Do you need a golden carrot to motivate your sales team?

“We’re out of carrots.” Normally, this isn’t a dramatic event however when you’re living in Antarctica for a year and the next re-supply of food is 8 months away it’s certainly problematic.

Carrots are big business in Antarctica. We had 2 types of carrots: the garden-variety vegetable type, and the “golden” carrot – the incentives, rewards and motivators I used to keep my team strong and resilient through the tough Antarctic winter.


A dwindling supply of either would effect morale and, in time, erode our teamwork and create problems.

So how do you motivate and reward people when you don’t have that elusive carrot? Working with over 300 different and diverse organisations I regularly hear leaders in despair about how to reward their people when “we don’t have a budget for rewards or even an incentive program.”

Really? Neither did we.  But it can be done, and it doesn’t cost a cent. Here’s how..

Motivation is often complex and any given task or project involves several different types of motivation. These motivators can be divided into 4 quadrants: intrinsic, extrinsic, personal and inter-personal. You may love your work for its own sake (intrinsic), but that doesn’t mean you won’t be upset if you don’t paid this week (extrinsic). You may have a strong natural curiosity and enjoy learning new things (personal), but that doesn’t mean the encouragement, or even competition, from colleagues won’t prompt you to redouble your efforts (interpersonal).

When budgets are tight (or in our case non-existent) leaders need to rely more on intrinsic motivators as their primary tool for inspiring staff, and both personal and inter-personal motivators will succeed when used at the right time. Motivating sales teams is a unique challenge that requires “co-opetition” – co-operation and competition. If you swing too far one way or the other between either co-operation or competition you will motivate one group but will dis-engage other team members. Sales teams need individual incentives (personal motivators) but must also have team-based goals and their subsequent rewards (inter-personal motivators). Co-operation and competition = co-opetition. To be sustainable they also require intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

Commissions and bonuses are very important, especially to a person who is motivated by personal rewards. While team-based incentives appeal to people motivated by interpersonal rewards and encourage innovation, creativity and collaboration.

In Antarctica I used a mix of motivators – to inspire individuals to achieve their best, but with a very clear purpose that celebrated and rewarded team achievement. One very effective tool I used, especially for the staff who might find public recognition at meetings a bit awkward, was a technique I call “third party referral”. This involved me drafting an email and sending it to our Executive manager based back in Australia outlining the terrific effort or achievement by a particular team member. He then cut and pasted my words into an email from himself and sent it directly to the team member acknowledging the achievement (and copied me in).

It has many benefits – the staff member felt great because the Executive (the boss’s boss) knew all about their wonderful achievement. The Executive was delighted because he could acknowledge and inspire great effort (and it required only 30 seconds of work for him). And I was thrilled because I saw the reaction and satisfaction on faces as people realised I cared enough, and was proud enough, to refer their good work up the line.

The “third party referral” works in any team environment but is particularly effective for teams who are located remotely and don’t necessarily see their Executive team and senior management very often, such as sales staff and territory managers who work out in the field.

Understanding each person’s aspirations in Antarctica was important, but we also never lost sight of the goals of the expedition. It was critical that as the leader I could clearly explain and show how each person’s effort, their ‘bit’, contributed to the expedition ‘whole’, as well as the self-awareness to understand my own motivation. This required every part of my motivation matrix.

Intrinsic personal motivators include: challenge, learning, meaning, creativity, a sense of accomplishment. Here we find the engineer who loves learning and adding to her store of knowledge as she grapples with a difficult challenge. Or the sales person who exceeds the personal target they set for themselves.

Intrinsic interpersonal motivators include: collaboration, teamwork, support, harmony, contribution, competition and power. This is the person who derives great enjoyment from planning social events. Or it’s the experienced sales person who puts their hand-up to mentor the new staff.

Extrinsic personal rewards include: money, opportunities, and promotion. This is the “what’s in it for me?” person. Or the person who will willingly work extra hours if needed – as long as they are paid overtime rates. Research shows time and time again that extrinsic personal rewards are necessary but not enough to produce outstanding work, and they are also not sustainable in the longer term.

Extrinsic inter-personal rewards include: testimonials, staff awards, and recognition. This is the person who includes their qualifications on their business card, or proudly places their recent staff award on their desk. It’s the sales person who works hard to meet the team targets to show their worth & contribution.

For any project, team or organisation to succeed, it needs to cover all four quadrants. The balance between them will vary across individuals and timeframes, but if any of the four motivations is completely absent, it will be hard to sustain the necessary commitment when things get tough.

Oh, and if you do run out of the garden-variety carrots try beans instead. We did!

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Do you need a golden carrot to motivate your sales team?

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