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Salesperson Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation Revisited: A Combinatory Perspective: An Abstract


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Salesperson motivation has long been one of the most important areas of sales research and one of the most important challenges for sales managers (Doyle and Shapiro 1980; Jaramillo et al. 2005). Historically, sales managers and researchers emphasized extrinsic over intrinsic motivation assuming that in combination they cannot coexist (DeCharms 1968; Deci 1971; Deci and Ryan 1985; Lepper et al. 1973). However, research in psychology (e.g. Amabile et al. 1994; Amabile 1993) suggests that certain types of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be used in combination to enhance work outcomes. So far, however, there is little evidence for Amabile’s assumption that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be used simultaneously, and the results of previous research have been inconclusive (Kanfer et al. 2017; Khusainova et al. 2018). Drawing on self-determination theory (Deci 1975; Deci and Ryan 1980, 1985), we empirically examine the relationship between the combinations of intrinsic and extrinsic motivational orientations and three key performance outcomes: output performance, behavioral performance, and work engagement.
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DECEMBER 18, 2017
Rushana Khusainova
Aston Business School
Aston University
Birmingham, United Kingdom, B4 7ET
Ad de Jong
Professor of Marketing
Marketing and Strategy Group
Aston Business School
Aston University
Birmingham, United Kingdom, B4 7ET
Nick Lee
Professor of Marketing
Marketing Group
Warwick Business School
University of Warwick
Scarman Rd.
Coventry, United Kingdom, CV4 7AL
Greg W. Marshall
Charles Harwood Professor of Marketing and Strategy
Rollins College
Crummer Graduate School of Business
1000 Holt Avenue, Campus Box 2722
Winter Park, Florida, USA 32789-4044
Honorary Professor of Marketing and Strategy
Aston Business School
Birmingham, United Kingdom, B4 7ET
John M. Rudd
Professor of Marketing
Marketing Group
Warwick Business School
University of Warwick
Scarman Rd.
Coventry, United Kingdom, CV4 7AL
(Re) defining salesperson motivation:
Current status, main challenges, and research directions
Author Information
Rushana Khusainova, Doctoral Candidate, Aston Business School, Aston University, Birmingham,
United Kingdom, B4 7ET, Phone: +44 (0)121 204 3219, Email:
Ad de Jong, Professor of Marketing, Marketing and Strategy Group, Aston Business School, Aston
University, Birmingham, United Kingdom, B4 7ET, Phone: +44(0)121 204 3227, Email:
Nick Lee, Professor of Marketing, Marketing Group, Warwick Business School, University of
Warwick, Scarman Rd., Coventry, United Kingdom, CV4 7AL, Phone: +44 (0)247 652 8674, Email:
Greg W. Marshall, Charles Harwood Professor of Marketing and Strategy, Rollins College Crummer
Graduate School of Business, 1000 Holt Avenue, Campus Box 2722, Winter Park, Florida, USA,
32789-4044, Phone: 407/691-1150, Email: Honorary Professor of Marketing
and Strategy, Aston Business School, Birmingham, United Kingdom, B47ET.
John M. Rudd, Professor of Marketing, Marketing Group, Warwick Business School, University of
Warwick, Scarman Rd., Coventry, United Kingdom, CV4 7AL, Phone: +44 (0)247 652 8657, Email:
(Re) defining salesperson motivation:
Current status, main challenges, and research directions
The construct of motivation is one of the central themes in selling and sales management
research. Yet, to-date no review article exists that surveys the construct (both from an
extrinsic and intrinsic motivation context), critically evaluates its current status, examines
various key challenges apparent from the extant research, and proposes new research
opportunities based on a thorough review of past work. We explore how motivation is
defined, major theories underpinning motivation, how motivation has historically been
measured, and key methodologies employed over time. In addition, attention is given to
principal drivers and outcome of salesperson motivation. A summarizing appendix of key
articles in salesperson motivation is provided.
Keywords: Salesperson, motivation, review, sales management
(Re) defining salesperson motivation:
Current status, main challenges, and research directions
Salesperson motivation has long been considered to be one of the critical tasks of sales
management (Doyle and Shapiro 1980; Jaramillo et al. 2005). If the interested manager was
to peruse the academic literature, he or she would find a rich body of work on the topic but
might find just as much ambiguity in terms of advice on how best to motivate salespeople.
Indeed, sales scholars have expended significant effort on investigating salesperson
motivation, creating a large and growing body of knowledge regarding how salespeople can
be motivated, investigating the various forms of salesperson motivation, and exploring the
effects of different forms of motivation on different forms of salesperson performance.
Research has also exposed the different managerial interventions can be brought to bear on
increasing the different forms of salesperson motivation including monetary and
nonmonetary rewards, job designs, and interpersonal managerial styles and techniques. Taken
together, the existing body of research on salesperson motivation places motivation as one of
the most enduringly popular topics of sales research (Pullins 2001; Walker et al. 1977;
Williams and Plouffe 2007). However, there is a number of inconsistencies and ambiguity
within the research domain, and a number of conflicting research findings. In addition, it does
not provide a clear and unambiguous set of advice for managers as to what works, when, and
why. Hence, a review article across the salesperson motivation literature should be timely and
quite useful.
Roots and premises of salesperson motivation research
Research into salesperson motivation dates back to the 1970s, when sales and marketing
researchers first began to explore this important area as key driver of sales performance
(Churchill et al. 1976). Of course, pre-dating this were hundreds of studies within the
psychological literature that explored how extrinsic rewards could shape behaviors, thus
serving to build a strong base for general motivational research. In the early 1970s, the idea
that some activities could serve as their own intrinsic reward emerged (e.g. Deci 1971), thus
setting up what appears to be a continuing dichotomy between extrinsic and intrinsic
motivations. Indeed, the divergence in sales practitioner-oriented work noted above can to
some extent be traced back to this dichotomy, which remains salient in academic research. A
number of reviews of motivation literature have appeared in the management literature that
take in these differences. The most recent of these stresses that “motivation related to work
remains one of the most enduring and compelling topics in industrial/organizational (I/O)
psychology (Kanfer et al. 2017, 338). However, while I/O psychology does not lack for
reviews of motivational research, sales-specific research lacks a wide-ranging overview
regarding the specific nature of the various different forms of motivation, and how these
affect salesperson performance and other important job outcomes.
The lack of a prior comprehensive review of sales force motivation literature is a bit
troubling as it leaves a number of important questions unanswered regarding the state of the
literature and its potential contribution to the knowledge of salesperson performance. More
specifically, as alluded to above, there remains little consensus on exactly how best to
motivate salespeople, and a continuing challenge remains for example regarding whether it is
best to use financial incentives, nonfinancial rewards, or rely on job design factors to
generate intrinsic motivation. The purpose of the present review is to integrate our existing
knowledge in sales force motivation, and thus more clearly delineate the current state of the
art in sales force motivation research, identify gaps and inconsistencies in current academic
knowledge of sales force motivation, and present an informed agenda for future research in
the area that will both advance the body of knowledge and provide more coherent advice to
practitioners. In doing so, we aim to deliver for sales force motivation research the currently
missing “research integration and synthesis [that] provides an important, and possibly even a
required, step in the scientific process” (Palmatier et al. 2017).
The need to clarify knowledge on sales force motivation suggested above is amplified
by a variety of well-document recent changes in the sales domain. Businesses have been
going through numerous changes in the way sales organizations operate (Keszey and
Biemans 2016). The beginning of this so-called revolution in sales (Marshall et al. 2012)
could be dated back to the beginning of the century when the sales role was described as
being in the heart of a ‘‘renaissance - a genuine rebirth and revival’’ (Ingram et al. 2002,
552). Since then, there has been a dramatic evolution in the salesperson’s role in the
organization towards that of a business/development/consultant (Keszey and Biemans 2016;
Narus 2015), who is heavily technology savvy (Marshall et al. 2012), and a vital knowledge
broker (Verbeke et al. 2011). An array of other advances, such as new sales technologies that
support and improve the sales processes (Kuruzovich 2013) and the emergence of big data
(Erevelles et al. 2016), have changed the landscape in which salespeople operate. Further to
this, the implementation of team-based structures (Stock 2006) and global virtual sales teams
(Badrinarayanan et al. 2011) and groupware technology (Janson et al. 2014) have also
transformed the way sales organizations function. Also, recent years have seen significant
changes in the composition of many sales forces, with inside sales roles making up an
increasingly higher proportion of sales roles when compared with traditional field sales roles
(Zoltners et al. 2013)
The dramatic shifts in the role of the salesperson touched on above are accompanied
by a significant demographic change in the sales workforce. Specifically, as the prior
generations reach retirement age and moves out of the workforce, new salespeople are
increasingly being recruited from the ranks of what millennial generation, which is predicted
to reach almost 50 percent of the workforce by 2020. Evidence suggests that they are
motivated significantly differently from early generations such as Baby Boomers and
Generation X (Brack and Kelly 2012). Both academic research and practitioner publications
have also suggested that millennials in sales roles are motivated and perform in a manner
different from earlier generational cohorts (Pullins et al. 2011; Schultz et al. 2012)
The aforementioned changes in the sales job, and the people doing it, likely
necessitate some fundamental changes in sales force motivation strategies, which calls for a
better and more detailed understanding of individual salesperson motivation. However,
without a strong appreciation of the state of the literature to date, it is difficult to provide any
informed and coherent agenda for future research in salesperson motivation. As such, it is
timely to review what we have learned about salesperson motivation and from there begin to
envision what else is to come in the field. As such, the primary purpose of this paper is to
provide a comprehensive literature review of the topic of salesperson motivation, from its
beginnings as a unique field of study in the 1970s, up to 2017. Within this broad charge, we
have three key goals. First, we aim to delineate the key theoretical and methodological pillars
of existing work on salesperson motivation. Second, we draw from our review to identify key
challenges and future research directions for the field of salesperson motivation. And third,
we proffer critical recommendations for the future focus of sales management practice from
this literature. Importantly, we do not attempt to review the huge body of motivation research
that is not specifically sales-related (although we certainly acknowledge that the salesperson
motivation literature has been substantially impacted by it). Our focus in this review is on
salesperson motivation only.
