9 Sales Incentive Ideas To Motivate Your Team And Make More Money
Maybe you also have already heard the expression that sales is motivation.
Since people also work better when they are motivated, there has evolved an entire industry concerning how to get sales people motivated.
Clearly it is never an easy task to lead a team, especially in the insecure and unstable world of sales where every day will bring in new surprises and a little external motivation on your part surely wouldn't be bad for the team.
But there is a catch:
As fast as you can motivate someone, exactly that fast can that person become demotivated again.
Even the best motivation is not long lasting.
Instead, motivation by its nature only lasts a very short time.
Verbally pumping up people, holding motivational speeches, getting them raving about the products and services you sell might help as long as the team is gathered in one room.
But it is usually all forgotten as soon as the same people encounter their first potential customer throws objections at them and tells them to f-off.
But we want to get our people long-term motivated, with as little effort as possible and the most commitment to the task as possible.
What you need to lead a thriving sales force is something that gets them excited to go to work every morning.
Something that makes them go the extra mile and achieve more than just what is expected. Something to make them so proud of working for your business, that they will stay with you even if they get offered a better job.
And a properly designed sales incentive can help you to achieve just that.
The Calculations Behind Successful Sales Incentives
What if I would tell you that there is a way to motivate your people and earn more money for your business at the same time?
What if you could get your people running with full commitment, while at the same time having less work with managing them?
What sounds like the wet dream of any business owner or sales manager is actually quite simple to achieve if you just know how to set your incentives right, and really understand the calculations you have to make behind it.
Let's say Jim is on your sales team.
You have known Jim for years and he does a good job, although he is not necessarily one of the top performers.
Sometimes he also has bad numbers, but overall Jim is meeting the requirements.
In your personal conversation you find out that Jim has not been on a holiday for the last few years even though he would like to.
By openly discussing the reasons he says that just too much of his salary is gone every month for the expensive car payment (he drives a brand new car), and the high rent in his urban apartment.
And so Jim and his girlfriend would love to travel, but cash is just short every time again.
You dig a little deeper and figure out that the destination he and his girlfriend would really want to see in their lifetime would be Tokio.
With that information you are now set to really make Jim a top performer, make him loyal and show much more commitment for the job than any other employee:
First you look at what his current situation is - he and his girlfriend would like to take a holiday, preferably see Tokio - but cash is always short because they spend a lot of money on an expensive car and an exclusive apartment.
Being a smart sales manager, what could you offer Jim now?
A bad sales manager would tell Jim to sell more so he can earn more.
Like he would purposefully sell less than he can.
But a good manager would start calculating:
To give Jim what he truly wants, in fact one of his biggest wishes at the moment, how much would it cost the company?
Let's say a trip for one week for two people to Tokio would cost the company 4.000$ with flights and hotels paid for Jim and his girlfriend.
Now, if Jim earns your company 8.000$ for selling x amount of products, he could have the holiday paid by the company and the company would still make 4.000$ in additional profits.
So you go ahead and tell Jim he can have his dream holiday with his girlfriend, paid by the company, if he manages to sell x amounts of products in a given time.
A true win-win.
Guess how Jim would feel about it?
Do you think he would tell his friends and family if he achieves the goal and gets paid a holiday?
When was the last time any company paid for your holiday?
And that is the power of a clever calculated incentive - while still making more profits in your company than usual.
Of course, the goal has to be set apart from the usual expenses like salary for Jim etc., meaning he would have to earn 8.000$ extra for your business besides the usual goals he has to face on a daily basis.
But still, you would not believe what kind of power people bring to light as soon as they are really motivated.
And sales is motivation, at least for a large part.
Different Types Of Sales Incentives
Apart from using someone's personal goals or unfulfilled wishes as a boost for motivation to go the extra mile, here are some of the most common and effective tools you can use as incentives.
Generally, around 90% of the people will be happy if you offer them only one of them.
And with clever calculations behind them, you can really get your people moving on an ongoing basis with very little effort - and cash in on the way.
Every incentive has to be based on making a profit for the company and still allowing a major upgrade for the sales rep in his or her life.
