Sales Recognition

Are your sales incentives working? How to motivate your sales force in a new normal

Think of your top sales rep.

They work hard. They close tons of business. They’re constantly learning and improving. They support the rest of your team. They add to your sales culture. And there are tons of companies that would love to have your top salesperson on their team. 

To keep your best sellers closing business at your organization, you need them to feel appreciated, seen, and motivated. 

Are the sales incentives you’re offering today doing this? If you’re doing more of the same—gift cards bound for junk drawers, cash bonuses put toward mortgage payments, group trips to Cabo—our bet is no.

People want to be rewarded in ways that matter to them. They want to spend quality time with people they love. To cross an adventure off of their bucket list. To try something they never thought they could do. And your sales incentives strategy should reflect this. 

In this post, we’ll explore the shift to more custom, flexible sales incentives, and give you tools to approach your sales performance strategies for a happier, stronger sales team.

A new era of sales incentives has arrived.

In a LinkedIn poll, Andy Paul, host of Sales Enablement Podcast, asked his community of sellers if they wanted to go back to a traditional President’s Club now that group travel is possible.

A screenshot of a LinkedIn poll that asks: Do you want to go back to a traditional President's Club trip? 65% of 358 votes said 'No: I want to choose my reward.'
65% of 358 respondents said they wanted to 'choose their reward'.

Over 350 people voted and 65% said “No, I want to choose my reward.” Turns out, the traditional President’s Club—the ultimate sales incentive in years past—isn’t what the people really want. 

You may be thinking, We know what our sellers want. We have a cash incentive program and the entire team loves it! And you’re right: employees do report that they prefer cash incentives. But just because we say we want cash doesn’t mean it's the most effective motivator. A study from Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) shows that receiving a cash bonus ranked pretty dang low (6 out of 10) when rewards were correlated to “job satisfaction” and for “motivation to do best work”. On the other hand, experiential rewards—like paid time off and an incentive trip for yourself and a loved one—ranked at the top.

“Cash bonuses are almost universally prioritized as the most important way people want to be rewarded [...] Yet, cash bonuses frequently become expected, or treated as part of compensation, and did not highly correlate to motivation or job satisfaction.” ––The Incentive Research Foundation

What this data tells us is: Sales professionals have high expectations (and rightly so!) for their incentives when they hit or exceed their sales goals. A reward redemption experience bogged down by complicated rules, programmatic hurdles, or that doesn’t meet their expectations runs the risk of being demotivating.

The top 3 things salespeople say motivates them most

You need sales incentives that your sellers truly want and that will motivate them to do their jobs. But the same-old, one-size-fits-all sales rewards miss the fact that your sellers are individuals with unique life circumstances, wants, and needs.

They also don’t account for the fact that the pandemic changed things. Your salespeople had to slow down, come out of hyperdrive, and stay home. As a result, many sellers realized they want something different: personalized sales incentives they can enjoy during some much needed downtime for themselves or that they could share with their family and friends. Here’s what sales reps really want from your sales incentives program.

1. “I want more flexibility and choice.” 

Sales reps are often on the go, hopping from airports to customer meetings to live events. But when the pandemic shut things down, many learned that it doesn’t have to be that way. They don’t have to go into the office for every customer meeting. They don’t have to travel to close deals. They don’t have to attend conferences in person.

In a post-pandemic world, salespeople want options when it comes to how they work. The same applies to how they’re recognized and incentivized. When it comes to incentive trips, for example, the Incentive Research Foundation found that “participant flexibility” is a top priority for Top Performers. According to the same study: 

“Top Performers were nearly twice as likely to list flexibility as their most important consideration...By focusing on ‘flexibility’ of the incentive experience, Top Performers recognize the value in personalization. It is not just about what something costs, or its equivalent cash value, but rather the personal significance of the reward to the individual.” 

Salespeople want to be incentivized on their terms. They want to be able to choose when, where, and how they’re rewarded. And if you can give them that choice and flexibility, you’ll find yourself with a more motivated sales force.

2. “I crave connection with my loved ones.” 

In this pandemic, many sellers realized how much they’ve been missing time with their friends and family. And now, they want more time, space, and energy to connect with the people they love and do the things they love to do.

In a recent webinar, Mark Kesti, President and Chief Revenue Officer of Innovo Sales, acknowledged how challenging it can be for sellers to connect with loved ones: “I’m not proud to be a lifetime Marriott Platinum Elite member,” he shared. “That’s been a lot of time away from my family, and I can never get that time back.”

Unfortunately, many incentive experiences—like the traditional President’s Club—take more family time away from sellers. Research shows that 47% of employees would strongly prefer experiences with their families as incentives. But just 6% reported receiving a reward that gives them time with their family.

