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Give Sales Meaning

More meaning is motivating

 After watching Dan Ariely’s TEDx talk I wondered if his insights could explain motivational challenges of sales people. Dan Ariely concluded that people are willing to complete mentally tough tasks, even for small financial rewards, as long as they consider their work meaningful. I consider sales to be a tough task, so this research might help me (and maybe my readers) to understand some key things.  

“The more meaningful the sales person finds his work, the more action he will undertake.”  

Lego Experiment

In one experiment Dan and his team used Lego to study the willingness to build the same figure over and over again. The researchers found out that when the researchers disassembled the figures in the presence of the person building the figure (research subject), this person was building 40% less figures than the persons of which the figures were not disassembled in their presence. Both subjects were aware of the fact that the Lego would be re-used and therefore disassembled.  

In our sales profession, a lot of our work is “disassembled”. We simply do not win the contract. How often do we do the repetition to win the next contract? Would we be more productive (willing to repeat the mentally tough task) in case we were not aware of the lost opportunity? Is this the reason why our sales funnel is getting fatter?  

Add Meaning

The research shows that by decreasing meaning of a task the subject is less motivated to contribute. Dan Ariely and his team conclude that the contrary is true as well. By increasing the meaning of a task, the subject will be more motivated. How can we add meaning to sales activities? Managers might increase the reward of success, but this only has a short term effect. Managers should identify other means of increasing meaning.  

Is a sales manager only contributing by adding turnover directly, or are there other contributions? Visibility in the market place is one of these contributions. By performing proactive activities, such as cold calls, networking, visiting clients and attend events the company value will increase as well. The sales manager should focus on this contribution. The sales people should be encouraged to tell their colleagues of the companies they have visited and what their network is telling them. These activities will help to give meaning to the sales profession. The more meaningful the sales person finds his work, the more action he will undertake.  

If you are interested in the work of Dan Ariely, I recommend to see his TEDx talk.