The paper is structured in the following way. We initially describe the review
methodology. We then outline how motivation is defined in the literature. We present the
main theories, measurements and methodologies utilized in the area of salesperson
motivation. We then present a summary of the main findings in the literature on the drivers
and outcomes of salesperson motivation. Finally, we conclude with key proposals for future
research directions.
Review methodology
In undertaking the review presented in this paper, key principles of a systematic review were
adopted (Barczak 2017; Palmatier et al. 2017). A systematic literature review has been
recognized as a highly effective and transparent method for gathering and analyzing a body
of knowledge in a specific research field (Shojania et al. 2007). Applying the key principles
of the systematic review methodology can substantially enhance the quality of a review by
making the ideas and assumptions behind a review more explicit (Tranfield et al. 2003) and
by minimizing error and bias (Cook et al. 1997). Indeed, Palmatier et al. (2017) recommend
that a systematic approach is best used for literature reviews, rather than a narrative approach,
which can lead to an overly descriptive approach that lacks critical assessment of the body of
literature for additional guidance (see also Barczak 2017).
Focus of the present literature review is salesperson motivation, hence we primarily
concentrate on sales, marketing, and management/business literature in line with previous
conceptual work in sales domain (e.g. Moncrief et al. 2000). Obviously, much work has been
conducted on the topic of general employee motivation in the wider I/O psychology domain,
as summarized by Kanfer et al. (2017). Our position is that we are “informed by” the
theoretical and empirical findings from in a wider psychology literature to enrich our
understanding of salesperson motivation and to support the proposed future research
directions. But the focus here on motivation in the sales domain is clearly defendable, as sales
is well documented as a unique job set and environment, as mentioned earlier.
The current review is conducted in a funneling manner where each step feeds into the
next leading to an increasingly more precise focus (Stros and Lee 2015). More specifically,
an initial general literature review was performed to generate an overall pool of articles on
the topic of salesperson motivation. Here we did not limit the search to any specific subject
area or journal. The search was performed using the key search terms motivation and
sales in the abstract field of the search databases (ProQuest Business Collection,
ABI/INFORM Collection, ABI/INFORM Global and Entrepreneurship Database). This
resulted in 2,957 hits. After eliminating trade journals, wire feeds, conference proceedings,
magazines and newspapers, the pool of articles came down to 560 hits. Following this, we
only included peer reviewed journals which resulted in a pool of 507 articles. The next step
was to filter by document type. Specifically, we only used journal articles (excluding such
documents as features, reports, or case studies) resulting in a pool of 483 articles. We then
only retained articles that were written in English, which resulted in 478 hits. The next step
was to utilize a key journal criteria. We began with including 19 key journals that publish
sales related research as described by Moncrief et al. (2000) (for similar guidance, see also
Baumgartner and Pieters (2003), and Richards et al. (2010)). This resulted in 135 hits. In
order to ensure that no relevant article has remained in the excluded pool, we performed a
manual check of the relegated articles. Here, one additional relevant article from the Journal
of Applied Psychology was identified and added into the main pool resulting in 136 entries.
The next step was to manually check all articles and eliminate those that merely had a
mention of the relevant key terms in the body of the full-text, but did not specifically
conceptualize or empirically/conceptually examine or investigate motivation per se.
previously explained, we concentrated on salesperson motivation excluding such topics as
customer/consumer/shopper motivation. Secondly, it was important to further explicate the
scope of the review. That is, motivation is a broad topic, and as Ryan and Deci (2000a, 54)
put it, to be motivated simply means “to be moved to do something” (note that we will
provide a more formal definition of motivation shortly). Therefore, motivation is often used
as an “umbrella term referring loosely to a variety of behavior-type variables (Kanfer et al.
2017). In the present review we explicitly concentrate on articles that conceptualize/examine
motivation or its types (intrinsic and extrinsic). After the exclusion of such non-relevant
articles, particularly those using “motivation” in the vernacular, the pool of articles came
down to 57.
Again, a manual check of the citations was performed to ensure that none of the relevant
articles has been missed. This resulted in additional six articles. Hence, the finalized pool of
articles contains 63 papers that are from 13 different academic journals. The journals are the
following: Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management (JPSSM), Journal of Marketing
(JM), Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing (JBIM), Journal of Marketing Research
(JMR), Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science (JAMS), Journal of Business Research
(JBR), Industrial Marketing Management (IMM), European Journal of Marketing (EJM),
International Journal of Research in Marketing (IJRM), Psychology and Marketing (P&M),
Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice (JMTP), Journal of Applied Psychology (JAP) and
Journal of Business Ethics (JBE). Figure 1 below presents the key journals and the number of
papers published per each journal.
This included a number of articles that had the word motivate or motivation present in the full-
text of the document. For example, in a paper that states the authors motivation to examine this
topic is…” or “hedonic motivation of the shoppers was…” the term “motivation” is irrelevant to the
current study.
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After the evaluation of the selected pool of articles, the information from the final
pool of 63 key papers has been structured into an Appendix of this article as a means for the
reader to receive details in a clear and structured manner (e.g. Hohenberg and Homburg
2016; Menguc et al. 2017; Shi et al. 2017; Stros and Lee 2015). Following their benchmarks,
the Appendix represents the following information: study, year, journal, methodology,
sample size and response rate, key relevant findings, theory utilized, and how motivation was
How motivation has been defined
As a starting point, in a now classical paper Walker et al. (1977, 162) defined motivation as
the amount of effort the salesman desires to expend on each of the activities or tasks
associated with his job. Moreover, motivation is a psychological state that causes the
arousal, direction, and persistence of behaviors conditioned by need satisfaction (Mitchell
1982). We anchor our conceptualization on Mitchell’s (1982) definition. Research on
motivation disaggregate the construct into two distinct types: intrinsic motivation (IM) and
extrinsic motivation (EM) (e.g. Mallin and Pullins 2009; Tyagi 1982; Weitz et al. 1986).
IM arises from enjoyment of an activity with absence of an apparent reinforcement or
reward (Teo et al. 1999; Warr et al. 1979; Weiner 1995). The fundamental premise of IM is
that human nature is active, curious, and inquisitive (White 1959). EM on the other hand is
concerned with whether an activity is performed in order to obtain a separable outcome apart
from the activity itself (Davis et al. 1992; Ryan and Deci 2000a; Teo et al. 1999).
Historically, salesperson motivation has been linked almost exclusively to pay packages and
financial incentives (e.g. Oliver 1974; Walker et al. 1977). It is common to refer to this
assumption as a conventional wisdom of salesperson motivation (e.g. Cravens et al. 1993;
Wotruba et al. 1991). However, later studies have further demonstrated the crucial
importance of IM in influencing salesperson effort and performance.
Following the I/O psychology literature (Amabile et al. 1994), a number of studies on
salesperson motivation (Miao and Evans, 2007; Miao, Lund, and Evans, 2009) further
disaggregate EM and IM into their cognitive and affective orientations which were found to
have distinct antecedents and consequences (Miao and Evans 2007; Miao et al. 2007).
Specifically, the cognitive orientation of IM is labelled challenge seeking, while the
affective orientation of IM is labelled task enjoyment. In addition, the cognitive orientation
of EM is labelled compensation seeking, whereas the affective orientation of EM is
labelled recognition seeking. Amabile et al (1994) have specifically defined these terms as
follows: Challenge seeking deals with the enjoyment of solving new and complex problems
and seeking challenging tasks; task enjoyment is concerned with enjoying the selling job and
finding it pleasurable; compensation seeking involves how much money one can earn in their
job; and recognition seeking is concerned with receiving recognition from the others.
