As Steven Levitt validated in his Freakonomics series of books, people do respond to incentives. The question is how to best create incentives for your sales team? The first thought should actually not be about the reward, but rather the behavior that you want to promote. For example, do you want your sales team focusing in on existing customers or new prospects? Do you want them focusing in one product group or another? Do you want them to sell a product now or generate a long-standing relationship with a loyal client? The answers to these and other related questions need to be carefully considered before determining what incentives to entice your team with. If you do not think through the outcomes that you want to create, then be prepared for people who are excited about creating individual success; however, that may not be consistent with what you want the overall group or organization to be driving towards.
Once you have addressed the behavior issue above, then you need to have open discussions with members of your team about what specific types of rewards they would find meaningful. Sales leaders incorrectly assume they know what reward(s) will motivate their team. People often are driven to excel for many different reasons. Some may be interested in money, while others are focused on travel. Perhaps others want time off whereas certain employees want the latest and greatest piece of technology. The only way to be sure what will motivate your team is to simply ask. If you lead a large group, then send out a survey with a list of choices and make sure to include a fill in the blank section for additional ideas. You likely will be surprised by the variety of suggestions you receive.
After determining what each individual is most interested in, list them out for your use and then determine which responses received the most interest. Consider choosing the top three on the list and create incentive programs (again based on the behavior you want to establish) that reflect the most popular answers. However, make sure to specifically list what each person wants because there will likely be someone on your team who is not interested in the top three selections. This is your opportunity to reward this person with a prize of their own should they earn one of the top three slots. If you choose to do this, then make sure you share this option with your team early on so you do not get people to “check out” early in the contest because they are not interested in your incentives. And, if there are individuals who seemingly want unique rewards but yet they are not on pace to win the current contest, then make a note of what they are interested in because you never know when they may do something in the future which would necessitate a nice gift for their efforts.
In sales, you can often encourage associates to give that extra effort if you provide them with a carrot at the end of the stick that is personalized and/or perceived to be valuable in their eyes. The frequency of these rewards is up to you, but I would offer them, at a minimum, on a quarterly basis and perhaps more often depending on the nature of your business. Regardless of the timing, make sure you incorporate the proper incentives into your sales campaigns. If you create them correctly, your team members and you will both be very happy with the results!