13 Do's and Don't for Incentivizing Your Sales Team

Dave Cherrie
May 7, 2021

Salespeople are all about the sale. But sometimes, they need a little more incentive.

Salespeople are all about the sale. But sometimes, they need a little more incentive.

Sales teams thrive on incentive programs—the knowledge and promise that if they do good work, they’ll be rewarded extra for it. However, the structure and tone of such programs need to be just right to make an impact. Here are some dos and don’ts to follow as you develop a plan for incentivizing your sales team.

The Do List

Sales teams can easily get stuck in a rut—and, surely, the pandemic hasn’t helped—so incentivizing them can restore some of the thrill they might be missing. Here are eight tactics to get that energy back:

1. Do think about incentives beyond commissions.

In many sales environments, commissions are a fact of life that salespeople accept and embrace. Stepping beyond that structure for incentives can energize employees and generate excitement from the sales team. Bonuses, contests, and rewards for important achievements that aren’t necessarily sales-related (e.g., successful cold calls, positive customer reviews) reinforce that the commission—which, of course, is the most important goal—isn’t the salesperson’s only goal.

2. Do use gamification.

Gamification turns everyday work activities—including sales—into a game, challenging employees to rack up points, climb leaderboards, and earn rewards. When used with sales teams, gamification turns each interaction and sale into more than just a chance at a commission, and it also helps increase employee engagement.

3. Do emphasize team/organizational goals and contests.

Individual contests can be effective in boosting productivity, but activities that emphasize teams or the entire sales operation often better engage employees and inspire them to work together. In an individual contest, perhaps only the top three leaders will be rewarded. With a team goal, everybody is rewarded, which encourages salespeople to support each other and celebrate every sales win.

4. Do keep individual competitions friendly.

Contests focused on the individual do hold some value—people may work harder knowing a reward awaits just for them. That said, individual competitions should stay friendly, celebrating the winners without piling on the losers. Leaderboards, for example, can show some of the leaders but not the entire sales roster; after all, someone could be having a tough sales week or month, but that doesn’t mean the team needs to know he or she is in last place.

5. Do set individual goals that can be gamified.

Not all incentives need to be team-wide. Individual goals can also be gamified, which challenges salespeople to meet objectives that make the most sense for them. A junior salesperson, for example, might not be able to compete with experienced coworkers, but the newbie can strive for goals that help the organization while strengthening their skills. With gamification, these goals are defined and can be tracked in a fun, momentum-building way.

6. Do give incentives employees actually want.

Many salespeople aren’t impressed with a company-branded tote bag or a better parking spot for a week. However, a $200 gift card from Amazon might catch their attention. Properly incentivizing your sales team means offering proper incentives, so give rewards that are practical and hold some value.

7. Do spread the joy.

Contests with just one winner risk that others’ interest will drop off as soon as they realize they won’t get first—and that can unintentionally hurt overall productivity. Structure competitions for multiple winners, making the reward structure broad enough so that everyone feels they have a chance to win something.

8. Do shout-out successes.

Recognition is a powerful tool to inspire sales teams. When someone does good work, shout-out their success and encourage others to congratulate them as well. In time, employees will start recognizing and complimenting each other for jobs well done, which boosts morale even further.

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The Don’t List

In the rush and excitement to implement new ways of incentivizing sales teams, managers should consider if their strategies will truly resonate with their employees. Here are five don'ts to keep in mind:

1. Don’t cap compensation.

Limiting the commissions your salespeople can make may seem like a cost-effective strategy—defending against unexpected compensation surprises that you didn’t budget for—but can produce the opposite effect with your team. A cap becomes less of a goal and more of a limit, so why should employees do anything extra knowing that a limit looms? If someone is going above and beyond, reward them with the commissions they’ve rightfully earned for boosting results. If high commission costs are a problem, rethink the compensation structure rather than setting a hard cap.

2. Don’t pit individuals against each other.

Sales contests shouldn’t be a Thunderdome, “two men enter, one man leaves” experience for employees. Instead of inspiring individuals, this competition can demoralize them if sales just aren’t going their way. Incentivizing sales teams should emphasize “team.” Structure contests so that they are friendly, promote employees supporting and cheering on each other, and give everyone a chance to earn an individual reward.

3. Don’t let things get ugly.

Similarly, when good-natured banter devolves into something meaner, it needs to be shut down. Trash talk that focuses on others’ negatives (e.g., “Tom couldn’t sell bottled water in the desert!”) weakens morale and hurts productivity. Some bragging is OK and can be fun as salespeople strive to outdo each other, but make sure it stays positive.

4. Don’t punish the underperformers.

Incentivizing your sales team doesn’t mean threatening them with unusual consequences, particularly as part of a contest that’s supposed to be friendly. For example, if a losing sales team is penalized a day off or is made to come in on a Sunday, that more than likely will sour morale and lead to employees turning on each other and/or despising their job. It also creates an “us versus them” mentality that can fracture the staff’s cohesiveness. Salespeople on commission already know what’s at stake for not making enough sales—don’t throw more pressure into the mix.

5. Don’t misunderstand the culture.

Some organizations thrive on being more cutthroat; others are touchy-feely. Some companies appreciate any incentive thrown at them; others will lose employees if rewards are too extreme or underwhelming. Your job is to match the sales team and company culture to an incentive program so that employees feel excited without being pressured and inspired without being overwhelmed. To do that, you need to truly understand your team and what will appeal to them.

If you are considering expanding gamification, we have one more thing you should do: Give your team a great app to track incentives, redeem rewards, and communicate with teammates. Arcade offers all that and more. Schedule a demo to see what our solution can do.

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