With a definition of motivation in hand, the following three sections outline the main
theories utilized, key motivational measures used and key methodologies employed.
Main theories utilized
To-date three major theoretical underpinnings of motivation have dominated sales motivation
research: expectancy theory, attribution theory, and self-determination theory (SDT). Figure
2 below illustrates their frequency of use within our pool of sales motivation articles.
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Expectancy theory
Historically, the prevailing theory in sales research has been expectancy theory (Vroom
1964), which was originally applied by Oliver (1974) and then by Walker et al. (1977) to
create a famous model and what some might call a new paradigm for sales force management
research (Johnston and Marshall 2005). Expectancy theory suggests that motivation is driven
by three variables, that Vroom (1964) named expectancy, instrumentality, and valence for
rewards. Expectancy (effort-performance relationship) refers to an individual’s belief that
applying a given amount of effort will result in performance; instrumentality (performance-
reward relationship) is the individual’s belief that performing at a certain level will result in
attainment of desired organizational rewards; and valence (rewards-personal goals
relationship) is concerned with the degree to which organizational rewards can satisfy
individual’s personal goals and attractiveness of these rewards to the individual (Robbins
By the 1980s, expectancy theory was said to dominate the sales motivation
literature (Badovick 1990, 123), and sparked much empirical work (e.g. Oliver 1974; Teas
1980, 1981; Teas and McElroy 1986; Tyagi 1982; Walker et al. 1977). The theory has been
described as primarily suited in situations when effort-performance and performance-reward
relationships are consciously perceived by an individual (House et al. 1974). Specifically,
salespeople exert effort in order to achieve certain level of sales (performance) which directly
translates into them receiving a financial reward (Kishore et al. 2013). Such rewards are
considered to be the most salient influencers of salesperson’s behavior (e.g. Cravens et al.
1993; John and Weitz 1989; Oliver and Anderson 1994; Roman et al. 2005). The sales area,
where these effort-performance-reward relationships are especially salient, likely provided
optimal conditions for utilizing the theory.
However, despite generally fruitful results produced by the expectancy theory in
salesperson motivation (as well as in the general psychology domain), most studies could not
provide clear predictions for salesperson motivation (Evans et al. 1982). Research in
psychology demonstrated “a lack of support for the multiplicative nature of the theory’s
components (Kanfer et al. 2017, 344) and suggested the use of individual constructs of
expectancy, instrumentality, and valence (Van Eerde and Thierry 1996).
Attribution theory
One interesting alternative theoretical approach that has been used in salesperson motivation
research is attribution theory (Badovick 1990). Attribution theory, originated by Fritz Heider
(1958), became widespread in the salesperson motivation literature during 1980s and 1990s.
Heider (1958) suggested that people make attributions about themselves and other people in a
manner of “naïve psychologists.” Subsequently, Weiner (1980) further applied attribution
theory in the area of motivation as a means to understand why individuals they succeeded or
failed at a task. Sujan (1986, 41) was among the first sales motivation researchers to utilize
attribution theory explicitly because it appears to afford benefits over the expectancy value
framework… in understanding the motivation to work smarter. He argued that instead of
measuring motivation indirectly through valences, instrumentalities, and expectancies (as it’s
done in expectancy theory), it should be conceptualized as behavioral intentions. Badovick
(1990) found a strong support for attribution theory and concluded that it should be used in
addition to expectancy theory when examining human motivation.
Self-determination theory (SDT)
Expectancy and attribution theories were dominant in sales research until around the turn of
the century (Cadwallader et al. 2010). Drawing from a wider psychology domain, Keaveney
and Nelson (1993) and then Pullins et al. (2000) took a different approach to measure
intrinsic motivation by utilizing Deci and Ryan’s (1985a) measure of causality orientation of
autonomy within the SDT framework. SDT is a macro theory of human behavior, personality
and well-being (Ryan 1995). It was developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan (Deci
1975; Deci and Ryan 1980, 1985b) and has been successfully applied in the area of work
motivation (Gagne and Deci 2005). The basic assumption of the SDT is that humans are
active organisms with innate tendency for growth, integration, and self-development, and that
social environments and contexts can either facilitate and promote the growth and integration
or disrupt and diminish it (Deci and Ryan 2002). This combination of inner resources and
social contexts results in motivational states through the satisfaction (or frustration) of the
three basic human needs: need for competence, need for autonomy, and need for relatedness
(Gagne and Deci 2005). One of the most important advancements brought by the SDT is that
it emphasized the importance of looking at different types of motivation (i.e. intrinsic and
extrinsic) instead of treating it as a unitary concept that varies primarily in amount
(Cadwallader et al. 2010, 221).
The emergence of the SDT in sales force research appears to be particularly timely
considering the recent changes in the sales field. Specifically, changes in the dynamism of
selling and the increasingly autonomous decision-making setting where salespeople are
becoming almost social scientists capable of analyzing lines of power and influence across
blurring boundaries (Jones et al. 2005, 108) all have created fitting foundations for the
development of the SDT in sales domain. Hohenberg and Homburg (2016) successfully
applied the SDT to examine the effect of financial and non-financial steering instruments on
salesperson innovative-selling motivation and found a strong support for the SDT.
Combining theories
Several authors in our sample endeavored to combine two or more theories of motivation in
an attempt to expand the present knowledge on the topic (e.g. job design theory and
expectancy theory, Tyagi 1985c). Hohenberg and Homburg (2016, 117) concluded that
future research could investigate how different motivation theories, such as SDT and
expectancy theory, can be integrated to create a more nuanced perspective on intercultural
sales force steering. Integrating theories could in some cases prove challenging as different
theories are based on different assumptions, constructs, and relationships. And our tradition
in academia is to pit one theory against another in competition for best explanatory power.
However, Stathakopoulos (1996) in his work on sales force control systems asserted that
theories do not necessarily have to be construed as competing, but rather can be built on as
complementary to one another.
Key motivational measures used
In keeping with the conceptual dominance of expectancy theory, many studies have
empirically operationalized motivation in line with the expectancy model (e.g. Cron et al.
1988; Ingram et al. 1989; Tyagi 1985a; Tyagi 1985c).
A number of other publications employ more direct measures of IM and EM, while several
measures capture the affective and cognitive orientations of IM and EM. Table 1 below
presents a summary of the key motivational measures used.
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In short, although motivation is measured in various ways, a trend is apparent
nonetheless. Most IM scales largely incorporate both affective (task enjoyment) and
cognitive (challenge seeking) orientations of IM, while the measurement of EM in most cases
essentially captures the cognitive orientation only (compensation seeking), ignoring the
affective orientation (recognition seeking). This is largely in line with the trends in a wider
I/O psychology literature (Kanfer et al. 2017).
Key methodologies employed
Methodological trends within the salesperson motivation literature are in line with those in
sales research in general (Asare et al. 2012; Williams and Plouffe 2007). That is, the field is
largely dominated by quantitative methodology -- specifically survey research. The Figure 3
portrays the key methodologies employed within our pool of articles.
Within our pool, 51 articles out of 63 utilized some form of cross-sectional survey approach.
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Salesperson motivation: drivers and outcomes
The literature on salesperson motivation has been concerned largely with the drivers and
outcomes of motivation (Pullins 2001). The following two sections are dedicated to the
drivers and outcomes of IM and EM of salespeople, followed by a third section presenting a
synergetic view of combining IM and EM of salespeople.
Drivers of salesperson motivation
Studies on the drivers of salesperson motivation can be largely grouped into (1)
organizational level variables and (2) individual level variables. Organizational level
variables include those such as job-related factors, organizational stress, and sales force
control systems, while individual level variables include demographics (e.g., age and gender),
personal feelings and emotions. Both sets of variables have been popular topics of analysis
for sales researchers, and we begin with a discussion of organizational level variables.
Organizational level variables
The organizational variable of job importance has produced mixed results. For instance, job
importance was found to be a strong predictor of both IM and EM (Tyagi 1985b) or only a
mild predictor and only of EM (Tyagi 1982). Further to this, supervisory support was found
to have a significant impact on salesperson EM (Tyagi 1985a, 1985c) and on salesperson IM
(Jaramillo and Mulki 2008; Tyagi 1982), or no impact at all (Kemp et al. 2013). Positive
working environment (Kemp et al. 2013), organizational identification (Tyagi 1982), and
salesperson-brand relationship (Michel et al. 2015) were reported to enhance salesperson
In addition, a number of studies have examined the effect of sales job related factors
vis-à-vis job design theory (Hackman and Oldham 1976). These findings reveal that
organizational stress, emotional exhaustion, and role conflict and overload negatively impact
both IM and EM (Kemp et al. 2013; Tyagi 1982, 1985a), with role overload having a far
stronger effect on IM rather than on EM and role ambiguity having no significant effect on
either IM or EM (Tyagi 1985a). In line with wider research on organizational stress (e.g.
