The Constance Group > Blog > Business > The Pitfalls of External Motivation: Why Sustainable Success Lies Within
Posted by: Tony Leone
Category: Business, Motivation, Success
The Pitfalls of External Motivation: Why Sustainable Success Lies Within

The Pitfalls of External Motivation: Why Sustainable Success Lies Within

As a sales leader, I’ve seen firsthand the power of motivation in driving performance and achieving results. In the fast-paced world of sales motivation is often seen as the key to success. However, there’s a crucial distinction between external motivation, which comes from outside sources, and internal motivation, which stems from within. While external motivation may provide a plenty of boost, it sometimes falls short. In this article, I’ll delve into three main reasons why external motivation isn’t sustainable on its own for sales professionals like us.

1. Limited Control and Dependence

External motivation typically relies on outside factors such as rewards, recognition, commission, or pressure from others. While these incentives can spark action and drive performance, they also create a dependency that can be detrimental in the long run. Relying solely on external motivators means relinquishing control over our own drive and determination. Plus, if any of the external motivators change, such as the incentive trip going away, or a sales manager you were inspired by leaves, your motivation just left as well.

Think about it: when our motivation hinges on external rewards or praise, we become hostages to circumstances beyond our control. What happens when the rewards dry up or the recognition fades? Our motivation wanes, and we find ourselves struggling to muster the same level of enthusiasm and effort. This dependence on external validation sets us up for a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, making it difficult to maintain consistent performance over time.

As sales professionals, we thrive on autonomy and self-reliance. We’re at our best when we’re driven by our own internal compass, guided by our passion for what we do and our desire to excel, and rewarded appropriately by external rewards. By cultivating intrinsic motivation—motivation that comes from within—we take back control of our destiny. We no longer need to wait for external rewards or approval to fuel our drive; instead, we become self-starters who are driven by our own sense of purpose and fulfillment. If we have that, then we find the external rewards that positively reward our internal drivers.

Here is a perfect distinction:

Trip to Mexico for being Top Sales Person = External.

Hating not being number #1 on the leader board for sales = Internal.

2. Short-Term Focus at the Expense of Long-Term Growth

External motivation often prioritizes short-term gains over long-term growth. Whether it’s chasing quarterly targets or striving for immediate rewards, the focus tends to be on quick wins rather than sustainable success. While this approach may yield results in the short term, it often comes at the expense of building lasting relationships, honing our skills, and achieving greatness.

After every achievement there is often a plateau. In fact my father would routinely ask me, is your success preventing you from achieving greatness. If your external reward has a ceiling, many times we only feel the need to live up to that ceiling, never knowing what we could have become if driven internally to become more.

Internal motivation encourages us to adopt a more holistic view of success—one that encompasses not only immediate results but also sustainable growth and development. Instead of fixating on quarterly quotas, we focus on building enduring relationships with our clients, mastering our craft, and investing in our personal and professional growth. By aligning our actions with our long-term goals and values, we set ourselves up for sustained success and fulfillment in the sales profession.

3. Vulnerability to External Factors

External motivation is inherently vulnerable to external factors that are beyond our control. Whether it’s changes in market conditions, shifts in company policies, or fluctuations in the economy, external motivators are subject to external volatility. When these external factors change or disappear, so too does our motivation, leaving us feeling adrift and demoralized.

Consider the salesperson who’s motivated solely by the promise of monetary bonuses. If the company decides to restructure its incentive program or tighten its budget, suddenly, that external motivator is no longer available. As a result, the salesperson’s motivation takes a nosedive, and their performance suffers as a consequence.

In contrast, internal motivation is far more resilient in the face of external challenges. When our motivation comes from within—from our passion for our work, our commitment to our goals, and our belief in ourselves—we’re better equipped to weather the storms that inevitably come our way. Instead of being at the mercy of external forces, we draw strength from within, tapping into our intrinsic drive and resilience to overcome obstacles and emerge stronger on the other side.

Not all motivation is created equal. While external motivation is absolutely critical to success for most sales people, it often falls short when it comes to sustaining long-term success and fulfillment. By recognizing the limitations of external motivation and cultivating our internal drive and determination, we empower ourselves to chart our own course, achieve our goals, and thrive in the ever-changing landscape of sales. So let’s shift our focus from solely seeking validation from external sources to cultivating the intrinsic motivation that lies within each of us. That’s where true success and fulfillment await.

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