This is especially possible because the company can use many expenses such as a car or a holiday use as mere tax-write offs, while for an employee these will make up a major expense.
Whatever type of incentive you choose, make sure the goal stays achievable.
There can be all kinds of qualifications possible.
Keep in mind that a goal that is realistic and clearly measurable is motivating, while a goal that seems out of reach can have the opposite effect and demotivate people!
Money is not always the ideal incentive
For most people working in sales, money will be one of the major roles for why they did take the job.
But real motivation for your staff does not always have to be exclusively monetary.
Some people will work in sales looking for a better work-life balance.
Some will work in sales because they want something with more flexible work hours.
And again others might be working in sales because they are looking for something to prove their worth and boost their ego.
Some people just want to be part of a group and feel appreciated.
Whatever the reason is people will be working at your business, there is only one way of finding it out: talk to your people.
Don't just talk about their numbers as usual and the deals they “got cooking”, talk really from one person to the other with a genuine interest in their life goals and how your company can help them to achieve those.
Present yourself not as the boss only, but as a helpful hand and a genuine partner in planning their life.
Think long-term and really show them that you also have interest in seeing them succeed.
This conversation alone can create a boost in morale and commitment to your business:
When was the last time you had a person genuinely asking you about your life goals?
How would you feel?
What would that do for your relationship?
When could you ever combine life goals and a workplace?
Tests and studies have shown over and over again that people are automatically showing better results at work when they are working for someone they like at a company they value.
If you have not achieved this type of commitment with your employees yet, this would probably be the first and best place to start motivating your people before using any incentive or other forms of socially accepted bribes to get them going.
By honestly valuing your people and the work they are doing for your business, even if some of them might have a few bad months then and there, you are setting the base for a trustful relationship on both sides.
In almost every management book this is often overlooked or not dealt with at all, since your employees have to work for you anyways.
After all, hey it is their job, right?
But you want your people to be good and even great at their work, and not just doing their time in your office like a form of daily recurring prison.
This would be the base before any other incentive motivation can be set up for your salespeople.
As soon as you have talked with your sales reps about their goals and aspirations, and have figured out what it is the individual person truly values you can set sail for the next stage.
1: Honest Appreciation
The easiest way to motivate your sales team is so simple, yet in real life it hardly gets used in any sales position.
We talk about appreciation of the person, and appreciation of their work.
Before thinking about bribing people to work more and stay longer, how about just having a conversation about how the company benefits from their work and how happy you are to have them on your team.
Consider these thoughts for a moment:
When was the last time you really mentioned to any one of your best employees they are doing great work?
When was the last time you publicly congratulated someone for their excellent behaviour?
When was the last time you really praised one of your team members for meeting their goals?
When was the last time an employee contributed to your company’s success and really was awarded for it?
If you can’t answer all of these questions right away, maybe it is not even time to look at monetary incentive ideas.
A first starting point to boost morale of your troops could be just to acknowledge what they are doing well, analyze what could be done even better and tell them how important their contribution is to the overall company.
It starts in your daily communication and behaviour.
How often do you say “thank you” whenever a project gets finished?
Have you kept all your promises?
Sure, being the boss is never easy.
But think about the work environment you created, if it is really one people enjoy working in.
Often this is the fastest and easiest way to better morale, team-spirit and thus better sales performances.
2: Fulfill their wishes
As already mentioned in the beginning, for some people money or a directly monetarily related incentive like a holiday or a shiny new car are not the right thing.
In your conversation with your staff, your job is to find out what your people value and why.
The tools and options that can be used as an incentive for sales are very flexible.
For example, you could offer time instead of paying with a monetary incentive.
If someone is not motivated by money, time is usually what comes as the second place.
Let's say Susan has been on your sales team since quite some time.
And like Jim, she does a good job but not extraordinary.
You always believed she could do better but somehow there was never the reason for her to go the extra mile for her.
In your conversation, you find out that Susan loves to spend time with her family and that they love to go hiking in the mountains on weekends.
You know that Susan’s Salary is costing the business around 1.000$ per week including all other expenses related to her position.
