Of Objectives and Incentives

By Malcolm Fleschner

Ask most sales managers for the specific goals they’ve established for their sales teams and they’ll tell you point blank: We want to increase overall sales 15%. We’re looking to improve our market share. We need to develop new business. Our strategy is to increase penetration within existing accounts.

Yet take a look at many sales organizations’ incentive programs and you’ll be left wondering why these goals aren’t reflected in the companies’ motivational approaches. According to Ira Almeas, president of the East Hanover, New Jersey-based Impact Incentives & Meetings, Inc. (www.impactincentives.com), this disconnect is endemic.

“Most sales organizations don’t stick to their objectives when implementing an incentive program for their direct sales force,” he says. “If the key objective is to increase sales during a certain period, then the program’s rules structure needs to be built around the means of increasing sales and not around masking a sales incentive as an employee benefit program or announcing the reward after the contest period.”

Even when a program’s goals are aligned with overall corporate objectives, however, Almeas notes that too many companies expend excess motivational resources on the segment of the sales team that needs the boost least.

“Most sales organizations direct their incentives to the top 20% of their sales force – the group that already is the most productive,” he says. “These top achievers don’t need much to reach their goals. The focus instead should be on training and motivating the other 80% of the sales team. With today’s technology, it’s easier than ever before to reach that 80%.”

Some of the technological advances he identifies include the ability to link incentives to training, to share testimonials from top achievers across an organization, to incorporate knowledge rewards into the incentive, and the innovation of email blasts that send out a motivational burst to an entire organization at once.

“The most important thing to remember,” Almeas says, “is that the main target should be the so-called masses. These are the folks who need the bar raised and this is where a company will see greatest growth. This can be achieved only if the goals seem attainable and the rules are simple. Sales incentive programs fail when the rules are not focused on the key sales objectives, when the rules are unclear and unachievable, and when there is little communication and management buy in.”