When I was interviewing for my first sales position, career counselors told me that interviewers would be seeking "hungry" sales candidates, meaning candidates who were anxious for financial success. When asked if I was hungry, I enthusiastically replied that I was famished. Besides being true, this statement amused one or two interviewers, and perhaps helped me land a job.

Rick Davis I was broke then, scared, and in desperate need of a job that would give me the opportunity to achieve financial freedom. Unfortunately, what I said to win the job did not translate into sales success. In fact, it was years later, when I began to hunger for growth, that I actually began to rise as a salesman and achieve the results–and financial success–I desired.

Today, many managers and colleagues still contend that hunger for financial gain is a strong predictor of sales success. I disagree. Incentive motivation is not a strong predictor of success. It would be like a young man who professes a strong desire to win the championship but practices poorly during the week. You achieve success by focusing not on the goal, but rather on the skills necessary to reach the goal.

There is no clear evidence that shows a cause-and-effect link between financial want and sales success. One sales manager for a Missouri lumber dealer notes that he pays his salespeople a straight salary, and that it's the opportunity for advancement and organization success that drives them to excellence. A sales manager in Oregon for an extremely successful LBM dealer bristles at the notion that money is the best motivator. He believes that passion, heart, and helping customers is what makes his top salespeople successful.

In fact, too much focus on incentives and compensation leads salespeople to cut margins, manipulate customers, and employ tactics that can deteriorate business relationships. Many salespeople in desperate need of money still have failed to achieve sales success. I can attest from personal experience that I worked hard, like hundreds of other salespeople, and failed in spite of a hunger for financial remuneration. Meanwhile, many salespeople who are not focused solely on financial gain seem to become tremendous Sales Leaders.

The bottom line is that the desire for success is neither a guarantee nor a predictor of success. The path toward the goal of financial reward begins with the desire to learn the skills of selling.

The greatest salespeople you will meet are hungrier for personal growth than they are for money. They recognize that developing sales skills naturally leads to financial rewards. Personal growth is not the same as career growth, which is a desire for promotion and title. Personal growth is the expressed desire for ongoing learning and a curiosity for knowledge that translates into better job performance. Personal growth is the internal push for excellence and a drive to constantly develop knowledge and skills.

Thus, if you want to succeed, take your eye off the money goal for a moment and focus on getting into selling shape. Great athletes do not become champions by simply professing a desire for success, but rather by diligently training themselves mentally and physically for the challenge. Great sales warriors are no different.

Your desire for financial wealth is not an impediment to success, but it is hardly the foundation of it. The real key to success is a steady training regimen that includes books, literature, instructional CDs, and critical conversations with your peers about the means to realizing sales success. The investment you make in your heart and mind will reap the dividends you seek in your purse. If you want financial rewards, take your mind off the results and focus on the effort. Prepare with the skills for success, and the rewards will be greater than you ever imagined.

–Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders Inc., a Chicago-based sales training organization. 773.769.4409. E-mail: rickdavis@buildingleaders.com