Why You Can't Motivate Anyone In Sales© Alexskopje | Dreamstime.com

 I am not a motivational speaker.

While I am occasionally described as one—and I do speak at conferences, annual meetings and other events—the fact is that I’m not. For the simple reason that I can’t “motivate” anyone. And neither can you.

Whether you’re talking about a prospect, a member of your sales team, a volunteer, or anyone else in your business or personal life, you can’t motivate them to do what you’d like them to do.


Because motivation is internal. It’s personal. People decide what to do—along with when and how to do them—based on their own reasons, beliefs, and attitudes. You might have a dozen good reasons why you think someone should take a certain action, but they don’t because of their own reason. Which may be stupid, pointless or completely irrational. But it doesn’t matter, because that reason is theirs.

The good news is that you can tap into those personal reasons, beliefs, and attitudes to influence people. And there are lots of ways to do that.

So while you can’t motivate, you can:

1. Inspire
2. Encourage
3. Excite
4. Pressure
5. Cajole
6. Educate
7. Threaten
8. Incentivize
9. Guilt
10. Beg
11. Embarrass
12. Scare
13. Persuade
14. Shame
15. Manipulate
16. Trick

Which of these approaches you take will obviously depend on the situation and your relationship to the person you’re hoping to influence. If you’re trying to get a prospect to make a decision, you may want to inspire or excite them. If you’re after better performance from an employee, you might need to incentivize or threaten them. And if you’re dealing with someone who’s unethical, dangerous or mentally unstable, manipulation or trickery may actually be your best bet.

Whatever approach you use, keep in mind that in order for it to be successful, it has to connect to something the person cares about. So learn what’s important to them, what excites them, what scares them. Discover what they want more of and less of in their lives. Teach them what they don’t know and help them see the opportunities and dangers they weren’t aware of.

When we talk about “motivating” others, what we really mean is “influencing” them. The difference is subtle, yet important. You can’t motivate anyone but yourself. However you can potentially influence everyone you interact with. Learn about the people around you, develop your influence skills and you’ll see more sales, higher productivity and more success.