Top 10 Incentive Blunders

By Malcolm Fleschner

You know what you’re supposed to do with an incentive program – motivate the troops to sell, right? But sometimes the key to success isn’t just knowing what to do – it’s knowing what not to do as well. Sally Stevens of the HR Chally Group recommends that you avoid the following 10 sales-incentive mistakes – or pay the price.

1. Smiles All Around
Don’t use your incentive program to try to keep everybody on the team happy. It’s okay to want to acknowledge the contributions of everyone on your staff, but by rewarding poor performance you send the wrong message. Instead of trying to keep everyone happy, strive to keep everyone who’s performing happy.

2. Equal Treatment
New salespeople and trainees can’t be expected to perform up to the level of seasoned reps. So rather than lump everyone together in the same contest, reward newcomers for effort – maybe for calls made, leads followed or product knowledge gained.

3. Installing a Ceiling
Some managers feel threatened by the prospect of a salesperson earning more than the manager. As a result, they place artificial caps on potential rewards and earnings. The result? Top performers feel cheated and may start looking for an employer who will recognize their full contribution.

4. Aiming at the Lowest Common Denominator
Top performers and middle performers have different desires and motivators. Remember not to cater too much to the short-term interests of the middle performers. Give the bulk of your resources to the upper producers and let the middle folks rise to the occasion.

5. No Input from the Field
To minimize the sense that this contest is being foisted upon the sales force, get input from your top performers on the proper targets and rewards. You may be surprised to find that they’ll set more difficult standards than you would have.

6. No Management Participation
Salespeople like to feel that what they’re doing is having a positive impact on the business and that management cares about their efforts. Reinforce these feelings by including upper-level executives in the program launch and reminder mailings.

7. No Flexibility
Your program should offer some leeway so that if the company needs change, or if the prize you’ve chosen proves a poor fit for the eventual winner, you can make the executive decision to alter course and reward different behaviors or offer a different prize.

8. Rewarding the Wrong Results
It’s no good to tell salespeople you want them to sell more to existing customers, but then reward them more for bringing in new clients. Make sure your incentives are motivating the results that you genuinely want to see.

9. They’re Not in It for Their Health
Much as salespeople are interested in seeing the company succeed, their first priority will be focused inward. Just because an incentive is good for the company won’t drive salespeople – they need to see what’s in it for them.

10. Focusing on the Bottom, Not the Bottom Line
Many managers spend too much time with poor performers and opt to make concessions to help these individuals escape the lower-performance rungs. Unfortunately, top performers notice when the playing field is no longer level and may feel under appreciated as a result.