What are the best ways to reward salespeople?

Rewarding salespeople appropriately is one of the arts of running a successful sales-oriented business – but it’s not easy.


The reason it is not easy is that every salesperson has a different set of priorities, depending on their age/stage of life.


The 50-year-old salesperson will have a very different set of priorities to the 25-year-old.


Then again, the single childless salesperson will require different rewards to the family salesperson that may be looking to fund school fees, etc.


Over the 16 years of working with a mainly female group of sales consultants from a wide range of ages, I experimented with a number of incentives – titles, cash, travel, jewellery and other items – and, finally, the really important one – recognition.


Let’s look at each of these:




It would be fair to say that for some women, whether they were called sales managers or sales directors or senior sales managers had no impact, while for others the title and status was very important. My overall estimation of titles is that they don’t necessarily cost a company and, so long as they are based on distinctive KPIs, they can be added to the bag of incentives.




It seems cash is always welcome. But it does not lead to lasting memories about the company or goals achieved. Cash allows a salesperson to do with it what they need and perhaps in tougher economic times may be beneficial. No one ever complains about getting extra cash, but the cash incentives should be clearly related to the result and effort required in an equitable manner.




Travel proved to be a great incentive, as it enables people who had never left the country to travel overseas. Equally, it gave women timeout from the demands of their families and time for themselves. The challenge with travel and trip incentives is to find the right destinations!


Overwhelmingly, for women this proved to be the countries/cites where they could shop, eat and relax! As with all incentives, it’s so important to be tuned into the overarching needs of the group and not impose one’s own values on these incentives.


A good example of this was when a well-known health retreat opened, I was personally very excited about spending time there and wrongly assumed my sales team would feel the same. It was a very bad decision and on the second day (the team told me later, much later) they left by taxi to buy alcohol, snacks, etc. They felt the week at the health retreat was more of a punishment than a reward – the exact opposite of what I had wrongly expected and experienced for myself!




Incentive items are simply too tricky to purchase, as each person will either like or dislike the item. Gift certificates work better, but make sure there is flexibility in what they can be used for. Once again, don’t impose your own ideas on what will work.


I think there is a real case of being sexist when considering the question of which incentives work best. I am sure men and women have quite different ideas about travel destinations for example! I am certain sports items and sports events would work better for most men than for women but, of course, and before anyone sends an indignant email, there are exceptions to every rule.




The incentive that seems to work for everyone is recognition for goals achieved and work well done. There are so many cost-effective ways to do this – the company magazine, or should I say e-newsletter, is a great place to start!


Giving recognition to high achievers at conferences or events is always important and welcome, even by those who say they just want to earn more money! The truth is everyone likes to be recognised in front of their peers.


The least costly and most overlooked incentive is the simple thank-you. The handwritten note, more personal than the email, simply saying well done and thank you should be part of every CEO and sales manager’s armour.


In summary, get to know your salespeople, understand their lifestyle, needs and wants.


Only in this way will you be able to effectively incentivise a sales team, and your interest in them as people will in itself be part of their motivation to achieve their/your goals.


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