Getting the Most Out of Younger Sales Reps

Getting the Most Out of Younger Sales Reps

You may find it interesting to note that an MIT study on what motivates people concluded that money is not the best motivator.

Researchers concluded that once a task went beyond rudimentary skills, like assembly line work, money was not a key motivator towards increased performance.  Once the skill required moved into cognitive skills like sales, there were three factors that “truly” motivated the test subjects; autonomy, mastery and purpose.   I heard author Daniel Pink talk in detail about this subject and it inspired me to dig deeper and ask if the MIT findings also applied to managing younger sales people.  I found that these three motivators applied to nearly every sales rep I have managed that was born after 1982.  Experts refer to this age group as the “millennial generation”.

The Millennial generation just marches to a different drummer.  The real question is if you want to be in the band?  If you truly feel you can change this generation to do it “your way”… good luck.  Many refer to this group as “the entitlement generation”.  They were most often raised by parents that favored time-outs over stricter punishments.  Many played sports were “everyone was a winner.”  The Millennial generation is a quality group of people, they just have to be managed differently.  Now, before we dig deep  let me be clear, not every person born after 1986 falls into this collective pool.  But, for the most part, I have observed that motivating this generational team follows the MIT study noted above.  Lets look at those three motivational factors in detail.  

The first motivational factor, as noted by the MIT study was autonomy.  Autonomy is a motivator that allows the employee to self motivate themselves by being allowed to explore ideas that often go beyond corporate “norms”.  For example, allowing a sales rep one hour each week to solely dedicate to seeking out new ad revenue ideas would be an autonomous activity.  Or, allowing them work on any project they wanted beyond sales for one hour per week.  It might be something like figuring out a better way to improve morale or a new furniture layout for the office.  At companies like Google, research and development time, is a highly favored activity.  Many employees state it is the best part of their job.  Employers have noted that some of the best ideas come from autonomous tasks.

The next motivational factor was mastery.  Mastery is a bit easier to define and execute as it is not as abstract as autonomy.  Mastery is your commitment as an employer to training your team to be the best they can be.  This is not a one hit and done program.  This is continuos and consistent ad sales training.  Quality training programs happen at least once per month and follow a process for success.  You might also consider cross training your team for other tasks as well to help with vacation times and when employees depart.

The third motivational factor was purpose.  Purpose is probably the hardest motivating factor to define due to its broad description.  Helping an employee find their purpose within your organization is critical to success.  They need to know what their contribution means to the total “cause”.  How does what they do impact the company beyond profit?  Do they realize that meeting their sales goal helps put food on the table for others on the team?  Does that matter to them?  Do they know that their contribution to the total sales goal means all the team gets a bonus?  Do they understand that their purpose might be to motivate others in the corporate culture?  Are they given tasks beyond sales that add “contribution” to the total team?  Purpose can be very specific to each person.  So, it can be hard to define.  I would start by listing out the positive qualities you see in that employee and then meet with them to discuss.

What was interesting to me was to learn that research indicates that people will work for less money if their corporate environment fulfills these three motivational factors.  In addition, they are happier, healthier and stay longer with you.  So, how do we bring this full circle to sales and does this not apply to veteran sales people as well?  

10 observations from my nearly 20 years of management and my quest to better manage all the people on my team, including the youngsters…

  1. Be aware that the younger generation around us is less motivated by money than other generations.
  2. When creating commission or sales incentive programs ask what the sales teams wants and don’t always assume it is money.  Years ago, I had a premium parking space near the door that was provided to the “employee of the month”.  It was coveted like gold by my team.  It cost me $75 per month and you would have thought is was worth $500 per month.  
  3. Recognize that sales people that are not given other tasks often burn out faster than those with expanded or complimentary roles.
  4. Very often sales people bring more to the table than just sales experience.  
  5. You can not do what you have always done and expect a different result.
  6. The younger generation has a different impression of how they should “fit” into the company.  They expect to be heard and they expect you to listen.  
  7. You can not just put your foot down.  Sorry, the generation of “time outs” killed this mind set.  The statement that the “life is not fair” will fall of deaf ears.
  8. Getting paid for an “honest days work” is not a mantra that people born after 1986 use to drive them forward.  They appreciate money, but they seek to know that their contribution is noted and worthwhile.  You need to adopt a softer side to management if you want to maximize your effectiveness.  
  9. When you begin to embrace rather than try and change younger sales people you will find more success.  
  10. Mentor and coach rather than direct and demand.  When you get good at this the results are impressive.   


All in all,  managing young sales people can be fun and will keep you young.  Just please recognize that you will not change their mind.  Instead shape them to be the wonderful sales rep you know they can be.  In addition, because the MIT study spanned all ages and several countries, the information gained from their research applies to all ages of sales people.  I just personally find that if you put a carrot in from of an older sales horse they will drive forward without much effort.  But, perhaps I need to rethink my plan for managing veteran sales people.  

As you can see, I am still growing as an ad sales manager too.  

Remember, if ad sales management were easy everyone would be doing it.  

Ad sales management training classes are hosted monthly by Ryan Dohrn at  

About this blogger: Ryan Dohrn is an award winning ad sales training coach, a nationally recognized internet sales consultant, international business speaker, IT Sales Training expert and is the President and founder of 360 Ad Sales Training, a boutique internet revenue consulting firm with a detailed focus on ad sales training, internet consulting and media revenue generation.   Sales consultant and business speaker Ryan Dohrn travels the globe teaching media sales training classes and offers detailed coaching help to business owners and media companies looking to make money online.

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