Everly and Girdano 1980; Selye 1978; Singh 1998), moderate levels of stress were reported
to be beneficial to enhancing salesperson motivation, whereas high levels of stress are
detrimental to it (Tyagi 1985a).
An array of studies has examined the effect of sales force control systems on
salesperson motivation, and Oliver and Anderson (1994) were pioneers in this field. They
report that sales force control systems are important drivers of salespeople's affective and
motivational states. Specifically, behavior-based control was found to be linked with greater
IM, whereas outcome-based control was linked with greater EM. Further to this, behavior
activity control was found to play a negative moderating role in the relationship between the
proportion of commission (in total compensation) and IM.
Miao and Evans (2012) further investigated this question and found that a
combination of the capability and outcome-based control systems enhanced IM, but a
combination of capability and activity control can decrease it. Further, Hohenberg and
Homburg (2016) utilized an SDT approach (Ryan and Deci 2000b), and concluded that both
behavior-based and outcome-based steering instruments can increase salesperson’s
autonomous (intrinsic) innovation-selling motivation and financial performance.
Miao et al. (2007) however found that disaggregating IM and EM into their cognitive
and affective orientations led to more nuanced findings in terms of the effect of control
systems. Specifically, activity (behavior-based) control was positively related to the affective
orientation (recognition seeking) aspect of EM. In contrast capability (behavior-based)
control was positively related to the cognitive orientation of EM (compensation seeking). In
addition, they found that activity control mainly affects challenge seeking (the cognitive
orientation of IM), whereas capability control mainly affects task enjoyment (the affective
orientation of IM).
Research in psychology (see Kanfer et al. 2017 for summary) also highlights the
importance of considering cognitive and affective processes of human motivation. Kanfer et
al. (2017) conclude that historically, motivational theories have primarily concentrated on the
cognitive side of motivation somewhat overlooking the affective motivational processes.
However, psychological research over the last few decades has progressed into including
affect and emotion into the studies on motivation, which offers directions for the future
theory development in the field of motivation (Kanfer et al. 2017). In this light, including
both affective and cognitive orientations when studying IM and EM of salespeople seems
especially sound.
Individual level variables
Several individual level variables have been found to influence motivation. For instance,
salesperson motivation may vary significantly depending on age/career stage (Cron et al.
1988). This can be explained by salespeople’s differences in valence for rewards, and
whether these rewards contribute to a sense of accomplishment and career development
aimed at different career stages. When IM and EM are disaggregated into their affective and
cognitive orientations, the findings are somewhat different. Specifically, the cognitive
orientation of IM and EM changes throughout career stages, whereas the affective dimension
of IM and EM does not (Miao et al. 2009). Motivational perceptions were also found to vary
significantly across certain national cultures (Dubinsky et al. 1994). Finally, Fine and Pullins
(1998) in their study of the mentor-protégée relationship discovered differences in
motivational variables between men and women within this relationship, a finding with a
potentially fruitful implication for future research.
Personal feelings and emotions also have been demonstrated to play an important role
in salesperson motivation (Badovick 1990; Badovick et al. 1992; Verbeke et al. 2004).
Badovick (1990) found that feelings of self-blame after a failure to complete a quota and
feelings of satisfaction in performance after completing a quota have different effects on
salesperson motivation. Verbeke et al. (2004) reported that feelings of pride were also found
to be an important driver of motivation (Verbeke et al. 2004). Feelings of fulfilment and
enjoyment of being instrumental to the customer (customer orientation) was found to have a
direct positive impact on salesperson IM (Mallin and Pullins 2009). Finally, perceptions of
fairness (perceptions of gaining or losing sales potential in a territory realignment context)
were found to be a significant predictor of salesperson motivation (Smith et al. 2000); and
satisfaction with territory design were reported to have a positive impact on salesperson IM
(Grant et al. 2001).
Outcomes of salesperson motivation
Interestingly, outcomes of salesperson motivation have been somewhat less extensively
studied than that of the drivers. Early research on motivation revealed highly inconsistent
findings. Some studies report IM as a stronger predictor of performance outcomes, whereas
other studies argue in favor of EM. Specifically, Oliver (1974) found IM to be a poor
predictor of performance while extrinsic motivation was effective in predicting it. The author
even suggested that IM might be dysfunctional in influencing performance. These
conclusions found support in a study by Ingram et al. (1989), who also reported that IM did
not impact performance (via effort) whereas EM had a significant impact. Contrary to this,
Tyagi (1985c) found that IM had a stronger effect on work performance compared with EM,
while Jaramillo and Mulki (2008) reported that IM had a positive impact on salesperson
effort but EM had a negative impact.
More recent studies have demonstrated a pattern that was more in favor of IM, which
is fundamentally consistent with findings on employee motivation in I/O psychology
literature. Specifically, Levin et al. (2012) found that both IM and EM had a positive impact
on the intention to use (sales- and marketing-related) technology. Miao and Evans (2007)
reported that although both IM and EM contribute to performance, salesperson IM results in
higher levels of performance than EM. In particular, intrinsically motivated salespeople were
more likely to practice adaptive selling which led to enhanced performance (Jaramillo et al.
2007; Pettijohn et al. 2002; Roman and Iacobucci 2010). They consider failures as a learning
opportunity that helps them to improve in the future (Sujan 1986), which also implies an
important performance consequence. IM was also found to increase job satisfaction (Grant et
al. 2001; Low et al. 2001), which again is linked with performance.
Sujan (1986) using attribution theory found that IM led salespeople to attribute
failures to poor strategies. This in turn motivated them to work smarter, which had a more
important performance implication than EM. In contrast, EM led salespeople to attribute
failures to insufficient effort, which in turn motivated them to work harder. Building on this,
more recent studies have found that in comparison to IM, EM salespeople are more willing
to work both smarter and harder (Jaramillo and Mulki 2008; Oliver and Anderson 1994),
which in turn has important bottom line implications.
Research on motivation has also studied negative job outcomes, such as role conflict
and ambiguity and burnout. IM has been found to reduce burnout, perceptions of role
ambiguity and role conflict (Grant et al. 2001; Keaveney and Nelson 1993; Low et al. 2001),
and also to contribute to a lessening in the tendency to engage in problematic behaviors
(Murphy 2004). However, these findings may be seen in a different light when IM is further
disaggregated into its orientations. For example, challenge seeking (IM), was found to
decrease salesperson role conflict while task enjoyment (IM) was found to increase role
ambiguity (Miao and Evans 2007; Miao et al. 2007). The two EM orientations have also been
found to work in opposition. Specifically, compensation seeking (EM) was found to decrease
role conflict, whereas recognition seeking (EM) was found to increase it (Miao and Evans
Finally, a number of studies have examined the relationship between salesperson
motivation and job satisfaction. For instance, motivation for recognition (EM, affective) was
found to have a direct positive effect on job satisfaction (Tanner et al. 2015). Miao and Evans
(2014) found that the two extrinsic motivational orientations have different effects on job
satisfaction depending on the proportion of new customers they are dealing with.
Specifically, the authors demonstrated that compensation seeking (EM) enhanced job
satisfaction only when salespeople were dealing with lower percentages of new customers,
but recognition seeking (EM) enhanced job satisfaction when salespeople were dealing with
higher percentages of new accounts. In tandem, compensation seeking (EM) led to higher
levels of performance when salespeople dealt with more new customers, but the opposite was
true for challenge seeking (IM).
Combining the types of salesperson motivation
This literature on the outcomes of salesperson motivation demonstrates that IM is generally
associated with higher levels of performance and other important salesperson job outcomes
than EM. However, as later studies demonstrate, when IM and EM are disaggregated into the
cognitive and affective orientations, the results do not appear to be solely in favor of IM.
Moreover, in reality in most work situations people are motivated by both intrinsic and
extrinsic motivators (Amabile 1993). Hence, examining a combined effect of IM and EM and
their orientations would appear likely to produce more nuanced findings.
A limited number of studies on this subject exist in the sales domain, which primarily
explore the effect of salesperson compensation (EM) on IM. For instance, Weitz et al. (1986)
in their conceptual work proposed that the use of EM (incentive compensation) has a
diminishing effect on IM orientation, especially if controlling rather than informational
aspects of incentives are emphasized. Ingram and Bellenger (1983) found that salespeople on
commission-based compensation plans (performance contingent extrinsic rewards) valued IM
such as personal growth significantly higher than those salespeople on straight salary
(performance non-contingent reward). Pullins (2001) has suggested that sales researchers
should more vigorously investigate the impact of IM on salesperson EM.