To bring in extra 2.000$ of cash into the business, Susan has to sell y amount of products.
You as a smart sales manager decide to offer her a deal:
If Susan wants more time with her family, she can have as much time as she wants.
For every y amount of products sold additionally to her usual goals, Susan can take a full week off and spend the time with her friends, family and hiking in the mountains.
If you really want to kick it off a notch, add some small gifts like hiking equipment or a stay in a cottage on a mountain (if that is her thing) and make the calculations for y products bringing 4.200$ into the business.
When was the last time you received a week extra holiday for good work?
How would Susan feel?
Do you think she would tell friends and family about it?
What impact could this have on your business long-term?
You can do the same calculations of course with all kinds of unfulfilled wishes or desires people have.
Aks openly and listen closely to what kind of wishes people might have.
A visit to a famous museum.
Driving a sports car for one weekend.
A zero-gravity flight.
A weekend trip into a vibrant city.
Tickets to their favorite sports game.
Any extraordinary experience that people value and want to make will do the job.
The options are endless.
Lots of people are careful about spending their money and hold back on their personal wishes for too long.
Some people on your team might also have some unfulfilled wishes they would want to fulfill but never find the right financial situation for it.
This is your chance to create a clever, personalized incentive for them!
This is your chance to exactly uncover those wishes and fulfill them for your people - and at the same time make an extra profit in the business!
You help your people, and they help you.
It is that simple.
Jim Rohn said it best:
“If you help enough people get what they want, you can have everything you want.”
3: Giving Public Recognition
But not only direct rewards about personal wishes can be a great use when it comes to increase morale and motivation among your staff.
Public recognition for people is one of the best and most effective ways to sincerely influence people and to boost their morale.
The best companies worldwide do this rigorously.
And the best of all: it is free!
It can start with something very simple like a certificate for making the first steps as a salesperson in your company.
Ideally you implement clear reward and award structures into the culture of your company .
For example, you could offer such a certificate for every salesperson who generated their first 10.000$ in revenue.
Just make sure that it is really easy to achieve for beginners in this case.
A goal that is out of reach can have the opposite effect and demotivate people if they know it is out of their reach.
If a goal or award should motivate people, make sure it is reachable with an acceptable amount of effort.
And when you hand out the award you don't do it in your office - you gather the whole team in one room and have them applaud their new colleague for achieving this first milestone. What a feeling for the newbie!
This is so incredibly simple, and costs just a single sheet of paper to make and maybe a picture frame to make it look more prestigious.
And that is it - while for the new employee this feels like a full ceremony.
A way of being part of the tribe now.
John C. Maxwell writes in his books that every person has an invisible sign on his or her forehead that says: “make me feel important”.
This is what you can do so easily to motivate your salespeople and make them feel special.
Yet hardly any sales manager or organization uses these simple tactics, and thus there is so much potential for improvement that often goes untouched.
Set the stage, and have your whole team gather in the office for the new hire making his first milestone.
Award your employees for achieving milestones.
Award them for making progress.
Award them for landing their first big deal.
Award them for having completed the first months on your team.
And award them again for having a good month, closing a big deal, whatever.
Get creative and look for reasons to celebrate your people!
The titles and names you give these rituals can be anything from sales champion to any hierarchic position which the person has from now on.
The award can thus be more than just a public recognition, you can “promote” them to a now full member of the company for example.
It can be anything that lifts people up and feels good.
The power of a decent job title alone is described in our article in sales credibility.
By giving them a great, important sounding title you thereby also help them be more credible in the eyes of their customers.
The actual difference in the milestones doesn't have to be large, just make sure that people get recognized for it and award them publicly.
As the old management saying goes: criticize in private, award in public.
The by far most underused method for incentivising salespeople are cars.
The particular reason why cars make up such a good investment for your business and your employees as a motivational boost is that as a business you have a lot of tax options to buy a vehicle that the average person does not.
Hence for any business it is always easier to buy a fancy car than it is for an average person. And a lot cheaper.
As we have highlighted in other articles already, cars are legally seen as a business expense, including all their additional costs like fuel, insurance or maintenance.
