9 incentives proven to motivate sales staff


Many business leaders will ask whether incentives actually work for salespeople. It’s simple. The numbers speak for themselves. A study conducted by the Incentive Research Foundation revealed that 90% of top performing companies use a sales incentive programme.

The same study showed how sales incentives can boost performance. When an incentives programme is built effectively to motivate employees by recognising and valuing their contributions, it has the potential to increase a business’ profits by a huge 44%.

Leaders of businesses that enjoy sales success understand this, implementing sales incentive strategies that create high-performing sales teams. In short, incentives work and can be crucial to a company’s achievements.

What is a sales incentive?

When businesses refer to incentives for sales staff, they are talking about a plan or a strategy that aims to drive motivation within its team to meet or surpass the performance metrics they’ve been set.

A sales incentive strategy typically includes non-cash incentive rewards, cash-based sales performance incentive funds (SPIFFs), or a combination of both.

How do you reward sales staff?

There isn’t a one size fits all format for rewarding sales staff because not all sales compensation is the same. Therefore, it’s important for businesses to structure incentives around their individual sales landscape and future goals.

It’s important to also remember that the world of sales has changed over recent years. Today’s salespeople are being tasked to sell all kinds of digital products. In fact, a Gartner study found that 77% of B2B buyers noted their most recent purchase was complex. This means that in many cases the average buying cycle is much longer than it used to be, and this has a knock on effect on sales and forecasting and what goals should be set.

Because of this, structured incentives and rewards for sales staff should be well-thought-out at all stages of the buying cycle. This can be done in four ways:

Incentives based on the type of sales role

Many businesses will have a frontline sales team, an onboarding sales team and a sales-aftercare team. While all are crucial to cement the sale, they all have different responsibilities and leaders should decide on individual goals appropriate to each role.

For example, let’s imagine the salesperson has sold a cloud-based IT platform, it’s likely that additional expertise will be required after the purchase is made. So the retention of that buyer is then put in the hands of the team who are experts in complex, technological products and aftercare.

With frontline sales reps responsible for acquiring the buyer, and then roles less directly linked to sales (such as tech support and customer care) responsible for keeping the buyer; businesses must categorise which roles will deliver the most growth for them and decide on appropriate goals to motivate each set of employees.

Split incentives

This type of approach works when you have separate sales teams working on the same deal. It is crucial that everyone works together so incentives shouldn’t be competed for – you don’t want six salespeople working on the same deal fighting to be the one who ‘clinches’ it and gets the incentive.

In this scenario businesses might consider a split incentive approach with clear rules of engagement.

For example, a global pharmaceutical company, which has sales staff in two different regions working on the same deal, could split its bonus allocation based on the workload of each member of the sales team. This means that their efforts are matched with their rewards. But, to assess workloads and settle any potential disputes over the allocations, the company must set up a mechanism that’s overseen by the HR department, which ensures all team members are delivering what they are meant to.

The pre-sales incentives

It's critical that salespeople stay driven and motivated and one way of helping to achieve this is by implementing a staggered incentive approach that encourages focus both in the short term and the longer term.

Businesses could look at rewarding teams on an interim basis; allowing sales teams to secure commissions before a deal is signed. It could be based on performance during the sales process. Or, to maintain a continued effort businesses could offer a larger monetary bonus at the final closing of the deal.

Motivation and tenacity are key in sales and winning a deal can be a valuable boost to a salesperson, so businesses should ensure their sales teams have a mix of both short term and long term sales opportunities.

Mixing digital sales with physical incentives

Customers are adopting an omnichannel approach to buying - using both human and digital channels. This means that sales reps are becoming exposed to risk in some cases where they are being left out of the sales process and thus, out of the running for rewards and incentives.

When this happens businesses need to look at ways of making online and mobile sales work for salespeople. One approach could be to reward teams that have aided the progression to an online sale, giving credit to those who have provided sales skills that digital can’t do on its own, such as

  • provide customers with a consultation
  • provide expertise

For example, an IT company could ask customers who buy online how they found out about the product, service, or the company and if a specific salesperson is mentioned then he or she would be given a sales reward, or a credit towards one.

What is the most popular sales incentive plan?

The most successful plans are ones that cater to a sales professional’s individual strengths and weaknesses and promote a sales team’s collaboration.

Every member of the sales team, or everyone involved in the sales process, must have a chance to be rewarded for their efforts, and sales managers must make a concerted effort to ensure rewards are personal, where possible, too.

Everyone is motivated in different ways and the best way to find out what motivates an individual is by asking them and then collaboratively setting personal sales performance incentive funds (SPIFs). Of course, to be inclusive managers will need to consider SPIFs for all of their team, but the benefits of a highly motivated salesforce and the growth the business enjoys as a result will be worth it.

How do you give incentives?

