Sales Incentives: What Works and What Doesn’t?

sales incentives

The driving motivators behind performance can vary greatly from one individual to the next, but there are some groups who are generally fueled by the same set of rewards. Competitive by nature, salespeople will be intrinsically motivated to climb to the number one position. By adding in a few carefully selected sales incentives, you can capitalize on this competitive streak and really get your team to race full speed towards sales goals.

Finding the right rewards can be challenging, and that is because even in their likeness, all salespeople will be motivated in slightly different ways.

Sales incentives can be broken down into three categories. Let’s take a look at all three, and discover the incentives that work the best, as well as the ones that just aren’t as effective.

1. Tangible Sales Incentives

Tangible incentives have a clear dollar value, and are most commonly physical prizes such as electronics, gift cards, and jewelry.

What Works and Why: The key to offering a really effective tangible reward is understanding what will incentivize your specific team members. In general, salespeople are largely attracted to “leading edge” technology that they covet, but might not be able to justify buying for themselves. Keep your offerings fresh, as electronics can lose appeal if they are overused.

Know your team and always be thinking of what will speak to them the loudest. By providing a choice of several prizes, you will be able to please more people at once.

What Doesn’t Work: Cash is King, but it’s not always the best idea for a sales incentive. Sure, everyone loves receiving a cash prize, but once that money hits their wallet, it loses its reward value. Without pictures, a memory, or a physical object to commemorate the win, a cash prize loses its long term motivational value quickly. Gift cards can fall into the same trap, unless they are able to be tied to a memorable event (like a dinner or massage).

2. Intangible Sales Incentives

Intangible incentives are rewards that you can’t necessarily wrap up and stick a bow on. Recognition, praise, and extra time off fall into this category.

What Works and Why: Some salespeople are highly motivated by recognition, in which case public praise (like a mention in the newsletter) can be just as rewarding as a physical prize. Extra vacation days and half days are popular, and the benefit of these types of rewards is that they come in at low cost for the organization. Plus, winners will return to work feeling appreciated, refreshed, and ready to hit the ground running.

What Doesn’t Work: Intangible incentives are the go-to option for organizations looking to stretch their budget, but your reps might feel resentful if their incentives aren’t all that exciting. What’s fun and motivating to one sales team (dunking booth for the VP of sales?) might come off as cheesy and cheap to another. Oftentimes, it’s the simplest incentives that have the biggest impact, but you need to be sure that they will in fact resonate with your team members in order for them to be effective.

3. Adventure Sales Incentives

These incentives involve, as the name suggests, an adventure of some sort. Typically trips to desirable destinations, these kinds of rewards can also include less costly prizes like dinners and other outings.

What Works and Why: Big trips are typically the most motivating incentive for salespeople. Since these large, costly prizes are usually based on annual quotas, they provide sales teams with long term motivation. Those reps that meet their goal and make it on the trip are able to connect and bond with other winners and feel a sense of inclusion, in contrast to their team members who are left behind (and who will hopefully be more motivated to make next year’s trip).

If spouses are included in the adventure, their patience with long hours and business trips away from home will also be rewarded.

Since organizations can determine exactly how much the excursion will set them back beforehand, they can easily see what the stated goal must be in order for profits to justify the reward.

What Doesn’t Work: The reason adventure incentives are so successful is the appeal of the amazing experience attached to them. If a rep wins a trip and has an incredible time, they will work hard to ensure they make the next one, as well. That being said, large excursions take lots of careful planning in order to be successful. Cheap hotels and other accommodation mishaps can quickly taint an out of town adventure. Make sure that the trip will be a truly enjoyable experience in order to maximize long term motivation.  

Everyone can benefit from work motivators, but salespeople are particularly receptive to added sales incentives. Really make an effort to know your team and figure out what will best motivate them. Start with small rewards while you’re organization is still growing, and build up to more substantial prizes once you can afford it.  

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Published on June 11, 2015

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