This is the third article in a three-part series, “Unlocking Your Team’s Inner Drive,” from guest writer Tony Anticole, Challenger Advisor and founder and principal of Varna Group LLC.

This blog series has explored the idea of reframing a people manager’s job from “getting work done through people” to “motivating people to get work done.” This can be accomplished through tapping into intrinsic motivators: internal drives that Daniel Pink helps us to understand are hard-wired into each of us. Part one of this series focused on the motivator of mastery: people have a desire to build competence in areas that matter to them. In part two, we explored autonomy: as human beings, we have an innate desire to be self-directed.

The third and final intrinsic motivator Pink identifies is purpose. He writes, “Autonomous people working towards mastery perform at very high levels. But those who do so in the service of some greater objective can achieve even more.”

‘Why’ is more important now than ever

Several months into the pandemic, everyone is still looking for sure footing. Attention has become an all too precious and rare commodity. Now more than ever, a manager’s ability to rally and focus their people is essential.

Purpose is the motivation that comes from being connected to something larger than oneself. Managers play an outsized role in creating this connectedness for a team. One powerful way to tap into purpose as an intrinsic motivator is to focus on how messages are communicated.

Simon Sinek shares in his bestselling book “Start with Why” that the best companies not only communicate what they do, but why they do what they do—usually a purpose, cause, or belief. His all-too-true observation is that we spend too much time talking about “what” we’re going to do, which doesn’t motivate people as strongly as the “why.”

A practical way to know if you’re tapping into purpose with your communications: Play the head or heart game. When hearing a message of “why” a company or team is doing something, pay attention to see if the message is speaking to your head (is it hitting you in a rational way, something that your thinking mind understands?) or to your heart (is there some kind of emotional pull, a feeling associated with it?). If it’s hitting your head, the message is most likely in “what” land. If you’re feeling a tug at your heartstrings, we’ve entered into the land of “why.”

4 common ‘whys’ for sales transformation

I’ve had the unique experience of working with over a hundred organizations of all shapes and sizes during their sales transformation journeys. Over the years, I have noticed four themes of messages that sales leaders use as their “why” for launching a sales transformation initiative.

Let’s look at common messages sales managers use to communicate the “what” and “why” of different sales initiatives. As you read through each message below, play the head or heart game to see where each message hits you. Which messages are tapping into the intrinsic motivator of purpose?

1. Let’s make more money, y’all!

This is the most straightforward message I hear from sales leaders, and yet it’s perhaps the most interesting when thinking about purpose and intrinsic motivation. A message centered around “If we do this, you will make more money” is tapping into employees’ extrinsic motivation. There is perhaps no other role within a company that has a more if-then reward structure than sales: I hit my goal, I get paid. I don’t hit my goal, I don’t get paid. And if I don’t hit my goal repeatedly, I might get invited to investigate new opportunities to learn new skills and meet new people.

2. Fixing a problem or pursuing an opportunity

This message centers on helping the sales organization move from its current state to a desired future state. It could be about solving a problem, like defending a price premium, competing with an aggressive new competitor, or giving away too much margin. In other cases, it’s about capitalizing on a perceived opportunity, like the sales force having more things in their bags to sell after a merger or acquisition, moving to unseat an entrenched competitor, or launching a new product. Managers often position the sales transformation as part of the solution to enable the needed or desired change.

3. Increasing the value we bring

I’ve asked the question, “How many of you like talking to salespeople?” to sales teams around the world. What do you think the most common answer is? (Spoiler alert: It’s “no.”) That’s rather shocking if you think about it; is there any other career out there where someone wouldn’t be interested in connecting with someone who does what they do? This message speaks to the desire to transform how we are viewed by prospects and customers. Let’s not be content to be seen as merely salespeople; let’s earn the right to be seen and treated as a partner and trusted advisor.

4. Our customers need our help now more than ever

Everyone is looking for surer footing in the current environment. No one knows what things will look like in the coming months (or years). People’s appetite for a sales pitch is quite low—they want and need help. Prospects and customers want to know the answers to questions like: How should they be thinking and planning to make sure their decisions today don’t negatively affect the middle and long term? What are the risks or opportunities that the average person in their role isn’t paying attention to? What are best practices, or even anecdotes, that can guide their thinking? People will remember the individuals and vendors that were helpers during this time.

Did you play the head or heart game? If these themes hit you like they hit me, the first two fall more into the head territory, while the last two fall in heart territory.

In the battle for focus and attention of our teams in today’s environment, it’s the “why” messages speaking to the heart that will be our greatest ally, for both our own goals and for our team’s productivity and motivation.


Tony Anticole

Tony Anticole

Tony Anticole, Challenger Advisor and founder and principal of Varna Group LLC, helps companies increase engagement and innovation through management approaches that directly tap into people’s intrinsic motivators.