As mentioned at the start of this article, sales performance incentive funds (SPIFs) are typically given by way of cash incentives or non-cash rewards, or a combination of both. Both can be effective when applied in the right way:

Cash incentives

When you think of a sales job, the term 'commission' or 'bonus' will usually be thought of too and that's because the traditional way of rewarding a sales rep has always been with a cash commission structure. A rep is paid a basic salary and given monetary rewards monthly, quarterly or yearly on top of that base pay.

The salary is recognition for the salesperson’s time that is spent on tasks that are necessary regardless of the sales pitch outcome. Outside of selling the sales rep will be taking on administrative tasks, maintaining relationships, managing sales pipelines, updating customer information and many other things.

The monetary rewards on top of the salary will be paid according to the predetermined sales goals agreed by both the manager and the salesperson.

A monetary reward could be:

  • a commission-based program meaning reps are paid a % of the revenue from a closed deal
  • they could be paid a % of all sales after reaching a certain £ level by a certain time

It’s important not to cap commissions. Setting a limit could be a risk if the salesperson’s motivation dips once the goal has been met because the commission has been secured. Continually motivating your sales team to go above and beyond what’s already been achieved could reap rewards for the business’ growth.

Non-cash incentives

Non-cash rewards offer managers more flexibility and freedom. It also opens up an opportunity to be more creative which can be incredibly motivating for employees and can help senior leaders reinforce company culture.

Non-cash rewards are gaining traction in a big way. Nearly two-thirds of UK businesses use non-cash reward and recognition to promote desired behaviours.

While cash is viewed as a benefit or bonus, non-cash rewards are more dynamic. Cash is regarded as a business transaction whereas non-cash is viewed as something fun, memorable and shareable – cash incentives are deemed private and confidential but non-cash rewards create opportunities for team bonding and discussion.

9 incentives to motivate sales staff

So, now you know all about how to incentivise your sales team and the various ways you can develop your incentives strategy, let's look at what you can reward your team with.

1. Gift cards

Our One4all gift card has a maximum value of £120, which makes it a favourite for smaller, more regular, rewards. Your salesperson can choose their own reward and be given it in a physical or digital format, and there’s also the ability to brand the cards with your company’s logo and preferred design.

2. Supermarket vouchers

With the cost of living on the rise, a little help with the weekly food shop could go a long way for many people and help an employee with the household essentials. To make the incentive more desirable a popular choice for sales staff are M&S and Waitrose gift vouchers. It makes the weekly shop that bit more exciting and redeeming the incentive can feel more rewarding too. Also a great option to choose around occasions such as Easter and Christmas.

3. Subscription boxes

Subscription gifts are becoming more popular and there’s usually something for everyone’s interest – whether it’s a monthly sample of a new Gin, a lifestyle magazine, a beauty box or plastic free toiletries. There is a subscription for everyone.

4. Gym membership

If a member of your sales team has an interest in healthy living, consider an annual gym membership or covering their gym fee for a few months. It’s widely reported that happier, healthier employees are generally more productive, have improved overall efficiency and higher levels of motivation. A study in the Netherlands also found that strenuous physical activity at least three times a week reduces the amount of time spent on sick leave, so this incentive can only be a  good one!

5. Experiences

Many businesses enjoy rewarding their sales team with once-in-a-lifetime-experiences, offering an opportunity for them to encounter something new. Our own experience reward, Envy, provides a vast range of days out and weekends away your workforce can choose from, such as spa days, hot air balloon rides, and driving supercars.

6. Tickets to a show

Offering tickets to a national rugby or football game for sports fans is a very desirable incentive. Or if it’s theatre your employees like, consider a West End show or a Christmas production – making memories for their hard work.

7. A team night out

Make team bonding an even more memorable day by booking something special. A day of leisure at a luxury hotel or a surprise lunch and an afternoon off! The benefits of team building include better communication, employee motivation and employee collaboration. Fun activities that help people see each other in a different light allow them to connect in a different setting.

8. Learning and development opportunities

Investment in learning and development for salespeople looking to better their skills is a great incentive.But equally, if a team member has a leisure interest outside of their sales work, consider investing in upskilling there too, it can feel very rewarding for that employee – pottery, cooking, paddle boarding,the list is endless!

8. Extra days off

Offering an incentive that allows an employee to spend more time with their family, doing leisurely things or an extra day after a long Bank Holiday can be incredibly motivating. Employees are likely to appreciate this more here because in the UK we have less national Bank Holidays than many other countries do.

9. Charity donation

A sales incentive programme that aligns with the values of employees can be incredibly successful. Giving back to others feels almost as good as getting gifts and can be an incentive of choice for many. A recent report in Forbes highlighted that the growing millennial workforce is more likely to donate to charitable causes than other generations. Charity donations as an incentive really is the future - so make sure it’s a consideration when devising your incentives programme.

Want support with your incentive programme for your sales staff? Get in touch by filling out the contact form on the right or calling 0203 372 0669.

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