I know the subject line is a controversial one, but I want to offer you a different perspective heading into 2017.

Let me be clear: our entire sales “world” is about money. Salespeople bring in money, and money is supposedly their number one motivator. Everything in sales is about money.

I want to change that. 

There have been plenty of studies that show how ineffective cash bonuses or prizes actually are. Dan Pink, a popular-science author and speaker has a number of really interesting books on the topic, and an even better TED Talk.

It’s only 20 minutes, give it a watch – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y).

The premise of his book, and most other studies on the topic are clear. Money is a really crap driver of long-term motivation and high performance. If anything, it’s been suggested that cash-bonuses or incentives can hurt performance. Wow.

In the video, Pink digs into the 3 things that really motivate people – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. When you think about your management style, your company and your sales organisation – are you helping people become autonomous, incentivising people to master their craft and importantly: giving them a clear purpose for working everyday? If not, no cash bonus will save you.

Again, I strongly recommend checking out Daniel Pink. He has been criticised as being little “pop-culture-science”, and accused of “dumbing down” the science, but in my view – he’s a really approachable way to get into the science of motivation.

Another interesting experiment, ran by Dan Ariely, a prominent professor in behavioural economics and psychology produced fascinating, and exciting results.

Cash bonuses are essentially bribes to get people to do their job. Ariely and few other economists enlisted Intel to test different ways to motivate employees. 

They wondered what would make semiconductor factory workers more productive: a cash bonus, a voucher for a pizza, a note of thanks from their boss, or no reward at all. Employees were given production quotas at the beginning of the day, and told they would be given the bonus if they met their goal. 

Not only did cash fare the worst of the three rewards, but it had the most short-lived effect. The day after bonuses were handed out, the workers who received cash were 13% less productive than the employees who got nothing at all. The performance of the employees who received notes or pizzas stayed relatively high for a few days after their reward before gradually returning to their baseline.

Now, of course – this experiment was done on monotonous manual work, and therefore is not directly applicable to sales, however I think the point is still valid. Bottom Line: cash bonuses are inherently short term motivators, that will give you short term results. They may even hurt long term performance. 

Now I’m not here to suggest that you scrap commissions, or even bonuses. All I’m saying is: in 2017, I want you to consider adding more intrinsic motivators to your toolbox. The best thing? They don’t cost a dime!

Tips for boosting intrinsic motivation in ’17:

  • Reward good performance with recognition. Send an email out to your team highlighting those who have performed.
  • Reward good performance with more responsibility. Let them run morning meetings or give them a special project.
  • Make sure people understand why they come to work everyday. What is your higher purpose? What’s the mission? Make sure you communicate this clearly, and often.
  • Tell people you think they are doing a good job. This does more than you expect. It’s often not as complicated as it needs be. How often do you actually do this?…


Additional Reading:


Written by

James Pember
CEO Sparta, gamification & performance management technology for the world's biggest and most-loved enterprise brands.Passionate about performance. Passionate about helping companies drive change. Love the intersection of behaviour, business, psychology and technology. One-time marathon finisher (probably won't try again).