13 FEB, 2017

Leveraging the Four-Drive Theory for Channel Sales Rep Motivation

indirect sales channel tires

Countless theories and models have been developed over the years to explain why and how people are motivated or moved to action. Of these, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is perhaps the most well-known. Less so is the “Four Drive” theory, which is unique in the sense that it is tailored to people in the workplace. Developed by Drs. Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria in 2002 to emphasize the occupational motivating factors that go beyond simply paying employees a salary, these “drives” (in an easy-to-remember ABCD format) include the following:

Achieve – Bond – Comprehend – Defend
For effective sales channel motivation, you have to understand what factors drive sales reps to succeed—and how you can fulfill those drives.

The Drive to Acquire

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes but they never quit.” – Conrad Hilton

Most humans (and especially sales people) are motivated by meeting goals, thereby improving their own status and earnings potential.

One key thing to note is that Lawrence and Norhia argued that this particular drive will never be completely satisfied, as sales reps will continuously compare themselves against the other members of the sales organization. But that actually works in your favor; this constant attempt to be “better than the other guy” will, given the right environment, drive increased productivity and revenue.

Satisfy this drive! Diversify your current channel incentive program. Yes, you can keep that reward for the top sellers in your organization, but consider alternatives for the remaining 90% of your team. Who is the most consistent sales person? Who has improved the most, quarter over quarter? Toss in a few more random contests, such as a lottery, and you’ll be giving your channel sales organization rewards- and recognition-based motivation to succeed.

The Drive to Bond

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

Employees are motivated when they feel as though they’re part of something bigger. This layer of inclusivity applies to sales organization, despite the fact that salespeople are often thought of as having a “lone wolf” approach to their work.

So, while traditional teamwork does not necessarily apply to an indirect sales organization (unless, of course, you’re pitting stores against stores, or regions against regions), the key here is to create a bond with your brand. A channel sales rep’s impression of a brand, especially one he or she is expected to sell, is largely based on that brand being kept top of mind. That can be challenging in an environment that is dominated by multiple brands pushing multiple products through the same sales reps.

Satisfy this drive! Send regular, consistent communications to the reps about new products and industry trends that show why your products outclass the competition, and offer exciting incentive programs that reward the reps on their performance or improvement. This all can’t be a one-way street, however. Make sure you allow for feedback on what’s being communicated, if not also for the products being offered themselves. “Being open to feedback and asking for constructive criticism also helps build respect” for a brand, bettering the odds of a sales rep becoming a brand ambassador for your company.

The Drive to Comprehend

“Any investment in sales training is an investment in your own gross profits.” – Roy H. Williams

How do sales reps get motivated? They do so by “attaining mastery, learning, improving, and creating.” Having access to up-to-date sales and marketing materials that focus on the key differentiators that set your products apart from competitors’ products, coupled with periodic training, your indirect sales teams will have a wealth of product knowledge at their disposal.

Satisfy this drive! Motivate sales reps even more by offering interactive training and quizzes—especially if you reward them for successful completion. The format of any training materials you provide should be easy to digest. One method of doing this is to provide it in a micro-learning architecture; that is, “rather than attempting to learn every aspect of a particular subject at once, its constituent elements are broken up into single, short, sharp lessons that are delivered individually.” If you can update the training materials on at least a quarterly basis, you’ll have fresh content with which to engage and motivate the reps who are charged with selling your products.

The Drive to Defend

“If you don’t believe in [a] product, or if you’re not consistent and regular in the way you promote it, the odds of succeeding go way down.” – Jay Conrad Levinson

Various interpretations of this drive often reference company culture and values, implying that this is more of a focus at internal employees at an organization. In fact, this drive can apply to your indirect channel organization as well, albeit in a somewhat different form. The end-goal of the “defend” drive is to make your indirect reps feel connected to your company and actually want to support it.

Channel marketers trying to motivate their indirect sales reps need to clearly define the goals and expectations of the channel. Any channel incentive program they offer, as well, should be perceived as fair to the reps; favoritism or targeting only a small segment of the sales organization is a hugely demotivating concept.

Satisfy this drive! If you have already created a magnetic corporate culture, you should think about how to create a trickle-down effect for your indirect channel; as mentioned in Leader’s Beacon, “organizations that have a strong vision or positive reputation in the marketplace can help create that alignment” with indirect sales reps. As part of your marketing and sales tools library, include communications around the corporate values and expectations for developing relationships with customers. Be transparent in your approach and provide key goals for the the channel sales organization. This sort of guidance helps the employee feel connected to your company—and that connection will go far in inching your product over the competition.


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