Key future research directions
Based on the reviewed literature, we structure the future research directions into the
following subcategories: (1) emerging trends and future research suggestions (digital
technologies, team-based structures, salesperson ambidexterity, longitudinal research, and
curvilinear relationships); (2) drivers of salesperson motivation; (3) outcomes of salesperson
motivation; and (4) other important variables.
Emerging trends and future research suggestions
First, the emergence of innovative digital technologies, including social media (e.g.,
Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook), communication technologies (e.g., Skype, WebEx), cloud-
based CRM technologies, mapping software, and apps has opened up new opportunities for
the sales profession. These new digital technologies have paved the way to the era of big data
(France and Ghose 2016) where large datasets of customer information are readily available.
Salespeople can help in interpreting customer information, market trends, and identifying
latent customer needs. However, working with big data implies a motivational challenge, as a
salesperson’s motivation is geared to the face-to-face encounter with the customers with
focus on interpersonal communication skills such as presenting, negotiating, and listening.
Prior studies have mainly relied on the Technology Readiness Index (Parasuraman
2000) and the Technology Acceptance Model (Venkatesh and Davis 2000) to examine the
driving role of EM and IM factors to the adoption of traditional offline sales technologies.
Compared to these traditional technologies, innovative digital technologies often are more
complex and integrative in nature, requiring a broader scope and more profound intellectual
effort from the salesperson. For instance, the use of cloud-based sales technologies (e.g.
Womack 2017) and the integration of different types of information from different types of
channels and actors implies a different and more demanding way of working that may disrupt
existing selling routines. As a result, salespeople often are more hesitant to use these
innovative digital technologies. Moreover, they may be afraid that adoption of the innovative
technologies will lead to the automation of important aspects of their job activities and put
their job at risk. Therefore, one major challenge concerns how to effectively motivate
salespeople to adopt digital technologies and effectively operate in this transformative and
changing context.
Second, the introduction of team and network-based structures (Stock 2006) has
highlighted the importance of interpersonal dynamics as a key aspect of sales force
motivation strategies. This underlines the importance of examining the role of team dynamics
and interpersonal interactions with co-workers as drivers of salesperson motivation. The
purpose of sales teams is having salespeople work together “to create synergies among team
members with different levels of skills and experiences” (Ahearne et al. 2010, 461). The use
of such team-based structures implies that salespeople should be motivated to fulfil an
additional role of helping and supporting colleagues in their sales team. Yet, both academics
and practitioners recognize the importance of properly balancing salespeople’s motivation to
effectively sell products and help colleagues on the team. This presents a challenge as many
sales teams still are dominated by self-interestwhere salespeople tend to focus on
maximizing personal utility with little room for displaying prosocial behaviors, such as
helping other colleagues in the team. More research is needed to examine how to adequately
regulate salesperson motivation in team-based settings such that it yields a maximal result in
terms of selling products and helping colleagues.
Future research could draw on the motivation, opportunity, and ability framework
(MacInnis et al. 1991) to acquire more insight into salespeople’s motivation to help
colleagues and sell products by considering their ability and the emerging opportunity to help
colleagues on the team. Furthermore, we recommend borrowing insights from literatures in
social identity theory, social exchange theory, and social network theory to get better insight
into the nature of salesperson motivation to sell in team-based structures (MacInnis et al.
1991; Schmitz 2013).
A related phenomenon is the emergence of global virtual sales teams (Badrinarayanan
et al. 2011) and the use of groupware technology as a communication tool in those virtual
teams (Janson et al. 2014). In a virtual context, it is more challenging to motivate
salespeople, as managers have less capacity to control them. Then too, in a global virtual
environment, clients may be doing business multiple time zones away and expect salespeople
to be at their beckon call by virtual means during hours well outside the “normal work day”
(Marshall et al. 2012).
Third, the traditional role of the salesperson is to carry out the different steps of the
selling process, such as prospecting, approaching, negotiating, and closing the sale. However,
the modern salespersons job responsibilities have become much broader. Many salelspeople
operate in a multi-task environments where they are engaged across greatly expended tasks
and roles. In many modern companies salespeople have to go beyond the straightforward
selling task and also perform marketing activities (Moncrief and Marshall 2005), combine
the sale of products with the provision of high-quality customer service (Jasmand et al.
2012), or balance the traditional selling task with new selling approaches (der Borgh et al.
2015). Also, as mentioned earlier, team-based settings necessitate that salespeople combine
additional prosocial behaviors such as helping colleagues with the gamut of selling
responsibilities. Future research along these lines can make use of the literature on
ambidexterity, which is the ability to combine potentially conflicting role activities to
investigate how salespeople can successfully combine and integrate multiple roles (March
1991; Tushman and O'Reilly 1996). Other theoretical approaches that can yield better
insights into how to effectively balance different roles in sales include role balance theory
(Greenhaus et al. 2003; Marks and MacDermid 1996) and role theory (Katz and Kahn 1978).
Role balance refers to the equal engagement of an individual in the performance of every role
in his or her total role system (Marks and MacDermid 1996).
Another important emerging theory of motivation that can be fruitful in studying
salesperson motivation is Vancouver’s (2008) dynamic process theory of self-regulation.
This theory incorporates both cognitive and affective processes by utilizing the notion of goal
systems to understand a person’s acting, thinking, learning, and feeling (Vancouver 2008).
This is particularly relevant in sales roles when salespeople often work toward multiple
Fourth, there is a strong call for adapting longitudinal techniques in sales research to
gain a more nuanced understanding of many of the most commonly studied phenomena in
our field (Bolander et al. 2017). Researcher psychologists in the area of employee
motivation assert that it is of crucial importance to adapt a dynamic interactionist approach to
studying motivation in order to track how motivational variables change and develop over
time (Kanfer et al. 2017). Advanced longitudinal techniques and multi-source data (e.g. as it
was done by Fu et al. 2009) can assist in exploring the cause-and-effect dynamics of
salesperson motivation over time and as such further strengthen and develop the theoretical
framework of the domain (Bolander et al. 2017). Another approach is Steel and König’s
(2006) temporal motivation theory (TMT), which is grounded on the premises of expectancy
theory, picoeconomics, cumulative prospect theory, and need theory. TMT strives to provide
unifying insights from several theories of motivation (Steel and Konig 2006, 907).
Importantly for sales research, it defines expectancy and valence in truly dynamic terms. It
also incorporates time to deadlines as a predictor for subjective utility followed by task
choices over time (Vancouver et al. 2010).
Finally, an interesting avenue for future research is to explore the possibility of
curvilinear relationships (Walton 1969) between motivational and outcome (e.g. task
performance, salesperson well-being, customer satisfaction) variables. For instance, a
number of studies have found support for a presence of a U-shaped relationship between
assigned goals and selling effort (Fang et al. 2004), quota levels and salesperson performance
(Chowdhury 1993),and task conflict and employee creativity (De Dreu 2006). This raises the
intriguing question: Is it possible to be too much motivated and is there a point of optimal
level of motivation?
Drivers of salesperson motivation
Although sales motivation research to date has examined several drivers of salesperson
motivation, there appears to be a scarcity of knowledge on certain types of drivers of
salesperson motivation such as monetary versus non-monetary rewards.
One of the key challenges faced by sales motivation researchers is the assessment of
the role of EM rewards such as financial incentives on IM variables. Pullins (2001)
summarized several propositions on this topic, most of which have not been addressed to
date. Generally, extrinsic rewards have been found to have an undermining effect on IM,
especially when such rewards are offered for highly interesting tasks and are contingent on
performance (as summarised by Kanfer et al. 2017). It is known that sales compensation
packages commonly consist of bonuses and commissions which are contingent to certain
performance achievements (Kishore et al. 2013), hence these could be detrimental to IM.
Mallin and Pullins (2009) found that sales force steering mechanisms (behavior activity
control) negatively moderated the relationship between proportion of variable pay and IM.
Careful utilization of the right (combination of) incentives as well as work environment
contexts (e.g., sales force steering mechanisms) which would not harm IM but perhaps even
enhance it appears to be critical in this light. Indeed, the most recent meta-analysis on this
subject (Cerasoli et al. 2014), which included 40 years of research and nine previously
published meta-analyses, has demonstrated that although extrinsic rewards (incentives) can
undermine IM, in truth EM and IM can still co-exist. Future research could investigate how
salespeople’s motivational orientations might work in synergy (as proposed by Amabile
1993) by employing extrinsic rewards in such a way that they enhance IM.
Another key question is linked to non-monetary rewards. It has long been accepted
that personal recognition, defined as “periodic acknowledgement of performance
accomplishments of individual salespeople” (Wotruba et al. 1991, 9), is one of the important
non-monetary rewards available to salespeople (Bellenger et al. 1984; Chonko et al. 1992;
Churchill Jr et al. 1979). However, the current knowledge on the effect of such non-monetary
rewards on salesperson IM and EM and performance is scarce. A potentially interesting
research avenue lies in investigating the effect of non-monetary rewards on IM and EM as
well as the combined effect of monetary incentives and non-monetary rewards on salesperson
IM and EM and the four motivational orientations.
