Selling Power Blog

News & Insights for B2B Sales Leaders

October 23, 2017

How to Properly Motivate Top, Middle, and Low Sales Performers

By Steve Damerow, CEO, Incentive Solutions

If your sales team is like most, you have a star group (20 percent) of top performers, a core group (60 percent) of solid performers, and a laggard group (20 percent) whose performance is consistently underpar. The question for sales leaders is: What’s the proper way to motivate each group? Let’s examine the who, why, what, and how of each group to determine the best sales motivation strategy for each.

Laggard Performers

Laggards are your lower-tier, or bottom 20 percent of, performers. They’re most likely in this group because they lack the experience, skill set, or motivation of other groups.

What motivates them?

  • Small, frequent accomplishments can keep laggards motivated and engaged in their work. This persuades them to keep striving – even if they’re not closing big deals.
  • Peer pressure can drive them to improve their performance and catch up to be part of the “pack.”

How should you reward them?

  • Reward for early accomplishments to keep them on a path of growth – their first sale or their first million dollars sold, for example. A noncash merchandise reward acts as a trophy to symbolize their achievement.
  • Public leaderboards tap into peer-pressure motivation. Show off sales performance rankings to remind laggards they have room to grow.
  • Short-term rewards keep them focused on improving. According to a sales incentive study in Harvard Business Review, “Removing quarterly bonuses from laggards’ incentives – and keeping only an annual bonus – would decrease their overall performance by 10 percent. The same change decreases the performance of core and star salespeople only 2-4 percent.

Core Performers

Core performers are the standard performers who make up the middle 60 percent of your sales force. They’re likely still finding their footing as skilled salespeople, or have become comfortable and plateaued in their performance.

What motivates them?

This group is thinking about the future. They’re likely younger salespeople of Generation Y and Z, still excited when they close individual sales and hungry for the tools and knowledge that can make them better.

How should you reward them?

  • Feed their need for knowledge by providing them training rewards when they attend seminars, expand product knowledge, complete training curriculum, or add on to their skill set.
  • Smaller incentive rewards for meeting quotas and hitting new milestones will keep them engaged and eager to grow.
  • Highlight their achievements on a leaderboard. This provides a reminder that they’re not quite at star level yet, but they can get there.

Star Performers

Star performers are the top 20 percent – the best performers in your sales force. They’re most likely the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers on your team who’ve put in the time and effort to become the best at what they do.

What motivates them?

Star performers have likely earned most or all of the short-term incentive rewards you offer. They’ve put in the time and talent to help your business excel and appreciate recognition for that contribution. They’re more motivated by rare or once-in-a-lifetime reward opportunities or recognition for top-tier performance.

How should you reward them?

  • Recognize their status by making them part of a President’s Club or advisory council. Reinforce their value to your company. Your competition is likely courting them, so promote corporate loyalty.
  • Offer them exclusive incentive travel opportunities. An incentive trip is the kind of unique, impactful reward experience that can capture star performers’ attention.

All of the above sales incentive strategies may seem like too much to manage, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Today’s advanced incentive technology can provide the power of a diverse reward experience. “With SaaS platforms, you can be more flexible and have non-cash incentives for different tiers of performers,” says Luke Kreitner, VP of sales at Loyaltyworks, a sales incentive program provider. “Online features let you segment sales promotions by specific qualifying groups, display leaderboards, and provide a wide range of reward pay-outs.”

Without online technology in your sales incentive program, it’s much more difficult to control your sales force’s reward experience. Using the right tools, however, you can tailor your sales incentive program so it motivates each member of your sales team – at each stage in their development.

Headshot of Steve Damerow

Today’s post is by Steve Damerow, CEO of Incentive Solutions, which manages hundreds of incentive loyalty programs for companies in a wide range of industries. Steve Damerow can be reached at or 678/514-0203.