January 29th, 2016 | by

Have you ever walked into the office on a Monday morning and just felt the palpable lack of energy? The phones are eerily quiet, your team members are glued to their computer screens, and you quickly predict that quotas won’t be met today.

As an IT staffing firm, you depend pretty heavily on how motivated your salespeople are. Their selling powers rely on their energy, enthusiasm, and attitude in every conversation with every prospective client.

Demand for top IT talent is ever-growing, so how can IT staffing firms motivate their salespeople to meet that need successfully? This motivation factor is such a fundamental element of the staffing industry – and really, every other business too – that there’s an entire science behind it that we couldn’t wait to explore.

Is Money Really the Best Motivation?

The staffing industry is a well-established one in the business world, and money-based incentives have long been the primary mode of motivation. Although no company wants to hire extremely money-motivated candidates for fear they’ll quickly move on to the next higher paying job, it’s generally an accurate stereotype that some of the best salespeople thrive on the potential for high monetary reward.

Each IT staffing firm has its own unique compensation, commission, and bonus structure, along with a wide array of attractive incentive plans and awards for reaching and exceeding quotas, goals, and expectations.

However, recent insight from Doug J. Chung, assistant professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, suggests that money-based rewards are more complex than they may initially appear. He compares it to the way teachers motivate students; grades based entirely upon the final exams are usually enough to incentivize the best students to go above and beyond to achieve high marks, but many students perform better when faced with regular testing throughout the school year.

This same dichotomy exists in the workplace with salespeople. Chung recommends that leaders experiment strategically to determine what works best for their team, employing a balance between year-end incentives and quarterly, and even monthly and weekly, quotas and goals. This should engage both the high- and low-performers, maximizing overall sales for your business.

Generational Differences in Sales Motivation

A monetary-rewards based strategy may work well for a wide range of workers, but will it work for Millennials? Suzanne Fogel, Chair of the Marketing Department at DePaul University’s Driehaus College of Business, questions how powerful money-driven incentives are for this younger generation.

Many of these workers were recent graduates in and around the financial crisis and recession. This experience may make many of them less likely to choose careers with financial risk. This includes even the most potentially lucrative of sales positions, where the base pay is typically lower and the majority of their financial security depends upon commission.

Fogel adds that for Millennials, a career in sales comes with the stereotype that it’s not actually much of a career – “anyone can do it or you’re born to it,” Fogel says, implying that this generation – which collectively has more college degrees than any other generation – doesn’t believe sales positions are worthy of their four-year higher education.

It’s a challenge that IT staffing firms need to understand. Fogel does add that once the offers start coming in, these workers typically change their perception of sales. But this takes effort. It takes a work environment that isn’t overly focused on numbers, and compensation structures that appeal to their desire for a more financially stable career. Motivating Millennials in sales is going to take some strategic thinking.

Without getting into a full blown conversation about generational biases that exist in the workplace, it is important to recognize that there are differences worth taking into consideration. Economist Bill Conerly argues that stereotypes of Millennials, which are often taken for weaknesses can actually be major strengths in the sales profession. For example, he says, “they won’t sell if they don’t believe it’s right for the customer.” In other words, they need to be coached on the company’s value propositions and target audiences. Leaders also need to recognize that this generation isn’t wild about the concept of waiting till retirement to enjoy life; the type of work environment that attracts and motivates them is a meaningful, rewarding, and fun workplace.

Motivating Salespeople on an Emotional Level

It makes sense that money is motivational; it’s a rational need. But Chris Roebuck, author of Lead to Succeed, suggests that motivation is 57% rational and 43% emotional. Furthermore, he believes that this emotion factor can be significantly influenced up to 80% by an employee’s manager.

So what can a manager to do to tap into this opportunity? Here are some of our ideas:


We all know that people dislike being micro-managed, and the best managers try to avoid doing so. But even further than avoiding that is actually opening up opportunities for your salespeople to take a little control and make their own decisions in how they work. It’s a tactic that if navigated strategically can create a lot of motivation and reinforces the concept of ownership that is crucial for professional development.

Team Dynamic.

It’s human nature to feel like we belong and are connected. To ignore this basic instinct is to sabotage any effort to motivate your team of salespeople. Instead, ensure that as a leader you’re nurturing a work environment that encourages connection, caring, and teamwork. As the saying goes, no man is an island; even though an IT staffing salesperson is working towards their own quotas and commissions, they should still feel like an integral part of the bigger company vision.


There’s nothing worse than spending your days feeling bored. In fact, we’ve heard over and over again that boredom is one of the most common reasons people leave their jobs. Are you giving your salespeople interesting and motivating challenges beyond meeting basic KPIs and quotas? Do they have the opportunity to grow professionally and personally in their positions?


Finally, people need the right resources to fulfill their job responsibilities. It’s pretty demotivating to be tasked with meeting quotas and reaching goals when you don’t have effective tools on hand to do so. At DiscoverOrg, this is our entire philosophy, which is why we’ve created our sales intelligence tool, with extensive IT datasets to help IT staffing salespeople reach new levels of success.

Ultimately, the subject of motivation is a complex one, and IT staffing firms need to think outside the box to achieve sustainable high performance in their salespeople.

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About the author

Steven Bryerton

Steven is responsible for Enterprise Sales at DiscoverOrg. Steve has grown with DiscoverOrg with positions in Research, Lead Generation, Marketing, and is now as the VP of Sales for the Company. Before joining the team at DiscoverOrg, he worked in sales and marketing at IT firms including Cxtec and Orion Systems Integrators. Steven graduated with a degree in computer engineering from the University of Miami, where he played for the club soccer team.