In short, cars are a mere tax write-off for companies.
Did you ever wonder how some people can afford such expensive cars when they only run a small business?
This tax deducting strategy is the magic behind it.
The more expensive the car, the less the business pays taxes.
So who would want to be humble when one can have such advantages and get the car basically paid with your taxes?
Apart from the economical advantages for your business, a car will be one of the strongest motivational boosters in your arsenal by far for your salespeople.
A network marketing company a few years ago spread like wildfire because it offered people to buy them a luxury car after they have reached a certain level in sales - even though ultimately people had to sign all leasing contracts on themselves!
Ultimately this was a clever fraud and nothing else.
The product was useless, the company disreputable, and the promise was a farce.
But still this business spread like crazy everywhere, because hey - people were so damn eager to get a car just for working in a company!
This is the power of a car as an incentive.
Everyone of us has a dream car.
Or at least some car that he or she would rather like to own than the current one.
There are always new models available, new features coming out.
So it is very unlikely that cars will ever get boring.
And with the tax advantages on a car you can save taxes for your business, get more sales from your people, and have them raving about their job all at the same time with only one smart incentive!
But what sounds like the magic bullet for getting people to sell more really demands clever and sophisticated calculations on your part before offering anyone a car within your organization.
Let's say Michael on your team mentions that he is currently driving a 10 year old Honda which slowly starts falling apart while driving, and that he loves comfortable cars to drive.
Why not go ahead then and offer him a brand new car of his choice with payments of 800$ per month?
Of course, Michael first has to prove that he really is worth the effort.
You can add at least 150$ a month in insurance to the payments.
And probably another 100$ a month for maintenance throughout the year.
Maybe a little conservative calculation, but this is close to what you can expect in a worse case scenario.
And we talk about a reasonable car, nothing too fancy.
That makes a quick 1050$ per month to get Michael a brand new ride he can be proud of.
Now you can calculate what Michael would have to generate in revenue to make this a worthwhile investment for both sides.
If you want you can also add an extra 200$ for fuel a month.
The fuel again is a business expense for you while Michael would have to pay for it with after-tax dollars.
Lowers your taxes - and brings some extra motivation.
So from both perspectives it is a double win, making it even more effective as an incentive.
With the fuel together, let's say Mike would have to bring you around 3.000$ in extra cash into the business per month to make this investment a true win-win, which would be again around the double amount you will have to spend plus a little extra.
Again let me emphasize that for such calculations we are always talking about this amount plus all the usual revenue he would bring without it.
Over the year, it would be 36.000$ of extra cash for the business he would have to generate to make the incentive possible.
Of course this can be adapted to all kinds of vehicles.
If Mike wants to drive a Bentley, you can also do a calculation for a Bentley with the according numbers.
While this would really require extraordinary effort from Mike, you can test the waters by letting him run to qualify for the incentive a few months and see how much he really can generate.
If he can earn your business a million extra per year - then it should not be a problem at all to buy him a 200.000$ car.
A car paid by the company is not just a status symbol for your salesperson.
You can also add company logos on it, to help even with marketing your business.
And people who get a vehicle paid by their company usually are proud of it and tell friends and family.
Plus you make the life of your employee a little easier and take one major expense off his personal bills every month.
Mike usually will really do all that he can to ensure it stays that way.
Cars can even attract top talented people.
As soon as the rumor spreads that your company is paying the best salespeople brand new cars, guess what most sales overachievers in the city will consider?
It can even draw people from your competitors to you if this incentive gets publicly known.
And the best of it all - it makes you richer with every car you buy for the employee.
You just got to love such incentives!
If we put cars aside, what could be the second most popular thing in the world everybody loves to have? No, not what you are thinking right now.
Everybody loves to go on vacation.
It is already hard to find a person not interested in owning a new car, and it will be even harder to find someone who doesn't like a new car or to go on a free vacation.
And sure a vacation paid by your boss is definitely more enjoyable than a vacation you have to pay for yourself.
Vacations as an incentive can have two different types:
Company vacations as a group:
This type is a company vacation, where you would fly with your colleagues and bosses. Actually you can bring your whole team, or those who are the best and qualify to be taken with you on the trip.
