Top Drawer Motivation

By Malcolm Fleschner

Most sales managers face the challenge of finding balance while creating an effective sales incentive program. On the one hand they want to extend motivational carrots that are reachable enough for their lower-tier performers to shoot for, but on the other hand they don’t want their top dogs yawning with indifference.

Peter Humphries, a marketing director with Westbury Life in Hamilton, Ontario, feels that the greatest challenge when motivating top performers is keeping them stimulated. He says that because they often reach goals before everyone else and are used to achieving, top salespeople can become complacent.

His solution is an extra incentive to shoot for, like being allowed to bring a guest on an incentive trip. “When you tempt them with something extra or push them for more,” he says, “even if they have already earned the trip, their ego demands that they go for it.”

And ego-based rewards for top performers can even save companies from having to pay exorbitant speakers’ fees. For a recent national sales conference, NEC chose 10 top performing sales teams to present success stories to the rest of the company’s salespeople. Teams were judged on project difficulty, teamwork, use of company resources and ingenuity. Several of the accounts that teams discussed exceeded $100 million in potential value for the company.

“When we first asked teams to submit proposals to present, people seemed a bit wary,” says Bob Commins, NEC’s manager of corporate sales administration. “But by the time we chose the teams and especially at the conference, the momentum was incredible. During the presentations, nobody left their seats or dozed off. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that level of interest before.”

NEC plans to make these presentations a regular feature of its annual conference. Commins says that many of the teams who didn’t present this year began immediately formulating their plans for next year.

“I have a feeling these presentations are going to become a big deal for the sales teams,” he says. “Imagine the pride of being chosen as a success story and then having the chance to show off in front of your colleagues. It’s the ultimate in recognition.”