Recognition or praise? Know what motivates your salespeople

Sales managers are being told to do more with less and to work smarter to get peak performance from their sales teams, despite increasingly limited resources. As tough as it is, there is one tool in the sales manager’s portfolio that is never in short supply – praise!

Yet, for some reason, many sales managers find it challenging to show their appreciation for their salespeople’s efforts, reluctantly doling out praise as if it was in short supply. The reason is not because managers are unappreciative of their team’s efforts; it’s just that too many do not realise that sales people need to hear that they are doing well and are on track.


Around 5% to 20% of salespeople have the rare characteristics of being internally driven or self (intrinsically) motivated; they have a growth mindset and understand they can control many aspects of their destiny. Whilst these salespeople can enjoy receiving praise or recognition, they do not often seek it out or need it to keep them going.

However, many sales people do not think or feel this way.

The sales people who are extrinsically motivated need frequent external praise, recognition, validation and encouragement to keep going. So what? Typically, many sales managers come from the ranks of the self (intrinsically) motivated sales people pool.

This means that they tend to view others through their own lens of self-determination, assuming that all salespeople must be motivated like them. It often comes as a complete shock to them when they discover that the majority of salespeople in their teams are extrinsically motivated and are in need of praise, recognition, encouragement and validation.

This can be very draining for the intrinsically motivated sales manager and very disheartening for the extrinsically motivated salesperson when respective needs are not met. How do we make this work so that everyone benefits and sales results are achieved?

For the sales manager, it is important to distinguish between praise and recognition:

  • Recognition is when a sales manager holds a salesperson up in front of their peers and acknowledges exceptional performance.
  • Praise, on the other hand, is individual, applied with mindfulness, discipline and forethought to develop and encourage effective behaviour and mindset in salespeople.

The use of praise is ‘best practice’ in sales management. It is used to reward behaviour that sales managers want to encourage and see repeated. To be of real merit, the praise needs to be specific and relevant.

Here are a few tips on giving praise:

1. Never praise and criticise (at the same time)

Praise is a reward. The real value of that reward is diminished when sales managers start by saying ‘nice things’ and then focus on the areas that need improvement. As a result, praise is only given when the performance or behaviour is totally positive and when the sales manager’s intent is to encourage the salesperson to repeat it.

2. Be specific

Saying something like “Hey, good work there” is a meaningless statement. What was good? Why was it good? How was it good? These are important to state when giving praise. So when a sales manager decides to give praise, they should be able to say explicitly what, why or how the person did something well and why it is valued by the sales manager and why it should be value by the salesperson. By being specific, the salesperson can see why they are doing well and hopefully repeat this later on when needed.

3. Personalise praise

Identify the aspects unique to that person that made their performance notable when they applied that specific skill or behaviour. Telling the person what special characteristics he or she has, not only personalises the praise, it also helps the salesperson identify what capabilities they have that the sales manager values. This is what makes praise so important to the person and interestingly, begins to open up those people who have been more extrinsically motivated to start to look inwardly and find what intrinsically makes them effective.

So before you think of implementing a costly sales incentives program, try praise first. Effectively praising salespeople doesn’t cost a cent, but can return an enormous profit in improved sales performance.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations. Visit


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