To be effective as an incentive, usually people have to “qualify” to attend this company vacation.
This means they have to bring in a certain amount of extra revenue, and once that target is hit they have booked their seat on the trip.
The qualification and who gets to participate is therefore open to everybody and clearly communicated throughout the company.
Vacation as a personal incentive:
And the other option is to reward the sales employee for extraordinary work with a paid individual trip, let's say for the sales rep and his or her partner.
This is a more personal incentive, usually followed by listening closely in a performance review as mentioned in the beginning of this article.
It is thus a personal offer you can make for special people where it makes sense and motivates them.
Which of these two options you choose is absolutely your own choice.
It should align with the overall company culture that you have, however.
In general, if the environment at the workplace is good and friendly and people really get along with each other, it can even create a huge synergy to make a holiday together as a team including the bosses and managers.
Such a trip combined with the right activities can lead to a lot of new experiences, laughs and memorable moments as a team.
As it is a psychological researched phenomenon that we tend to like people better the more experiences we have with them.
The more time we spend together, this can really create new friendships and strengthen the bond between the employee and the company.
A vacation can therefore not only serve as an incentive, it can also create a better team-spirit among all participants.
It also shows people from a different perspective. A sales manager might be strict and tough at work, but outgoing and funny during such a trip. It can reveal the true person behind the professional relationship.
However, be aware that situations do not get awkward and people are having too much fun in the wrong way. It does no good to have the vice president vomit in front of the whole crowd after drinking 20 tequilas.
I know we are all grown up, but some groups tend to be more prone for such behaviour than others.
If you feel like this might happen in your group too, it would be better to reward your sales reps with an individual vacation.
If you make an agreement for such an incentive, you can also choose the destination the person likes best.
Some want to see Italy, others want a trip to the caribbean. It becomes more personalized and valued if someone individually earns a holiday than if it gets offered to the whole group anyway.
In both cases, the calculations remain the same:
If a trip for a week costs 2.000$ per person, this means the person has to bring in additional 4.000$ for the business to earn it.
When it comes to a group trip, you can also let people qualify for the seats on the plane in a competition.
For example: the 10 best sales reps of the company get to participate in the trip to Thailand for one week, with a minimum of 4.000$ in extra earning for the business if the trip costs 2.000$ per person.
This creates even a sense of competition amongst your staff to increase the tension of who might be on the trip and who not.
But also be sure that it does not backfire: if the top 5 people win the trip, and 4 out of those 5 are absolute over-top achievers again and again, the rest of your sales team might feel like not even trying because for them it might feel futile to compete.
Make sure that the vacation incentive really can boost your people's effort in a positive way, and not just reward the best ones while blocking out others.
Everybody likes presents.
So why not give them a present if it makes them happy?
A Present should be individualized as we all have different kinds of wishes and a different idea of what a good present could be.
But to really create the maximum effect, it should be something people normally would not buy.
If Frank is on your team and during the conversation he mentioned he likes watches and you see the Seiko in his arm, why not offer him a Rolex as incentive?
Or if Brenda is always well dressed and she mentions that she loves to shop, why not offer her a designer handbag of her choice as a present?
The calculations remain as for the other incentives.
The 10.000$ handbag requires 20.000$ in additional cash for the business and so forth.
But actually a present can really be anything from a new laptop, to a jetski or even furniture if you know people are moving to a new place right now.
A few example what you could offer as such an incentive include:
A handbag for female employees
Subscription boxes of all kinds
Upgrades for their office
Car Rentals for a certain time
Tickets to sports events
Gift Cards for popular shopping websites or malls
And many more!
Just talk to people about what would motivate them, what wishes they have or what they need at the moment.
All these expenses can again be deducted from your tax bill.
We all need or want something.
Your team certainly does as well.
7. Individual Bonuses
Well, for those few who are neither turned on by driving a new car, going on a fancy vacation and not even by getting an expensive present this option also still remains.
Some people are really just in for the money.
Instead of driving a 30.000$ car, they would prefer the 30.000$ cash.
