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The right sales incentive for the right job

Feb 22, 2021

Written by: William Johnson, Division VP, Sales and Channel, BI WORLDWIDE
(View Author Bio)

The key to getting the most out of your sales team is using the right sales incentive tool at the right time. Here are 6 key sales incentive programs (and 3 bonus tools) that will drive engagement and deliver results the next time you pull them out of your toolbox.

Any craftsman will tell you that to do a job right, you need the right tools. Sure, Hollywood likes to glamorize using a paperclip, a mango and a small woodland creature to disarm a bomb (see MacGyver) but in the real world, the right tools for the right problems are the best way to overcome a challenge.

Using the right sales incentive structure is also key to solving your business or sales performance issues. The following are some of the best ones to have in your incentive toolbox to help remedy any challenge.

Do this, get that

Just like everyone needs a good hammer, a do this, get that structure is one of the most useful sales incentive tools for driving engagement and delivering results.

How it works:

Simple structure where participants are rewarded each time they meet specific criteria. Sell X, earn Y.

Why it works:

• Easy to understand
• Open-ended to keep sales teams motivated throughout program period
• Flexible in terms of program duration, reward amounts used and metrics (e.g., total sales, incremental sales, units, growth, activities, etc.)
• Use for short- or long-term initiatives
• Use when you want to issue different award values for different sale types or different activities

Break the bank

If you’re looking for instant sales engagement and fast results that are easy on the budget, break the bank is a great incentive structure to utilize.

How it works:

Participants earn a portion of a prize pool on a first come, first earned basis, based upon defined sales/activities. When the pool of rewards runs out, the promotion is over.

Why it works:

• Creates a sense of urgency
• Ensures reward budget is not exceeded
• Fosters friendly competition
• Metric flexibility (e.g., revenue, units or activities)
• Use for initiatives spanning up to 2 months


A highly promotable incentive structure for those on a limited budget.

How it works:

By completing tasks, participants earn entries for a larger prize. In addition to being a type of standalone rules structure, a sweepstakes can be used as an overlay or supplement to another structure.

Why it works:

• Motivates lower-level performers, who have a fair chance to win a great prize
• Defined/fixed rewards budget
• Allows sponsor to issue special, high-end rewards that would not be possible with other structures (e.g., trip to Hawaii)
• Can also be used as an incentive overlay
• Use with audiences that are nominally compensated and when trying to drive simple activities (e.g., quiz completion, CRM account updates)

Learn and earn

If you need to teach a new behavior and make it stick, adding some learning to your sales incentive program is a perfect way to do it.

How it works:

Requiring reps to complete part of a sales training program can be used in a couple of ways: They either need to pass the training to participate in an upcoming incentive or if they complete the required training, they earn more in the incentive than if they didn’t.

Why it works:

• Easy to understand
• Leverages do this, get that structure format
• Often used for a limited time period (1-3 months) but can be used for up to 12 months if learning curriculum is extensive. In that case, sales training should be spread out into numerous courses or modules.

The accelerator

A little is good but MORE is better! That’s the basic premise behind the accelerator structure.

How it works:

A do this, get that structure where payouts increase as key milestone levels are met.

Why it works:

• Highly promotable
• Creates push to reach highest level
• Open-ended to keep sales reps motivated
• Sales awards can be issued as earned or at program’s end
• Especially motivating for top performers
• Use for short-term incentives, especially those with a unit-based metric


Leveraging gamification and the competitive nature of people help make this incentive tool a powerful one as well.

How it works:

Missions are a core structure used in gamification to drive increased and focused activities. They are short-term building blocks supporting a long-term initiative and can be segmented or changed throughout a program to maximize sales engagement in a meaningful way.

Why it works:

• Based on the psychology of intrinsic motivation, rewards and recognition
• Tap into the five intrinsic motivators that have the greatest impact on performance: autonomy, mastery, purpose, progress and social interaction
• Used primarily with existing technology to drive adoption and engagement
• Highly popular in training and development applications
• Creates strong analytics to optimize program performance for employees, sales teams and customers

Having a core set of rules structures in your sales incentive toolbox will help drive the results you are looking for. Here are a few extra add-ons that will amplify the power of your incentives:

Bonus: fast start or finish

Involves using one or more key rules structures for a limited time, thus maximizing near-term activity.

Why it works:

Helps ensure that a new program gets off to a great start or a program finishes strong as it nears its end.

Bonus: top performer award

In addition to being a type of standalone rules structure, top performers can be recognized and rewarded as part of an overlay, where they earn
bonus rewards for exemplary sales performance.

Why it works:

Motivates historically strong performers, while minimizing budget exposure because it relies on a fixed budget.

Bonus: doubler or tripler

This highly promotable tactic involves doubling or tripling base program earnings if certain performance metrics are met. It can apply to individual or team performance, depending on the sales goals you’re focused on achieving.

Why it works:

It has a high promotion value and is a strong way to incorporate a teambased component into an otherwise individually-focused initiative, thus encouraging reps to work together. 

These are just some of the sales incentive tools you can use to drive engagement, change behavior and deliver results. And don’t forget, sometimes the best incentive programs combine two or more rules structures to challenge your team in a new way.

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