How to build the perfect sales incentive

If you want to get more from your sales team you need a powerful sales incentive.

But knowing where to start can often be a daunting prospect for Sales Directors and Managers. So we’ve put together this simple 3 step plan for anyone wanting to get better results from their front line sales staff.

sales incentive guideIn this article:

Background: Why use non-cash rewards?

Rewarding and recognising your sales team with non-cash rewards will drive company success, it is that simple. Where cash-based commission payments are often lost amongst household bills, non-cash programmes deliver a far better return on your investment. A well thought out sales incentive can:

  • Increase sales team loyalty and retention
  • Build morale and motivation
  • Increase productivity and performance
  • Focus staff on your objectives
  • Generate awareness of your company values
  • Improve customer satisfaction

Creating a sales incentive that is aligned with your company’s values and objectives can have a direct impact on your bottom line and drive desired behaviours, if you follow some simple rules:

  1. Set clear goals – be realistic but ambitious
  2. Apply consistent and transparent ‘rules’
  3. Offer enticing rewards and a wide choice of them
  4. Deliver regular and compelling communication
  5. Above all keep it simple!

Seems straight forward enough? Then let’s get started with our 3 step guide…

Step 1: Data

Using your sales incentive data effectively is essential to ensure success. The programme data can be used to drive engagement, performance and overall participation by influencing what relevant and compelling content you create. Analysing the data available when developing an incentive programme ensures your efforts are put into the right areas from the start.

Incentive data

Why is data so important?

  • Data driven content means relevant content. A programme must be understood quickly to maintain focus on the overall goal
  • It allows for real time information to be displayed. League tables and dashboards highlighting an individuals’ current position maintain motivation and drives healthy competition
  • It allows for relevant motivational messages to be presented. Thus driving performance, providing hints and tips as well as showcasing key performers

Whilst the data created is paramount to ensuring a programme can achieve its full potential, to produce valuable information you first must input the right data:

  • Ensure you have a unique identifier for each individual
  • Clearly assign targets to teams and individuals
  • Input results regularly and consistently to track performance


Using the programme data…

…to drive engagement

  • Participant data can be used to create personalised web content and targeted communications
  • Reward redemption data ensures that you can offer a suite of desirable rewards


…to push targets and competition

  • Performance data can be published as results in league tables, a hall of fame, visual dashboards with a traffic light system and web generated performance posters
  • Data can be presented to Sales Managers in a quick and useful format to communicate their teams’ performance, allowing them to identify key groups – engage the inactive/low performers and motivate the middle/top performers


…to increase participation

  • Track how your participants navigate around your site and what communications materials spark interest, thereby allowing you to generate highly targeted communications that appeal to your different demographics


Step 2: Communication

A sales incentive acts as a fundamental tool to support companies in attracting and retaining talent whilst encouraging creativity. Having a fantastic programme without a clear communications plan however, is pointless. Effective communication is integral to its success.

A sales incentive should answer 5 simple questions right from the outset to ensure that your team know what they need to do and are motivated to do it:

Incentive communication


A clear communications plan should aid the launch, maintain participation and drive performance throughout the life of the programme. Get your programme communications right and reap the rewards:

  • Generate interest and build awareness of new products
  • Create desire to sell and drive behaviours
  • Boost competition and showcase winners
  • Maintain participation and motivation throughout the year


Creating a communications plan

Communication planAny programme will need a beginning, middle and an end (or continuous review). Creating a communications plan will allow for focus on each period in the programmes life and the appropriate messages for the audience. The message and medium must be targeted, using the most effective and valuable communication channels available for your segmented audience.


Pre-launch communications – tell your senior managers, channel partners etc. about the programme before the wider audience. This allows them to manage any questions at programme launch and helps gain manager buy in.

Launch – it does not have to cost the earth to launch your programme with a bang. With the technology now available, there are multiple ways to communicate your scheme without spending a fortune, from bespoke e-shots and downloadable posters, to training guides and brochures that piggy back on your current communications channels.

Ongoing communications – once the programme is launched it is important to maintain interest and motivation through regular and compelling communications. Using the programme data can provide a set of automated, targeted and cost effective communication tools:

  • Targeted e-shots based on performance – ‘top performers’, ‘close contenders’ and ‘steady eddies’
  • Targeted e-shots based on geo-demographics
  • Personalised web content
  • League tables and performance dashboard
  • Real-time data driven performance posters
  • Desirable rewards promotion
  • Manager toolkits and support

Programme review – take a temperature check on the programme at least once a year to monitor programme performance and adapt your communications as appropriate to drive success.

Step 3: Rewards

Supplying valuable rewards to your sales force has become a must for many business and establishing what reward will be most appreciated is vital. Getting the rewards offered right will drive desired behaviours. Think about your target audience, segment them and focus on what rewards will motivate them.

The reward structure must be appropriate; the right level of reward for the achievement. You can’t ask a sales person to hit 150% of their target for a reward worth just £5. It has to be relevant and realistic.


Creating a rewards structure

A clear plan of what you want people to do, how hard it is to achieve and what budget you have available to reward those achievements is first and foremost.

Reward structure


Which reward is right for your sales incentive?

There are a number of rewards available for a programme manager to choose from, including:

  • Vouchers
  • Gift Cards
  • Prepaid Cards
  • Merchandise
  • Experiences
  • Travel Incentives

Each has its own merits, but not all will be desirable to your audience or appropriate for the level of reward you wish to deliver. An end or year travel incentive to New York may attract the interest of your high flyers but seem unattainable by middle and lower tier performers. While lower performers may be attracted by the opportunity to purchase a new TV using vouchers earned from work, this may be seen as ‘small fry’ for your high flyers. A healthy mix of rewards is essential, each available via tactical and ongoing promotions.


Get staff involved

Your audience can and should be involved in the choice of rewards on offer. Use focus groups and staff surveys prior to the launch of any incentive programme to determine the most appealing suite of rewards to provide. If you are offering an end of year travel incentive why not tease your audience with a choice of three destinations, the most popular of which (as voted for by participants) will be available upon hitting target.

Much of the reward selection process may seem like common sense, a predominantly female audience will most likely not relish the opportunity to drive a Ferrari for a day but prefer a pampering experience, for example. However if you programme is to run for an extended period of time you should ensure that you offer spot rewards and several, lower value rewards throughout the course of the programme to ensure interest and participation levels remain high throughout.

Case Study – Volvo

Volvo sales incentive case studyVolvo wanted a programme to increase sales by 25% of their higher specification cars and increase sales of dealer fit accessories.

Their aim was to create a sales incentive with longevity to last beyond tactical initiatives that rewarded both sales and after sales staff. p&mm created an online incentive platform which offered the flexibility to add tactical campaigns as required. With a core identity ‘The Hub’ provided a one stop shop for all sales and after sales incentives.

Volvo video

Watch a video of the Volvo sales incentive in action >>

With an increase in car sales of 27% (over double that of the previous year) and an increase of 32.5% in accessory sales, the programme continues to be a real success. Furthermore the programme received a Silver Award for the Best Sales Incentive Programme at the IPM Awards.


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