Cash offers more flexibility and allows people to set aside a larger portion of money at once.
The field of sales is especially filled with people who are usually motivated through money, so this can be a very powerful tool of influence.
Or if money is not the main motivator, then maybe a change in the work environment or working conditions?
How about moving to a better office place, or more remote work from any place in the world?
Whatever it is, you will have to figure it out during an individual conversation.
I think you understand the calculations for incentives so far.
Simply put, ask people what they want, and then offer it to them if they are willing to produce extra results for the company. And then offer them an incentive which will cost half of what people have to bring into the business for it, making sure both sides have a real win.
8. Offer more remote work
During the Covid pandemic and worldwide lockdowns, some people started working remotely from another country in the sunshine, while their colleagues were sitting in the rainy offices.
This certainly will get some people excited.
Even at the time of writing this when the pandemic is still around and new variants spread almost daily, there are still lots of companies that do not offer their people to work remotely.
If your business model allows it to be flexible and does not need people to be physically present, offer them to work from anywhere in the world if they hit a certain quota.
9. Education, Courses and Trainings
Education is highly valued in our society.
Especially for younger people on your team, an additional course, certificate or even degree can offer them better chances for the future.
Basically anything that can be put in your CV and look and sound good will provide decent value for your team members.
The exact decision of what you offer your sales reps should again be found out in an individual conversation.
Here again, the company can even use university courses as tax write-offs, while for the employee it could mark a very decent chapter in their career.
Such high-priced incentives are usually also bound to a certain time the sales rep has to remain with the company. Clawbacks can also be attached, meaning the employee would have to pay back a certain amount of the education he received if he should leave earlier.
Education as an incentive can also be used as an additional feature for recruiting.
Many people want to remain flexible and know that whatever they plan in their future life their experience will help them.
The more education you can offer, the more you can also expect to be an attractive place to work for.
Why Your Business Always Wins
Here comes the truth:
In sales even if you work hard things can go wrong, clients can cancel at the last minute, deals that were basically done can break in a fraction of a second all without it being your fault.
If someone does not hit their extra sales quotas, it can also be bad luck.
Occasionally it will happen. And if you make such incentives, some people will work really hard but then miss their needed quota for a few percentages.
Some of your hard working people might not participate in the holiday because they missed the goal by 5-10%.
For example, if Mike wants the new car for which he has to generate 80.000$ and only generates 78.000$ despite spinning his wheels during the whole year for your business from early morning to late at night - this incentive can have the opposite effect and vastly demotivate people.
How exactly and how detailed you see these terms is up to you.
Maybe for 78.000€ you could offer him a smaller car.
Or you could also say he did a great job, and give him the desired car anyway - given that your business just earned an additional 39.000$ anyway because you did calculate the incentive well.
I cannot tell you how to run your company.
But I urge you to really make sure that if people show extra effort, full commitment and go the extra mile for your business, then please reward them somehow.
If Mike misses the goals slightly, then maybe he cannot get the SUV he wanted.
But if he showed great effort - by all means, find something else he deserved!
You would lose your credibility in the eyes of the group if you would change the requirements of the incentive afterwards.
I Mike has worked so hard then give him something for his efforts.
If he can't have the SUV, maybe you could get a pre-owned vehicle similar to the one he wanted.
Or maybe he would like a muscle car as well which comes cheaper.
In fact when you arrange such incentives you will have this situation occur rather often and will now have to decide whether you give people at least a small reward or not.
On the cold, calculating side you have had a deal - and if they do not meet the minimum requirements they will get nothing.
But to be fair, your business still earns a lot of extra cash.
And if people struggle really hard for a certain time only to then be left with nothing and even be perceived as a loser, you will demotivate them.
The incentive will backfire and lose its power for the future.
And once the rumor spreads that your incentives are out of reach anyway, you have destroyed this option of motivating salespeople forever.
So please, only create incentives if you really want to reward people.
If you use sales incentives properly, it can be one of the best tools in your arsenal when it comes to getting your people into gear.
And best of it all, you get to earn much more money in your business - while your people are more motivated to work for you than ever.