How to Drive Revenue Growth with Data-Driven SPIFFs

By Alex Greer, Senior Director of Sales Operations and Sales Development, SetSail
A person carrying a puzzle piece up a staircase to finish the puzzle inside a large head

Maybe you’ve looked at your quarterly forecast and realized you were going to come up short to goal. Not good. Or, maybe you have a critical upcoming product launch and you need to motivate your sales reps. You need your team to focus on driving revenue, so you pull out the go-to motivational tool to get your sellers moving: the SPIFF. You spend a week planning how to incentivize closed deals. You petition your boss to add a little extra SPIFF money, so the rewards are meaningful.

Launch day comes, your reps get to work smiling and dialing. A week goes by without a deal crossing over the line, and then a month, and then…nothing.

No new revenue.

You missed your number. The product launch was mediocre. And now your boss is mad, the product team is mad, and marketing is asking what happened with all those leads they sent your way.

What happened?

There may be a million possible reasons but, when a SPIFF program fails, it is almost always because it was poorly designed and executed.

Why Do SPIFF Programs Go Wrong?

According to our internal research, common SPIFF targets like the number of dials and meetings set rarely translate to revenue growth. Just because your team doubles their meetings booked, that doesn’t mean your revenue will double as well (even if your opportunity pipeline is growing).

Said another way, in this model, sales teams do a ton of activity but enjoy little results.

As sellers, we’re here to produce results (sales) – not log demos that don’t move the needle.

To unpack this idea, we need to dive into the murky fundamentals of SPIFFs. Boiled down, a SPIFF is a way to pay your reps a little more money to focus on the activities you want them to take. Think of it as a little extra motivation for your sellers to pay for date night or something fun.

Common SPIFFs are things like:

  • Total dials
  • Demos/meetings set
  • Proposals delivered
  • Specific products closed

SPIFF metrics tend to be broad, like the ones above. Sometimes, however, these broad tasks act more like a carpet-bombing sales approach than a strategic laser-guided missile. If you have limited time to hit your number, the more precise the tool, the better your results.

This is why sales managers run big SPIFF programs, see a ton of activity, but don’t enjoy the extra revenue growth.


Well – and this one might sting – often sales managers don’t really know what specific activities will result in increased revenue, especially for new programs or markets.

If you’ve run an unsuccessful SPIFF program and been left scratching your head, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. You did everything right. Why didn’t your revenue increase?

How to Build a Money-Printing SPIFF Program

Selling is dynamic. No two sales cycles are the same, so using a sales metric like the number of dials is a lot like using a hammer on a screw. Will it eventually get the job done? Maybe, but there are better options.

Over at SetSail, we’re obsessed with helping sales leaders uncover the behaviors that drive explosive sales results.

In this obsession, we’ve studied 24,106 sales opportunities to uncover what nudges deals to close. From those opportunities, we’ve identified 400 distinct buying signals – the aggregate of all the things that can affect which deals close, and which deals don’t. They are like a sales magic ball because, with so much data, we can actually predict which deals are going to close and optimize an entire sales process to follow.

That was a long-winded way of saying we’ve studied the “good stuff,” and know what makes SPIFFs really take off and lead to remarkable results.

Like, “the CEO is taking me out to dinner” type results.

Here are some of our best findings.

1. Good Data = Better Performance: 

The bedrock of a SPIFF program is clean, measurable data. Often SPIFF programs are measured on rep-reported data, which ends up rewarding people who spend the most time clunking around your CRM and not necessarily the reps driving the most revenue. Before you kick off a SPIFF program, ensure your data is clean, centralized, and complete.

2. Substitute “calls made” and “emails sent” for “reaching power”:

More activity doesn’t lead to better results. Smart activity leads to better results, and reaching power (did the right prospect receive your communication?), is how to focus your reps.

3. Tracking opportunities won is too slow:

By the time you see won opportunities, you’ve likely spent weeks or months working these deals. In the field, there are dozens of sales signals collected before you win a deal. Think of all the touchpoints that, when added together, are the early indicators of whether a deal is going to close. Unpack your sales process to uncover the earliest indicators of success, and build incentive programs around those activities.

4. Track the key behaviors that lead to sales success: 

Analyze your CRM data to identify leading indicators of success in your sales process. These are the early, high-value events that represent true deal progress: things like selling higher, selling wider, using the right message, and hitting key milestones.

Broken down, you want to use fantastic data to SPIFF the early sales signals.

Ideas for Data-Driven Spiffs

Target the right buying persona:

Incentivize engaging with Director+ contacts, receiving emails from the target persona, and completing meetings with contacts from more departments.

Generate pipeline:

Reward BDRs for using the right messaging, following best practices on cold calls, and when an AE completes a meeting they booked.

Improve coverage:

Incentivize a meaningful percentage of the rep’s book engaged week over week, and a target number of touches at a company over a rolling 30-day period.

Make communication more timely:

Incentivize responding to emails within four business hours and follow-ups sent to prospects within 24 hours.

Final Thoughts

With clean data and a tight focus, your SPIFF programs will produce massive sales results. Take your time designing your SPIFFs and ensure you have the right process and tracking in place. That way, your SPIFFs won’t just increase activity. They won’t just improve motivation. They’ll lead directly to more deals closed in less time.