Sales incentives - Learning from the best in driving sales performance
Craig Thomas

Sales incentives - Learning from the best in driving sales performance

25th January 2017

The traditional model of sales performance management is looking increasingly outdated. The straightforward, target-hitting compensation package - composed of base + commission - is coming under considerable pressure. It is no longer the 'be all and end all' to driving sales.


Over the last three years, research by the Aberdeen Group1 has shown a significant change in the approach taken by 'Best-in-Class'2 organisations to salesforce management. To achieve outstanding sales results these companies are turning to other motivators. They recognise internal recognition, learning opportunities and sales incentives are essential in maximising the performance of their salesforce.


What's changed?

Whether we like it or not, the business cultural landscape is changing. The largest section of the workforce is now millennials. Social media and the internet have a major influence and there has been a considerable change in attitude to work-life balance. As a result, the current workforce does not respond to the same motivational techniques as previous generations. And that includes sales people.


The reality is that the softer elements of sales management - such as employee satisfaction, recognition and teamwork - are coming of age when driving performance within a modern salesforce.


Best-in-Class organisations are embracing this change

The research by the Aberdeen Group shows that organisations achieving the best sales performance3 are also those making the most significant adaptations to managing their millennial sales professionals.


How Best-in-Class organisations are performing against the Industry Average for key sales indicators



Sales incentives - Research results


Which organisations are adapting their sales management approach to cater for millennials



Sales incentives - Research results


If these results are not argument enough for you to stop and think then consider this. The research measured 10 key sales metrics. The average year-on-year performance for the Laggard organisations worsened across all 10 metrics. These are the companies who did very little to change their management style.


Money isn't everything - even in sales!

There has been a marked shift in what Best-in-Class organisations cite as the top three motivators for their sales team. In 2013, 98% of these companies cited money as a top-three motivator for their sales team. By 2015 this had fallen to 64%. Conversely, the opportunity to learn new skills almost doubled as a motivator over the same period. The same is true for employee engagement, while internal recognition also remains a key motivator.


What Best-in-Class organisations are citing as the top motivators for their sales teams



Sales incentives - Research results


So what's to be done?

This doesn't mean base + commission compensation structures should be abandoned. While the landscape may have changed, those working within sales are still of a clear persona that responds to financial targets. They will also still compete aggressively with each other for a position on a leaderboard, or to win a place on an incentive trip.


However, sales professionals are now desiring recognition for a job well done. They are keen to work collaboratively with colleagues. They expect to have access to data to see both customer sales figures and how that translates into performance against target. They show a willingness and hunger to increase their skill-set.


Five top tips on creating a next generation sales incentive

Are you left wondering how all this translates into practice? Here are five top tips on creating sales management initiatives to suit this brave new world. 


  1. Replace league tables with online performance portals
    Widen the remit from simple revenue targets to include other aspects of sales behaviours, service delivery and collaborative working. Include rich performance data and informative graphics to bring the data to life.
  2. Include a mix of individual and team targets
    Broaden your incentives to reach more people, more frequently and avoid rewarding just the high-flyers.
  3. Give them the data
    Sales people want transparency in how their performance translates to targets and rewards. Show them the data in a way that enables them to track their sales performance.
  4. Think about the softer options
    While traditional sales figures will always be a key component, your incentives can be used to drive recognition and engagement. These are equally important in improving short and long term sales performance so ignore them at your peril.
  5. Facilitate learning and sharing
    This is an audience which is keen to learn and collaborate with colleagues. Incorporating learning and sharing as part of your sales initiatives will be received positively.


The example has been set. Recent research is proving it works and the Best-in-Class organisations are reaping the results. Is it time to learn from the best and see the results for yourself?


Active create and manage sales incentives designed to help companies drive sales performance. Our online incentive platform provides an easy way to expand and deliver your sales initiatives. To find out more about how this can work for you please drop us a line.


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1Source: The Aberdeen Group, 'Sales Performance Management 2016: How the Best-in-Class Evolve Success'.

2'Best-in-Class' definition: Companies were assessed on the following sales performance criteria.

- Percentage of sales reps achieving quota

- Average year on year increase in average deal size

- Average year-on-year increase in overall team attainment of sales quota

Then ranked as Best-in-Class (top 20%), Industry Average (middle 50%) and Laggard (bottom 30%).

3Performance of 'Best-in-Class':

84% of sales reps achieving quota vs. 55% for Industry Average performers.

13.7% average year-on-year increase in average deal size vs. 3.4% for Industry Average performers.

10.9% average year-on-year increase in overall team attainment of quota vs. a 1.1% increase for Industry Average performers.

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