Finally, several studies within the sales domain have emphasized the importance of
positive working environment and supervisory support in influencing salesperson behaviors
(Jaramillo and Mulki 2008; Kemp et al. 2013; Tyagi 1982, 1985a, 1985b). These ideas are
echoed in the organizational leadership literature (much of which is summarized by Bass and
Stogdill 1990) which has demonstrated that charismatic leaders have highly motivated
employees. However, how these influencers of motivation affect specific motivational
orientations has not been explored to date. Hence, a potentially fruitful avenue for research is
how sales leader behavior can influence the four motivational orientations.
Outcomes of salesperson motivation
To-date much of the research on outcomes of salesperson motivation is concerned with
salesperson performance, for several good reasons. For example, the sales force typically
accounts for the largest part of the marketing budget and marketing personnel (Cravens et al.
1993), hence their actual performance is of crucial prominence in terms of ROI. That is, sales
organization performance has important direct bottom-line implications (MacKenzie et al.
1998). However, contemporary research in other areas of the sales domain as well as in the
wider marketing literature includes other types of job outcomes that are subjective or
behavioral in nature. Examples include salesperson innovativeness and creativity (e.g. Bai et
al. 2016; Miao and Wang 2016), work-life balance (e.g. Badrinarayanan et al. 2015; Closs et
al. 2011) and work engagement (e.g. Fujimoto et al. 2016; Menguc et al. 2017). Such work
outcomes are commonly found to have important implications for overall organizational
development, customer orientation, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and
performance (e.g. Amabile 1996; Bai et al. 2016; Miao and Wang 2016; Schaufeli et al.
2002). Future research could benefit by incorporating more of these behavioral job outcomes
into studies on salesperson IM and EM in order to gain a richer understanding of the
consequences of salesperson motivation.
Other important variables
This article has emphasized that salesperson motivation research has gone from studying a
global motivation construct to looking at IM and EM and to further disaggregating these into
the cognitive and affective motivational orientations. Extant research findings suggest that
these motivational orientations have distinct antecedents and consequences. Hence, an
opportunity exists for future research to further examine the four motivational orientations,
incorporating their drivers and outcomes at individual and organizational levels.
In addition, research demonstrates the importance of personality traits and personal
characteristics of salespeople in the field of salesperson motivation. Chonko et al. (1992)
suggested that salesperson personality traits and personal characteristics be taken into
consideration when motivating salespeople. Indeed, B2B salespeople have been found to
choose combinations of jobs and pay contracts that suit their heterogeneous traits (Lo et al.
2011). Further research on salesperson motivation could incorporate personality traits such as
the “Big 5” into the research framework (e.g. the Big Five personality traits, He et al. 2015).
Research also demonstrates that motivational variables could differ for males versus
female salespeople (e.g. Jaramillo and Mulki 2008). For instance, men and women were
found to have differences in the ways motivational variables change across career stages
(Cron et al. 1988) and in the motivational variables in the mentor-protégé relationship (Fine
and Pullins 1998). More recent studies in sales have also demonstrated the importance of
incorporating gender in sales force research (Rutherford et al. 2014). Boles et al. (2007)
reported significant differences between male and female salespeople in the relationship
between aspects of job satisfaction and affective organizational commitment. Rutherford et
al. (2014) found that there are important gender effects in such areas of sales job as perceived
organizational support, work-family conflict and emotional exhaustion. Finally, Karkoulian
et al. (2016) in their study on work-life balance, perceived stress, and locus of control
demonstrated the importance of this gender perspective. Future research investigating this
matter in the sales context could offer fruitful insights on the topic of salesperson motivation,
particularly since the percentage of females in B2B sales roles is rising.
The stated aim of our paper was to critically review the literature on salesperson motivation
and, while presenting key theoretical and methodological contributions, to also highlight key
challenges and future research directions. Although theory development has progressed in
this area, and has generally become more nuanced in terms of insights presented by academic
research into salesperson motivation, we find significant and new motivation-related
challenges faced by sales organizations, sales managers and salespeople that are unexplored
or underexplored in the literature. Without subsequent research by sales academics, it will be
difficult to provide industry sales leaders credible advice on how to effectively motivate
salespeople in light of these challenges. We assert that effort is required post haste in theory
building and testing in salesperson motivation that can drive practical insights among the key
areas identified within this article.
One of the main challenges to sales motivation research in particular is in its ability
to provide sales executives with actionable guidance (Asare et al. 2012, 387). Hence, it is of
crucial importance that sales motivation research remains current, in order to inform and help
organizations address new and emerging challenges. Sales leaders and managers must
become aware of different types of motivation, as well as their potential to work in synergy to
increase important job outcomes. Early work on expectancy theory in sales changed the
entire field of sales force management. Tut that was undertaken 30-40 years ago. We
challenge today’s generation of academic sales researchers to use this article as a springboard
to develop the next generation of theory and practice in sales management, building on the
history and opportunities revealed herein.
Motivating salespeople has always been one of the key challenges for sales leaders
and, in truth, for firms as a whole. (Doyle and Shapiro 1980; Jaramillo et al. 2005). Recently
such challenges have been amplified by significant challenges to how sales organizations
have traditionally operated (Keszey and Biemans 2016). There have been dramatic shifts in
the role of the salesperson, and the accompanying competencies required, due to a widening
role often incorporating business development and internal business consultancy elements
(Keszey and Biemans 2016; Narus 2015) coupled with seemingly ever-escalating
requirements for a deep technological knowledge set (Marshall et al. 2012). Add to the above
the fact that the race to deploy more virtual forms of salesperson/customer interaction and
relationship management often with a cost-cutting goal as the key driver (travel is
expensive) -- has created challenges of workplace isolation for salespeople, both from their
own company and their customers. This no doubt exacerbates the boundary-spanning role
challenges and impacts motivation.
Then too, societal changes have presented key challenges as well, and in particular the
arrival of millennials into the sales workforce with distinct professional work values and
attitudes (Pullins et al. 2011). Indeed, recent research suggests that as millennials enter the
workplace, organizations face additional and new motivational and retention-based
challenges as initial evidence reveals millennials much more tuned into IM approaches versus
EM (Ferri-Reed 2010). Our field must understand how to maximize salesperson success
forward into the new horizons ahead. With hard work, we as sales academic researchers can
build on our heritage of knowledge on salesperson motivation to open a new era of research
discourse for the future of the field.
Appendix. Summary table of key articles on salesperson motivation.
Sample size
and response
Key relevant findings
Summary on
95 (96%)
IM is a poor predictor of performance, whilst EM was
effective in predicting performance.
IM is measured
as five intrinsic
The paper has provided a now classical definition:
motivation is viewed as the amount of effort the salesman
desires to expend on each of the activities or tasks
associated with his job, such as calling on potential new
accounts, planning sales presentations, and filling out
Literature review on expectancy theory research in sales
IM and EM have distinct predictors (drivers) among the
organizational climate variables. Organizational climate
variables produce stronger influence on IM than on EM. All
organizational climate variables apart from challenge and
variety have a significant impact on IM (job importance,
Task conflict, Role overload, Leadership consideration,
Organizational identification and Management concern and
awareness). Job challenge and variety, job importance and
role overload do not significantly impact EM. Only job
importance and organizational identification have a mild
influence on EM.
Developed his
own in line with
214 (33.2-65.8
depending on
how many
have reached
Job related factors impact on motivation and job satisfaction
of salespeople. It appears that internal motivation is
positively related to the ways salespeople perceive their job
characteristics and psychological states.
Job design
Job diagnostics
survey by
Hackman and
Oldham (1974).
Motivation is third most important determinant of
104 (63%)
Organizational stress variables contribute negatively to both
IM and EM. Role ambiguity did not produce any effect on
IM or EM, though this could be situational. Role conflict
was shown to produce the strongest negative impact on IM
and EM. The variable role overload had a much stronger
impact on IM than on EM.
Developed his
111 (62%)
Both job (re)design and leader's behavior affect salesperson
IM and EM but to a different extent. Specifically, key job
dimensions (job autonomy, variety, importance, task
identity, feedback and agent's feedback) are more effective
in impacting IM whereas leadership behavior is more
effective in impacting EM. IM is more important predictor
of salesperson performance, than EM.
Job design
theory and
Developed his
1283 (32 %)
Salespeople’s motivation to work smarter has more
important performance implications that motivation to
work harder. An orientation towards extrinsic rewards
leads salespeople to attribute their failures to a lack of
effort which in turn motivates them to work harder. An
orientation towards intrinsic rewards leads salespeople to
attribute failures to poor strategies which in turn motivates
them to work smarter.
Developed his
own (M).
The authors integrate expectancy and attribution theory.
theory and
The authors propose a framework for motivation to practice
adaptive selling.
theory and
theory Z.
