We recently evaluated a sales team on how they felt about money by using a standardized test. A big part of the test was to determine each individual’s sense of worthiness of money and how their thinking patterns compared to the thinking patterns of people in various income brackets.

The sales people who believed themselves worthy of money had the same patterns of thinking of people in higher income brackets and were statistically kicking the heck out of their peers in sales. Combined with observations made by their direct supervisors, a picture emerged of people who discussed money, price, and value with the same natural confidence as weather, sports, and traffic.

Another group of people emerged from our study–self-saboteurs. These were people on performance plans, (HR code for “on the way out the door”), who often had a big disparity between how much they made (high), and the way they were wired to think about money (low). We noticed that if someone has the thought patterns of a $50,000/year earner and is making $100,000/year, they start to implode. Those people do not feel they deserve to be at the income level they are and so they do things that will get them back to where they believe they should be.

So, what does this mean for sales people and executives who hire sales people?

Being candid, my experience with thousands of sales people has taught me to look for certain thought patterns in sales people. Those who have them are more likely, though not guaranteed, to be more successful. Here are some of the things I look for:

  • Car, boat, cabin, or plane?–Financial ambition is often a good indicator of success. While just about every successful sales person has a desire to increase their income, most have an internal gauge for themselves of what having “made it” really means. The car/boat/cabin/plane question helps determine what each person believes signifies that they have made it. The point for me is to understand where that person sees himself or herself. And if someone does not have a clear picture of what having made it means, that tells me something as well.
  • How do they stack up?–Sales people’s ambitions are often framed in reference to the standards set by other people. Who are your sales people measuring themselves against? It probably isn’t Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, but whoever it is provides a good measure of your sales person’s goals. If it is modest, they may not be the best fit for the position you are hiring for.
  • What would mom and dad say?–We get a lot of our wiring about money from our upbringing. I was raised by an earner, rather than a saver. My thoughts reflect a desire to figure out ways to earn more money rather than worrying about how many lights are on in the house or if the furnace is set to 68 degrees. Other people were raised to haggle for every nickel, clip coupons, and always look for a deal. I am neither endorsing nor condemning either–but I want to know people’s wiring about money and understand if it is a good fit for their role.

If you are using money as a motivator for performance in your business, it is really critical to understand what it means to each person. I find that too often, leaders design programs around either the industry in which they operate or what motivates themselves. That is fine, if everyone is wired like you.

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