Sage Incentive Advice

By Malcolm Fleschner

During more than 20 years in sales and sales management with a variety of printing companies large and small, Denise Berard says she witnessed first hand the good, the bad and the downright ugly ways some sales organizations try to motivate their sales teams. Today, as CEO of The Success Clinic of America (, Berard helps organizations replace counterproductive motivational practices with more holistic, thoughtful approaches that reward effort, mentoring, teamwork and integrity – as well as sales.

When it comes to incentives, Berard says too many companies start at the wrong place by asking themselves: What do we want from our salespeople? Instead, she says, they should ask: How can we motivate our salespeople to create wins for themselves, for the customer and for the company?” As an example Berard recalls how one sales organization she worked for pitted reps against each other in ways that cost the company potential sales.

“I was one of the company’s two sales managers – I had the northern region and the other gentleman managed the southern region,” she explains. “The company offered a $5,000 bonus for the top-selling sales rep. Well, what happens in that situation? If a rep in the northern region is working toward a $5,000 bonus and gets a great lead but the prospect is in the southern region, that lead will get lost. There’s no way the sales rep is going to pass on a great lead to a competing rep. It’s divisive because everyone is watching out for number one, saying oh, I hope they don’t find out that this company needs this. It backfires and drives down company sales because it’s one against the other instead of all for the company good.”

Another problem Berard says she sees quite often is the error of always using the same reward criteria. “Sales organizations tend to reward the highest sales, but that is not always the best barometer,” she says. “The company could be totally ignoring reps who have a lot of good, smaller clients they’re building. If the focus is just on the dollar, the dollar, the dollar, then reps are going to go for the clients to whom they can sell the highest dollar amount. That, in turn, discourages people from building relationships with smaller clients that have the potential to become larger clients down the road. When all you reward is total sales, these kinds of accounts fall by the wayside and reps stop giving the same level of service to everyone because it’s obviously more profitable for them to go for the ones with the higher dollar potential today.”

Berard suggests that a better alternative is to develop award programs that facilitate what she calls a win cubed, where the client, company and salesperson work in partnership as resources that assist one another to create an environment where all three come out ahead. Multiple reward criteria offer a great way to accomplish this, she says.

“Awards for most improved, most number of leads passed, best mentor, longevity, longest serviced account – there are a limitless number of potential areas you can develop rewards around,” she says. “The key is to make them different and change them up so reps aren’t always just going after the bottom line. Instead encourage them to go for service, to try to help each other out and to pursue a variety of laudable goals.”

Of course, no discussion of the incentive rainbow can ignore the pot of gold at the end – the rewards themselves. Rather than weigh in on which snazzy piece of electronics or vacation getaway will be the most motivational, Berard suggests simply putting the decision-making power in the hands of participants.

“Many managers think that it’s just the money and trips that make the difference,” she says. “Yet I’ve seen so many people win prizes who’ve said: Ugh, did you see what’s up there for this month? I don’t want that. For months in a row a company I worked for just offered cash. Eventually, I said to the owner: This month I don’t want the money. You’ve got a time share up in the mountains. I would love to take my scout troop up there for a ski trip. So that’s what he let me win – and it meant more to me than the cash ever could have. So that’s why I always recommend that sales organizations let the reps help choose what the prizes will be.”

For more information on the Success Clinic, visit or call 978-957-9999.