933 (46.7%)
Contests have a potential to motivate salespeople, however,
in order to serve a motivating purpose, they should be
perceived as separate from the main compensation.
Not specified.
A series of
items adapted
from Churchill et
al. (1974).
176 (78%)
Salesperson motivation varies depending on career stage - in
line with career stages framework.
thermometer like
scales and
chances 0 to 100
on the
valence and
Study of 75
industrial firms
in South
The key salesperson motivators are satisfaction in the job
well done and a desire for money.
Not specified.
231 (57.5%)
Salesperson's EM but not IM has a significant positive
influence on effort which in turn has a significant positive
influence on performance.
Tyagi (1985c)
and Kohli
146 (94%)
who failed to
make their
monthly quota
Attribution theory is proposed as an additional theory of
salesperson motivation. Feelings of self-blame after a failure
of not completing a quota and feeling of satisfaction in
performance (after completing a quota) directly influence
motivation. When salesperson takes responsibility for their
performance, then feelings of self-blame result in increased
subsequent effort. Contrary to Weiner's Attribution theory,
feelings of performance satisfaction resulted in subsequent
decrease in effort.
Sujan’s (1986)
Smarter and
survey (scale
268 (54%)
Scale development.
IM is a part of the developed adaptive selling framework
and measured as rewards arising from the task itself (e.g.,
selling is like playing a game).
Not specified.
Developed their
own (IM).
249 (24.9%)
Sales people report that pay rises are one of the most
important motivators.
Not specified.
Strong effect of self-efficacy on salesperson motivation and
effort when sales tasks begin to increase in difficulty.
However, this effect is only marginal for low quota levels or
for easy tasks.
theory and goal
setting theory.
Not measured.
Motivation is
with effort.
212 (62%)
Minimal differences in male and female salespeople's
perceptions of expectancies, instrumentalities, and valence
for rewards.
Teas (1981) and
Tyagi (1985a).
305 (43.6)
Intrinsic motivational orientations decrease perceptions of
role conflict and role ambiguity and enhance job
theory (SDT).
Developed their
own (guided by
Ryan and Deci
218 (64.1%),
220 (62.9%)
and 156
Dramatic difference in motivational perceptions between the
US salespeople and Japanese and Korean salespeople.
survey. Dyadic
data from sales
managers and
347 (64%)
Control systems influence salespeople's affective and
motivational states. Specifically, behavior-based control is
linked with greater IM, whereas outcome-based control is
linked with EM.
Sales force
Developed their
own (IM and
interviews and
92 (64.6%)
Motivation to earn money, personal enjoyment of selling,
motivation to earn recognition from the peers and
willingness to work hard are among several key agency
success factors.
Not specified.
105 (87.5%)
The time-management behavior varies across individual
levels of motivation.
Not specified.
Spence et al.
135 (87%)
Organizational support attributions following high self-
ratings can increase salesperson motivation, whereas
organizational support attributions following low
performance self-ratings can decrease it.
theory and
165 (36.6%)
Significant differences on motivational variables between
men and women in the mentor-protégé relationship.
Specifically, female protégés with female mentors
report higher motivation levels than male mentors with
female protégés.
Not specified.
Hackman and
Oldham (1976).
Based on prior research, the authors conclude that optimism
result in increased level of motivation.
survey for study
1 and scenario-
experiment for
study 2.
161 (43%) for
study 1 and
251 (31%) for
study 2
Perceptions of fairness (perceptions of gaining or loosing
sales potential) in territory-alignment situations affect
motivation. Salesperson motivation increases as managers
take more actions (justice/fairness related).
Motivation is an important predictor of performance.
theory and
justice theory.
Combination of
working hard
and working
smart measures
(Oliver and
Weitz, 1991 and
Sujan, Weitz and
Kumar, 1994).
Individual differences in IM orientation (operationalized as
causality orientation of autonomy) affect the cooperative
negotiation tactics in negotiations between a seller and a
Deci and Ryan's
(1985) general
orientation scale.
148 (55%)
Satisfaction with territory design enhances IM which in turn
reduces role ambiguity. Also, IM increases job satisfaction.
Not specified
Anderson and
Oliver (1987),
Oliver and
Anderson (1994)
and Cravens et
al. (1993) (IM).
148 (55%)
IM directly reduces burnout, role conflict, role ambiguity,
and increases job satisfaction. In turn, burnout has a
significant negative impact on job satisfaction and
Not specified.
Anderson and
Oliver (1987),
Oliver and
Anderson (1994)
and Cravens et
al. (1993) (IM).
Managers think that less than half of the motivation comes
from incentive pay and the rest (biggest part) comes from
intrinsic rewards.
The authors build a proposition (among others) that
salesperson IM is positively related to discretionary effort.
109 (50%)
Interaction between salesperson motivation and skill level
significantly related to customer orientation levels.
Not specified.
102 (20.7%)
When extrinsic rewards (motivators) are strong, salespeople
may compensate for the lack of intrinsic rewards in their
Agency theory
control theory.
827 (53%)
In high motivation conditions, affective organizational
commitment and relationship with supervisor lead to less
tendency to engage in problematic behaviors.
Theory of
survey (scenario
93 (30.5%) in
study 1 and
250 (52%) in
study 2.
Salespeople are affected by their emotions but they can
control them to their advantage. Specifically, pride was
found to stimulate performance-related motivations.
Not specified.
Spiro and Weitz
(1990) and Sujan
Call for integrating the research domains of salesperson
motivation, control systems, and compensation.
Goal theory and
190 (84%).
Learning orientation has a positive impact on customer
orientation, whereas performance orientation has a positive
impact on selling orientation.
Control theory.
survey (scenario
652 (62%).
Sales managers choose incentive pay to increase salesperson
motivation, or salary to increase control and parity.
theory, agency
control theory
and social
400 (66.7%)
Initiative strengthens the positive relationship between IM
and adaptive selling. IM has a significant effect on adaptive
selling. Also, customer orientation mediates the relationship
between IM and adaptive selling.
Action control
Oliver and
Anderson (1994)
(IM and EM).
175 (44.2%)
Activity control primarily impacts challenge seeking (the
cognitive dimension of IM) and capability control mainly
affects task enjoyment (the affective dimension of IM).
Amabile et al
175 (44.2%)
Cognitive and affective orientations of IM and EM have
distinct impact on role conflict and role ambiguity and
subsequently, behavioral and outcome performance.
Not specified.
Amabile et al
344 (60%).
Supportive leadership has a direct positive effect on IM. IM
is an important driver of salesperson effort. EM has a
negative effect of effort. Female salespeople are less
influenced by EM than male salespeople.
Path goal
theory and
Oliver and
Anderson (1994)
(IM and EM).
175 (44%)
Cognitive orientations of IM and EM vary depending on
salesperson’s career stage, whereas affective
orientations of IM and EM do not.
theory and
career stage
Amabile et al
143 (17.9%
final response
The study indicates the importance of motivation hub (self-
set goals and self-efficacy) in influencing salesperson’s
effort and new product sales.
measures of self-
set goals and
Salesperson customer orientation has a direct positive
impact on IM through feelings of fulfilment and enjoyment
of being instrumental to the customer.
Behavior activity control negatively moderates the
relationship between the proportion of commission (in total
compensation) and IM.
theory (SDT).
Oliver and
(1994) (IM).
Dyad: cross-
sectional survey
with salespeople
plus telephone
interviews for
(out of 300)
and 630
IM among others mediates the relationship between a
salesperson’s perception of the firm’s customer
orientation and salesperson’s adaptive selling
Spiro and Weitz
(1990) (IM).
328 (100%)
The study incorporates three levels of motivation: global,
contextual, and situational (Vallerand 1995, 1997). Global
motivation positively impact on contextual motivation
regarding technology and work. Then, the contextual
motivation for both technology and work has a positive
impact on innovation implementation. Employee feelings
and beliefs have a significant impact on situational
motivation to implement service innovation strategies.
Guay et al
Interviews and
262 (68.6%)
Motivational dimensions of sales force forecasting
(satisfaction, seriousness and effort) are influenced by the
five environmental signals: training, feedback, knowledge of
how the forecast is used, forecasting computer program, and
others' level of seriousness.
their own
(theory of
industrial sales
Developed their
own (for
seriousness and
194 (68.5%)
IM and EM have a positive impact whereas apathetic
motivation has a negative impact on the intention to use
sales- and marketing-related technology.
Not specified
Davis et al
(1992) (IM and
EM). Vallerand
et al (1992)
sales manager
dyads (16.3-
The combination of capability and outcome-based control
systems has a positive combined effect on IM and
salesperson knowledge. The combination of outcome and
activity based control systems decrease IM but increase role
clarity. IM diminishes the negative effect of role ambiguity
on performance.
theory and
theory (SDT).
