Intrinsic Motivation or Rewards? Which Results in the Most Sales?

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To be motivated means to be moved to do something. A person who feels no impetus or inspiration to act is thus characterized as unmotivated, whereas someone who is energized or activated toward an end is considered motivated.

 – Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci, Contemporary Educational Psychology, University of Rochester

Have you ever had an employee or colleague who, no matter how much commission you offer or reward you put in place, they still seem demotivated?

Perhaps you are that sales professional that just can’t seem to find motivation to keep going, why is this?

This is because extrinsic rewards do not motivate you intrinsically. Whether you’re offered a private jet or a round trip holiday to your favorite destination, you will still hate cold calling. The only way to change that is if you pay more attention to intrinsic motivation.

What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is when we do things for the pure love of it, not because we’re pressured, coaxed or rewarded for it.

Studies on intrinsic motivation began as early as in the 20th century, where researchers found that animals or organisms would engage in activities in the absence of rewards, and would refuse to perform certain activities in the presence of rewards.

The unanimous conclusion among researchers is that enhancing intrinsic motivation is beneficial to success – employees perform better when they have a bigger sense of purpose in their job.

If sales employees are internally motivated to perform their work, wouldn’t they succeed in sales and land more appointments?

Real-world examples


Founded by two ex-Facebook employees, Quora is a Q&A website where anyone can ask a question and get it answered by knowledgeable people.

In just a few years, it has grown to be one of the largest communities in this niche.


Well, the company has given users a sense of choice, competence and purpose. Users can award points to other answers, accrue points themselves and upvote questions to expert level.


To increase employee autonomy, Google introduced the 80/20 rule in their workplace. This rule encourages employees to spend 20 percent of their work time focusing on their own projects.


Successful innovations such as Gmail, Google News, AdSense and more. Employees felt that they had a bigger sense of purpose at work, and this improved their creative capabilities.

How can you increase intrinsic motivation in the workplace?

There are four main ways that you can do this:

Create a sense of purpose: Find out what your employees value in life and create rewards that match that. When people feel that they can accomplish something of real value, they have more internal motivation to perform.

Create a sense of progress: Often employers measure their employees on the numbers – How many sales they made or how many appointments they have secured. Intrinsic motivation implies that as an employer, you should reward employees for their progress.

Create a sense of competence: When employees are handling their work well and providing high-quality work regardless of the numbers, they should be praised. This will increase their intrinsic motivation.

Create a sense of choice: Employees should be free to choose how to best perform their work. This gives them a sense of control and ultimately increases intrinsic motivation.

Allow your employees the opportunity to use their best judgment to perform their tasks.


Ultimately, intrinsic motivation is driven by our beliefs. We do things the way we do because we believe certain things. Therefore, no amount of external motivation can help someone who is demotivated intrinsically.

Therefore, extrinsic rewards are good, but only as good as the value it contributes to the receiver’s intrinsic motivation. When rewarding our salespeople, we should look at how much value they place on those rewards instead of the value we place on them.

Want to learn more about how you can use intrinsic motivation to increase your sales? Talk to us! Click HERE.

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