Sales Incentives for Sales People

October 6, 2016 Deb Broderson

As an HR professional, sales team lead or sales executive, finding a sales team that is committed and passionate about the products or services you sell can be a challenge. It’s also important to keep those employees engaged and motivated to assure you retain top talent.

Image result for boredOver one-half of employees in the United States are not engaged at work and almost 18 percent are actively disengaged according to a Gallup poll. That means that less than 32 percent of working adults in America are engaged at work – and the numbers are worse for sales teams. According to Gallup, only 28 percent of sales employees are engaged in their work.

So, what makes salespeople engaged, motivated and ultimately successful? The answer is three-fold.

1. Focused Sales Incentives for Sales People

Image result for targetedFor starters, compensation should go beyond the traditional pay and commission structure. The best compensation plans take  into account and award for productive behaviors instead of focusing solely on the number or amount of sales closed. This structure makes sense for the industry and is based on efforts that directly impact sales, like the number of calls the salesperson entering accurate information into your CRM tool,  or taking training that will increase their knowledge,  and therefore their value to your organization.

In many cases, sales incentives are also tiered for different performance levels. This means that there are several incentives, each at a different sales level or with a different focus. This way, lower performing salespeople have a chance to receive an incentive, otherwise the bonuses would only go to the top salespeople. Most sales come from so-called "core performers" - they aren't the top-sellers but they are very consistent. A University of Houston study found that core performers display more effort if given additional sales reward tiers while top performers are unaffected but no less motivated.

2. Non-Monetary Rewards

The saying that money isn’t everything rings true when it comes to engaging sales people. Contests and other ways of recognizing your salespeople can go a long way, in some cases even more so than monetary rewards. However, “the problem with contests is that the superstars usually win them. Research shows this decreases the likelihood of core performers to increase their performance.” (Steenburgh and Ahearne)

Ideally, sales executives would design contests so that both superstars and core performers would go home satisfied, but too many incentive programs fall short. The key to building a successful strategy is to offer gifts (not cash) for the lower-level prizes that can be seen as equal, or even superior, to the top-level prizes. For instance, say your program offers a free dinner out. Top performers may get to enjoy a four-star restaurant while lower-tier salespeople get a two-star dinner. This way, both award winners get an experiential incentive.

3. Company Relationships

Of course, sales incentives alone won’t keep your salespeople engaged. The best salespeople create value for customers beyond that of the actual products or services your company sells. They sell the company as a brand and create emotional connections with their customers. Creating a culture where salespeople build long-standing relationships usually starts with a strong internal network. These relationships are also built using strong support resources and a positive relationship with management.

If your company is looking to motivate your sales teams, keep in mind that money isn’t everything. Engaging salespeople in a meaningful way requires a combination of monetary and non-monetary rewards as well as the development of strong company relationships, both amongst team members and with the company as a whole. If you have questions about how you can institute policies that see real results in your business, visit our resource library or contact us directly. We are happy to help.

Looking for more information? Send me an email!



Adkins, Amy, “Majority of U.S. Employees Not Engaged Despite Gains in 2014,” Gallup, January 28, 2015. Accessed:

Chung, Doug J., “How to Really Motivate Salespeople,” HBR, April 2015. Accessed:

Fuller, Ryan, “What Makes Great Salespeople,” HBR, July 8, 2015. Accessed:

Steenburgh, Thomas and Ahearne, Michael, “Motivating Salespeople: What Really Works,” HBR, July-August 2012. Accessed:

Yohn, Denise Lee, “The Best Salespeople Do What the Best Brands Do,” HBR, August 15, 2016. Accessed:

About the Author

Deb Broderson

Deb Broderson comes to Perks with 30 years of diverse experience leading channel marketing, marketing operations and program management teams within the technology industry. Deb has provided strategic direction to Fortune 500 clients, developed and executed global, multi-channel, go-to-market strategies and created worldwide field marketing organizations. Deb has worked on both the agency and client-side of the business, providing a well-rounded perspective to client challenges. Deb was honored as one of the Top 50 Channel Chiefs in North America by CRN.

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