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Shifting the performance curve with three motivation techniques

Let's dive into engagement techniques that can motivate and inspire your salespeople and shift the performance curve.


Sales contests, sales incentive programmes, and grand yearly kickoff meetings are some of the things that businesses put in place to motivate their frontline salespeople. Although motivational, these events usually only reward the top-tier high performers, who consistently hit their targets. But when only a few benefit from such compensation schemes, it can lead other salespeople to feel jaded, demoralised and disengaged. 

The truth is, standard compensation and bonus programmes fail to consider that not all salespeople are made the same. They are driven differently and may require varying levels of attention and different kinds of incentives. 

Three types of salespeople

While every business's dream is to have a sales team that only consists of high-performing salespeople, the reality is often not the case. Usually, high achievers make up a small percentage, while the bulk of the team consists of core performers. Hence, if a business can customise its incentive programme to target this group and “move the mighty middle," it will cause a great uplift to the business. 

BI WORLDWIDE has found that the top 10% to 20% of a sales team, who are the typical recipients of sales awards, only generate 35% to 40% of incremental performance. This means that engaging the next 60% — our core performers — is critical for top-line growth. 

Sometimes, there are also low performers. Learning how to engage even the low performers is also key to motivating every salesperson onboard. It leads to higher satisfaction at the workplace, leading to increased motivation to learn and higher sales volumes.

Motivating core performers 

Let’s start with the core performers. These are the salespeople who usually form the bulk of your team but tend to be neglected. Instead of a system that applies across the board, companies can use “breakthrough rules” for a customised approach. In such a structure, each salesperson is assigned a personalised product volume baseline and three progressive goals. 

Hitting each goal gives them rewards, encouraging them to go for the next tier. A multi-tier system would motivate core performers to try a little harder, especially with added tiers in the middle that act as stepping stones. Preferably, the tiers should be evenly spaced and achievable. Additionally, having smaller, more frequent rewards help to reinforce and encourage positive behaviours. So, rather than an annual bonus, a quarterly performance bonus might be more effective. 

A contest with more tiers can offer varying non-cash gifts, such as experiential gifts or vouchers at the mid-tiers, and superior top-level prizes at the top, like a luxurious 4D3N cruise. Mid-tier gifts should have an inherent value that the top-level prizes don’t, even if they are lesser in value. For instance, a mid-tier gift can be an all-expenses-paid cruise ship getaway, while top-tier gifts can be a holiday on another continent. This is why non-cash prizes work better as sales incentive ideas, as they offer differentiation in value. This way, both high achievers and core performers have something to work towards, improving overall sales force effectiveness.


Motivating low performers 

Understandably, sales teams may have low performers who could be lacking the drive or are simply too new and need time to catch up on their training. Other struggles they might face include needing more time to build their pipeline due to long sales cycles for the services and products they are selling.

If you see that there are low performers who delivered results in the past but are getting complacent, one way to motivate them would be to make sales results transparent by using leaderboards. For example, by presenting each salesperson’s numbers from low to high at key meetings during the year. This sends the message that your organisation rewards achievements, while also motivating lower performer salespersons to strive higher, drawing on the behavioural principle of “fear of missing out” (i.e. FOMO).

However, if you see that low performers are trying their best but cannot achieve the targets set for them, sales managers need to step up on training and development. The company could have a job-shadowing programme for the new hires or engage a coach to impart some practical techniques or skills for this group. 

For additional motivation, sales contests can also layer on a “Personal Best” yardstick, so low performers can work towards beating their previous sales numbers without comparing themselves to others. For low performers, constantly being reminded that they are the black sheep of the group can lead to disillusionment over time. 

Another fun way to motivate low performers would be to put in place a “Fast Start / Fast Finish” system. Under this system, sales representatives can earn double the points in a contest for any sales made within the first two weeks. This means that if low performers are able to sell earlier, they can better visualise the finish line and be more motivated. Also known as the Goal Gradient Theory, this generally works across all three types of salespeople to achieve sales team motivation.

Just like the tactic of offering frequent rewards, a phased bonus plan that offers monthly or quarterly bonuses works better than an annual bonus plan for low performers by motivating them to try again every cycle. Otherwise, they may give up within a few months if they find themselves lagging behind too much. 

Motivating high achievers 

High achievers are naturally confident, full of drive, and have no issues meeting the company’s sales targets. So, all an organisation needs to do is to let them shine. 

To do so, never cap their incentive plan rates, because doing so would actively encourage high achievers to stop once they reach the cap. Instead, a more effective solution would be for companies to adjust rates to introduce higher payouts for extremely high targets. Another alternative would be to offer luxurious or difficult-to-obtain gifts as special rewards. 

Need further help on how to motivate your sales teams? You can create further customisations that cater to your organisation on a consolidated platform like BI WORLDWIDE’s SalesMaker, which allows for gamification and individual goal setting. What’s more, the platform boasts a Contest Wizard with many pre-set incentive schemes ready for use. There are also built-in reporting mechanisms and dashboards that allow you to track each individual representatives’ sales effectiveness.