Sales Rep, Reward Thyself

By Malcolm Fleschner

As a sales manager, with all the other duties weighing on your mind, don’t you wish sometimes your sales team would just design their own incentive and reward program? Sure, except they would be spending every other month in the Caribbean with their new jet skis, all at company expense, right? Maybe not, says Brad Brown, founder and principal of the Massachusetts-based Reward Strategies (

According to Brown, if salespeople are given guidelines and parameters, they can be even more effective than managers at designing programs that still drive toward the company’s business objectives.

“This process doesn’t mean that the salespeople take full responsibility,” Brown hastens to note, “while the sales manager says: Great, you design it and come back when you’re done – I’m just glad I don’t have to do it. No, the manager still needs to orchestrate and organize the process. But the manager’s job is to put the program in context by saying: We’re in business to make money, and we have a business plan in place to accomplish that goal. The reward program has to reinforce our plan by motivating people to make the right decisions and to execute the right sales behaviors within our business model.”

Brown recommends putting together a two- or three-salesperson design committee of reps who are genuinely interested in helping, and then meeting with them to create a structure. But when it comes to the rewards themselves, Brown says, let your reps be creative.

“The salespeople know a lot more about what turns them on than the sales manager does,” he explains. “This is a way of getting the information the program needs to be successful. Essentially you’re taking the time to ask: What turns you on? – and giving them the opportunity to answer and use their creativity to motivate themselves. As a result, just by being asked they’ll feel that they’re being recognized, heard, understood and listened to.”

But, Brown cautions, the success of such an approach does not depend on the salespeople. Ultimately it’s the manager’s responsibility for making sure the design committee comes back with a workable solution.

“The manager absolutely has to say: OK, you need to understand that the cost of the rewards can be no more than X dollars and here are our objectives and expected outcomes. You have to manage the process so that you don’t have them come back to you with a suggestion and you have to respond by saying: Thanks, but it’s too expensive. Your job is to set those fundamental design parameters and then let them work within those guidelines to come up with the most motivational program possible.”