Sales leaders who can give their sellers the gift of time back—to spend however they see fit—will undoubtedly see a more motivated sales team and improved selling performance. Not to mention, a stronger sales culture salespeople are eager to be a part of.

3. “I need to prioritize my wellbeing.” 

Sellers are under a lot of pressure under normal circumstances. Between constant travel and pressure to hit quarterly quotas, it can be challenging for sales reps to take the time and space to look after their wellbeing.

But the pandemic put even more stress on folks. Burnout rates skyrocketed to 72% only a few months into lockdown, creating urgency for employees—especially salespeople—to prioritize their mental, emotional, and physical health. As a sales leader, it’s your responsibility to help your salespeople care for their wellbeing, so they can keep thriving as humans and closing as sellers.

With shifting seller priorities and motivations, innovative sales leaders are thinking about how to adapt their overall approach to sales incentives. They’re asking important questions like:

  • What are our objectives with our sales incentive programs?
  • How can I help my sales team avoid burnout and stay engaged?
  • What is truly motivating my sales force?
  • How can I keep my entire sales team motivated, not just my top performers?
  • What new types of incentives will inspire my people beyond baseline? How can we offer something different that doesn’t drain our time and resources?

And many are turning to experiential sales incentives, which offer a new way to motivate sellers by giving them the flexibility, connection, and sense of wellbeing they crave.

"Before Blueboard, we ran SPIFFS every quarter for our sales team. Like most companies, winners got cash rewards, but no one talked about it after the fact. Our CRO is big on recognition, and wanted a sales incentives program that was more notable, memorable, and reflected our company culture. Now, we share pipeline generation and new logo wins from our Blueboard experiential rewards contests in our board deck.” —Adam E., Former Director, GTM Planning, Amplitude

Plus, experiences are the only rewards that never feel predictable, and gain momentum as individual reps win—and continue to win. Once a rep goes on their first experiential reward, and they share it with friends, family, and their coworkers, their motivation only builds towards earning the next one. As employee engagement with your program builds, reps get a taste for experiences, and are looking forward to their next experience.

Watch: A discussion on the power of experiential sales incentives. 

It’s not easy to shake up the status quo–which is why it’s always useful to hear how other companies are getting things done. In a webinar with sales leaders and incentive experts, we dove deep on the topic of seller motivation, sales incentives, and President’s Club:

  • Sharline Anderson, Event Director at HireVue (responsible for group travel incentives)
  • Mark Kesti, President and Chief Revenue Officer at Innovo Sales
  • Kevin Yip, Co-Founder and COO at Blueboard

10 highlights from the experts to switch up the sales incentive status quo:

Skip to 10:30 for a discussion on what’s top of mind for sales leaders right now as they think about sales culture. (Hot topics include retention, recruiting, and burnout.)

1. “When you have multiple job offers in front of you, the differentiating factors become: What are the benefits? How am I going to be appreciated? Am I going to feel good about working here? Am I going to feel seen? And all of those things come into play. In order to be competitive, we have to choose to reward and recognize employees in memorable ways. Sometimes it’s not just the paycheck. It’s not just ‘Hey, I'm going to get this base and this bonus.’ it’s… ‘I'm going to feel good about this, I'm going to feel wanted and appreciated’.” – Sharline Anderson

2. “We can’t be successful as a sales organization if we don’t have engaged folks on the team. It’s all about the people. That’s top of mind for us and the folks we work with.” – Mark Kesti

Skip to 17:50 for a discussion on how sales incentives strategies are changing in this new normal.

3. “It’s about thinking of things differently and what sales people really want to see as a reward. What is a reward? If you think about it in terms of President’s Club, you’re being recognized for all your hard work, but let’s face it, you have to be on because you’re with your sales leader. It’s not relaxing. That was one piece of feedback we got that was really surprising to hear. There’s benefits we’re seeing [to Blueboard President’s Club] that we weren’t anticipating.” – Sharline Anderson

Skip to 25:26 for a discussion on priorities and focuses as you shift your sales incentives strategy, with a focus on President’s Club.

