It seems like every conversation around motivating a sales force eventually turns towards the old ‘carrot and stick’ analogy.  Either we should reward our teams for doing what we want (carrot) or punish them for failing (stick).  Do you know where this analogy came from?  It came from an old farmer’s story about getting a donkey to plow.  I find it incredibly ironic when people discuss this as the “key to understanding sales force motivation” because:

  1. Your people are not donkeys and
  2. If it was that easy, there would be much greater sales of both carrots and sticks.

Donkeys are among the most stubborn animals in the world.  You can offer a donkey a whole truck full of carrots and you can hit them with a stick until you can’t lift your arm.  Guess what, if the donkey doesn’t want to plow, it isn’t going to plow.  (I have never had this specific experience, but my friend was a farmhand in Wyoming for the summer and I validated that Donkeys are, in fact the world’s most stubborn animal)

So, if that is the case, why is the ‘Carrot and Stick’ story in the motivational analogy hall of fame?  It’s because a lot of times the carrot works and a lot of times the stick works, but why?  They work because the donkey wanted the carrot and wanted to avoid the stick.  I will translate this to my own life.  I have wanted to lose weight and have for quite a while.  The ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’ for losing weight are numerous.  I would look better in my clothes (carrot), have more energy (carrot), and avoid a whole host of seriously life threatening diseases (big stick).

I know and have known all of these things for years, but I did not feel motivated to lose weight until a very personal thing happened to me.  One day as I was getting into my seat in an airplane, I realized that I was slightly uncomfortable.  Not ‘I’m wedged in the back of a 2 door car and can’t feel my legs’ uncomfortable, but more ‘I really wish I had an extra couple of inches on either side.’  That was it; I knew very clearly at that moment that I needed a plan to start losing weight.  The next day I started a diet; I have lost 26 lbs. since then, and I hope to lose many more.

What can you learn from my story? In spite of multiple rewards for losing weight and punishments for failing to do so, I was not motivated to lose weight until something happened that made it personal and made it immediate.   So as you work to motivate your sales teams, I can leave you with the following tips:

  1. Understand the wants and needs of your team members
  2. Tie your ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’ to things that personally matter to your team members
  3. Make your ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’ more relevant by making sure that your team members understand how they will impact them right now

Stick with these tips, and you will be plowing right through the competition!



Quit with the Carrot and Stick Analogy for Sales Team Motivation