IM and EM scale
was borrowed
from Miao et al.
(2007), though
EM is only a
control variable.
154 (51.3%)
Salesperson motivation is positively related to positive
working environments and customer-oriented selling and
negatively related to emotional exhaustion. Also, the
relationship between manager support and salesperson
motivation was not significant. However, the experience of
positive emotions mediates the relationship between
managers’ support and salesperson motivation.
Not specified.
Badovick et al.
55 usable
level-2 and 222
usable level-1
data records
The study found that the relationship between salesperson’s
motivation and their adoption of the company’s product
portfolio is positively moderated by a strong team group
norm for cross-selling.
Social norm
theory and
Sujan et al.
302 (75.5%)
IM mediates the relationship between the perceptions of
ethical leadership on an individual and group level and
salespeople’s innovative work behavior.
theory (SDT).
Zhang and
Bartol (2010).
Interviews and
72 for
interviews and
297 for survey.
Salesperson-brand relationship and brand affect have a
positive effect on salesperson motivation to sell.
Spiro and Weitz
339 (97%)
The effect of motivation for compensation/motivation for
recognition on performance was non-significant. However,
motivation for recognition was found to have a direct
positive effect on satisfaction with moderating (weakening)
effect of ethical climate.
theory and
Chonko et al
145 (96%)
IM mediates the positive relationship between servant
leadership and salesperson adaptively and proactivity.
Outcome-based control system strengthens the positive
impact of servant leadership on IM.
theory (SDT).
Cravens et al.
(1993) (IM.
210 (30%)
Apathetic motivation, IM and EM are distinct variables that
can co-exist.
theory and
Levin et al
(2012) (IM, EM
and apathetic
471 (76.7)
from across 38
In all cultures both behavior-based and outcome-based
steering instruments can increase salesperson’s
autonomous innovation-selling motivation and the
financial performance of innovations. Individualism
strengthens the positive relationship between variable
compensation and financial innovation performance through
IM, but the power distance and uncertainty avoidance
weaken this relationship Study findings offer a strong
support for SDT.
Grant et al.
(2011) (IM).
239 (44%)
Can do and reasons to motivations impact salesperson
mode theory
and SDT.
Spence and
Robbins (1992)
(Reasons to
Kruglanski et al
(2000) (Can do
136 (68%)
IM and EM positively impact affective brand commitment
which in turn has a positive impact on effort.
Though the relationship of affective brand commitment and
effort is significant only when both IM and self-efficacy are
Non-significant relationship between EM and effort. EM has
a positive impact on affective brand commitment.
Theory of
behavior and
the motivation,
and ability
Miao, Evans and
Zou (2007) (IM
and EM)
Table 1. Summary of the key motivational measures used.
Literature stream
How motivation is measured
Expectancy theory
Multiplication of the expectancy scores
(effort-performance relationship), with
the product of instrumentality
(performance-reward relationship) and
valence (rewards-personal goals
Ingram et al. (1989); Tyagi (1985a);
Cron et al. (1988); Ingram et al.
(1989); Tyagi (1985a, 1985c).
Attribution theory
A combination of working harder
(EM) and smarter (IM).
Sujan et al. (1994); Badovick (1990);
Schmitz (2013); Verbeke et al.
Control systems
Internal (IM) versus external (EM)
Anderson and Oliver (1987); Oliver
and Anderson (1994); Jaramillo et al.
Affective and
orientations of IM
and EM
Specifically use designated scales for
each of the four motivational
orientations (originally developed by
Amabile et al. 1994).
Miao and Evans (2012); Miao et al.
(2007); Miao et al. (2009)
Figure 1. Key journals.
9 9
6 6
2 2 1 1 1 1 1
Figure 2. Key theories utilized.
Figure 3. Key methodologies.
332 2 2 2 11111
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Many primary education programs, including the updated educational program in Kazakhstan, involve the creation and implementation of thematic units to prepare younger students for research activities. This approach is reflected in the integrated method of teaching and learning in primary classes. However, in cases where the research-based pedagogical approach is not used, it has become an urgent problem because it cannot meet the interest of students. Therefore, this article intends to study theoretical works on the preparation of primary school students for research, conduct experimental work on a small experimental site, and consider specific results. In theoretical terms, such works as content analysis, synthesis, generalization, survey, and diagnostics were organized. Analyzing the experimental work on the stages of identification and formation. Based on methodological materials to prepare students for research, we offer percentages.
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The transaction cost analysis framework is integrated with prescriptions from the sales management literature to develop a model that indicates the role of salary in a sales compensation plan for industrial firms. The descriptive power of the model is examined by surveying compensation practices in 161 firms. The results indicate that the transaction cost framework is somewhat useful in describing the use of salary, but the framework does not consider some important aspects guiding salary versus incentive compensation decisions.
Previous research has focused on salespeople's motivation to work harder. An important but neglected aspect of salespeople's motivation is their desire to improve the direction in which they work, termed “working smarter.” Using an attributional perspective, the author examines factors that differentially influence these two components of motivation.
A 16-item scale is developed to measure the degree to which salespeople practice adaptive selling—the degree to which they alter their sales presentation across and during customer interactions in response to the perceived nature of the sales situation. This paper-and-pencil scale assesses self-reports of five facets of adaptive selling: (1) recognition that different sales approaches are needed for different customers, (2) confidence in ability to use a variety of approaches, (3) confidence in ability to alter approach during an interaction, (4) collection of information to facilitate adaptation, and (5) actual use of different approaches. The reliability of the scale is .85. Support for the nomological validity of the scale is found by failure to disconfirm relationships with an antecedent (intrinsic motivation), several general personality measures of interpersonal flexibility (self-monitoring, empathy, locus of control, and androgyny), and a consequence (self-reported performance).
This position paper argues that current knowledge of the determinants of motivation and performance in industrial selling is woefully inadequate. As a first step toward improving this situation, the authors offer a conceptual model which identifies a set of individual, interpersonal, organizational, and environmental variables that may influence a salesman's motivation and job performance. The model incorporates many constructs and research findings from industrial psychology and other disciplines, but its primary purpose is to provide a conceptual framework and some specific hypotheses to help guide future empirical research in sales management.
Forms of control systems used in salesforce evaluation and based on the monitoring of outcomes or of behaviors are described, contrasted, and evaluated in terms of emerging theories in economics, organization theory, and cognitive psychology. Generally, the principles of behavior control as opposed to outcome control are found to be consistent with these theoretical perspectives with exceptions as noted, though studies of descriptive trends suggest that outcome control remains useful as a sales management philosophy. The authors conclude with a set of propositions intended to stimulate research on the managerial and behavioral consequences of the two control philosophies.
A conceptual framework is presented that resolves some of the conflicts and inconsistencies in the various paradigms pertaining to goal setting. Hypotheses about the impact of quota level, expectancy, and self-efficacy on motivation are developed and tested in a laboratory experiment in which the subjects assume the role of salespersons and negotiate with opponents whose roles are simulated by a custom-designed computer program. The results indicate that as quota level is increased, effort increases only up to a point, after which increases in the level of the quota may actually decrease effort. Additionally, the impact of increased quota levels is stronger for subjects who are high in self-efficacy than for subjects who are low in self-efficacy. Finally, information about the level of task difficulty also influences the motivation to expend effort at the task.
The author examines how organizational climate contributes to salespersons’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to perform. On the basis of expectancy-valence theory of motivation, specific relationships between organizational climate and motivational components are tested using a sample of insurance salespersons. Managerial implications and future research directions are discussed.
The authors investigate the relationship between personal and organizational characteristics and the attractiveness of various rewards to industrial salespeople. Data were gathered from 241 industrial salespeople and the sales managers of 17 participating industrial firms. Of the 84 relationships examined, 18 statistically significant relationships are found between such predictor variables as age, job tenure, income level, specific self-esteem, compensation plan base, promotion opportunity rate, and recognition rate and criterion variables which are the valences for various rewards. Organizational variables are found to be more promising than personal characteristics in terms of their relationship to the attactiveness of various rewards.
Learning and performance goal orientations, two motivational orientations that guide salespeople's behavior, are related to working smart and hard. Working smart is defined as the engagement in activities that serve to develop knowledge of sales situations and utilize this knowledge in selling behavior. It is found that a learning goal orientation motivates working both smart and hard, whereas a performance goal orientation motivates only working hard. The goal orientations also are found to be alterable through supervisory feedback. Furthermore, self-efficacy, salespeople's confidence in their overall selling abilities, is found to moderate some of the relationships with the goal orientations.
While the unique characteristics of the industrial salesman's role has stimulated much recent research, this uniqueness requires the development and use of occupation-specific measurement instruments. A job satisfaction measure specifically designed for industrial salesmen is presented together with norms, a detailed description of the methodology employed, and techniques to evaluate the new instrument's factor structure, reliability, and construct validity.