Feature Article - January/February 2017

Motivating Peak Sales Performance

Creating Effective Sales Incentive Programs

By Deborah L. Vence


Sales incentive programs are important for recognizing and rewarding employees for a job well done. But how such programs are crafted and the types of rewards given have to be relevant to the recipients, with motivation being the key.

"Motivation" is a trend right now in sales incentive programs. "It isn't all about extrinsic prizes anymore. You need to know that people are motivated differently," said Maggie Wenthe, solution manager, marketing strategy, ITA Group Inc., a West Des Moines, Iowa-based company that specializes in creating and managing events, incentives and recognition programs.

A 2016 study by the Incentive Federation Inc. revealed that program managers use a variety of rewards to recognize their sales teams. Among the various reward types, points' budgets tend to be the richest across all firm sizes.

"All of us have some forms of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators at play," Wenthe said. "That's why ITA Group created Motivology."

Motivology is ITA Group's own brand of motivation that identifies and balances the internal and external motivators needed to align and motivate your people and significantly boost your bottom line.

"Technology is allowing us to measure and analyze so much more than ever before, and to create personal experiences," Wenthe said.

Program Trends

While motivation is important, you have to know your audience, too. "Times are changing!" Wenthe said.

"With the emergence and daily use of multiple technologies, your audiences' expectations have changed," she said. "Pair that with a young workforce moving in and being able to take the job they want, and you need to stand out from your competitors to attract the talent and skilled workforce you need. Incentives and recognition programs will help you do that. (Also, they will help you build the organizational culture all job roles want to work for, not just sales teams)."

Similarly, Brian Carr, senior director of sales operations, Next Level Performance, a Dittman Company, said technology has become a part of every aspect of our lives.

It is important, he said, that sales incentive programs adapt to an ever-changing world and make it easy for program participants to receive communications and interact with the program on the go.

"In this 'instant' society, where we are basically connected at all times, it is essential to provide 'real-time' updates on the status of where a participant stands in a sales incentive, as well as quick access to reward redemptions," he said.

In addition, there is a renewed focus on sales incentive program design.

"Sales incentives must inspire employees to do the right thing, for the organization and the consumer. Incentive and recognition companies can provide the expertise needed to design a program to be effective and to achieve intended results," he said.

"While it may not be a trend, per se, the fact that sales incentive programs have made a resurgence as a business strategy is worth noting," said Russ Frey, director, People-Centered Design, Maritz Motivation Solutions.

"After having navigated a difficult economic period and burned through pent-up demand, many companies are rediscovering sales incentives as a potent tactic where growth can be hard to come by," he said.

"It seems like we're also frequently reminded about the importance of good program design," he said. "Well-designed programs invite people to contribute their full potential, while those that are poorly designed not only underperform, but risk causing lasting damage to a brand."

A more balanced, people-centered approach should enable participants to get what they want within the context of improving the sponsoring company's business.

"It's a subtle but important shift away from approaches that start with the question: How can we get them to increase our sales? to How can we help them achieve their aspirations when they support our brand?" Frey said.

In other trend-related observations, he noted that the availability of more and richer data plus advanced analytics capabilities helps companies understand how a program is performing with near-immediacy and quickly adjust as needed.

"Providing participants with the autonomy to customize their own program experience and share it with others can increase motivation and program impact," Frey said. "Highly personalized, triggered communications [not] only [can] deliver relevant progress feedback, but also serve up actionable cues about what to do now in order to achieve the next performance milestone.

"Finally," he added, "with multiple generations and multiple geographies represented in the workplace, it's important that program elements like communications, learning, feedback and rewards serve to unify a salesforce by thoughtfully representing the sponsoring organization's purpose, values and aspirations."