4. “You contract your [President’s Club] months in advance, so that date’s set. And every single year, you hear ‘my wife’s having a baby’ or ‘my oldest is graduating high school’, sometimes it’s ‘we have little kids, and we don’t have someone to watch them.’ Every year we had team members who can’t participate in that reward. With Blueboard, that went away. Everyone gets to receive that reward and experience it. Another unexpected benefit — you don’t have your entire sales force out of the office for a week.” – Sharline Anderson

5. “This year, one of our team members used their Blueboard reward to create a backyard playground for their kids. Another of our top sales people said, ‘I travel all the time, I’m always away from my family. I wanted to do a trip where I can take my family, my kids with me.' That’s exactly how he used his reward. We’re seeing that it’s exponentially more meaningful when they get to choose what it is that they’re doing and how they’re being rewarded.” – Sharline Anderson 

“Originally, we were thinking this would be a one-time deal,” explained Sharline. “But we sent out a pulse check survey just to see how people were responding to Blueboard. The response was overwhelmingly ‘let’s keep doing this because I like having a choice’—even from people I wasn’t expecting to hear that from.” – Sharline Anderson 

6. “We have a client engaged in these types of [Blueboard] incentive programs and one of the sales folks mentioned to the sales manager how she and her husband were standing around the laptop looking at all of the different options they had and it wasn’t just about the employee, it was about the employee’s family, loved ones, as well. Over the last year and a half, we’ve all really learned how valuable those relationships are.” – Mark Kesti

Skip to 37:20 for a discussion on how sales recognition moments can help to create connection.

7. “We do big company-wide meetings, kick offs, small team meetings, and those are great ways to connect and have that 1:1 time or group time with leadership and extended team members. But we’ve had a paradigm shift in how we view bigger sales incentives like President’s Club. We’re no longer looking at it as facetime with the boss. Instead, we want to give our reps something meaningful. And we want it to be meaningful to them because we appreciate and value them. There’s lots of other opportunities in the year for us to get together, but this time — we want it to be meaningful.” – Sharline Anderson

8. “There’s a point at which the marginal utility of additional revenue doesn’t add to more happiness. Once it gets over that threshold, over time, there’s not an incremental happiness benefit. So it’s not just about financial rewards. Recognition, feeling part of a team, being recognized among your peers is really motivating.” – Mark Kesti

Skip to 46:00 for a discussion on how to get buy-in and shift your sales incentives and President’s Club strategy.

9. “[There’s an opportunity] for the company to leverage the good will from sales incentives to support culture and reinforce that they’re people-focused, not just bottom-line focused. One of our clients makes a very conscious effort to share pictures and posts that their sales reps had while they were on their [Blueboard] incentive trip. It reinforces the value, the benefit, and that cultural need to say ‘you’re important to us’.” – Mark Kesti

10. “We hesitated at first [to use Blueboard] because it was so different. But they made it so easy. There were slide decks to address different issues. They made this great video that we ran at kick off and, by the end, everyone was like, ‘oh my gosh, I wish we had this last year.’ So launching was very frictionless. And as people are redeeming their rewards, it’s mindless for me. Everyone at Blueboard is so helpful, they keep you informed, you have your dashboard — it's very very easy. I was expecting friction, and it just didn’t happen. It kind of sells itself when you use all the Blueboard tools, to be honest.” – Sharline Anderson

How you can increase sales motivation with more innovative incentives.

If you want to keep your top sellers closing business at your company, and motivate the rest of your sales force to level up, it may be time to rethink your approach to sales incentives. People’s priorities have changed, and they’re getting more and more vocal about what motivates them: things like flexibility, choice, quality time. And if your incentives can’t give them those things… are they really great incentives at all?

Think of it this way: we all have things we’ve always wanted to try, but won’t try or invest in for ourselves. When you reward sales reps (or any employees) with experiences, the barrier to taking the leap and finally indulging in a passion or trying something new—whether it’s a family trip to Disneyland, going scuba diving for the first time, or exploring the Alaskan wilderness with a dear friend—is removed. The focus becomes not how they’ll discover a new interest or revive an old one, but when. Your people are empowered to get out and into the world, spend time with their loved ones in ways that matter and are most meaningful to them. 

Here are a few actions you can take today to rethink and improve your sales incentive ideas:

  • Talk to your sellers. If you’re rethinking your sales incentives strategy, make sure to talk to your salespeople. Ask them what they want from an incentive. Find out what’s important to them and what motivates their sales performance. Offer alternatives beyond cash, and see what they choose. Then, put your insights into action with a sales incentive plan that motivates sales reps to hit specific metrics in the sales cycle like new sales and other sales targets and milestones.
  • Get clear on your sales incentive objectives. Are your business objectives for your sales incentive program more self-serving than motivating? Get stakeholders aligned on what you’re trying to accomplish with incentives and make sure your sales training initiatives and approach reflects the “What’s In It For Me” for your sellers.
  • Check out Blueboard. We’re here to help. If you want to learn how Blueboard can help you build an effective sales incentive program or personalized President’s Club that’ll help meet company goals and set you apart from every other sales team, just drop us a line.

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