We all have our go-to tools: the trusty hammer, those four screwdrivers—two slot head, two Phillips head—a set of pliers, a tape measure, and maybe an electric drill (for special occasions). Sure, there may be a few more, and possibly a few heavy-duty ones that we break out when the situation calls for it, but for the everyday projects around the house, I’m guessing that most of us have these few reliable items that are a must for our toolbox.

Now, maybe you’re thinking, there’s no way he’s going to be able to connect this tool analogy to incentives, right? But WHAT IF I told you that, just like your homeowner’s toolbox, your incentive “toolbox” also contains a few essentials that any good sales incentive strategy should never be without? Would you read on?

Depending on your budget and business objectives, there are a wide range of services and technologies that would certainly be useful to your sales incentive strategy. Of course, an incentive program is never one-size-fits-all. However, I do believe there are a few really important “tools” that most, if not all, sales incentive strategies should be employing:

Competition and Recognition

There’s nothing quite like the rush of making a sale. For many salespeople, selling is often equated to winning, even if you’re just competing against yourself and the disappointment of the non-sale. But this idea of winning speaks to the fact that salespeople tend to be competitive by nature. With a sales incentive strategy, you can play to this factor by engaging your salespeople in a bit of competition against one another.

There’s nothing ill-intentioned in this: depending on the size of your salesforce, individual salespeople may already be more or less aware of how successful their peers are and may judge their own success against that of their peers. Add to this the fact that, within an organization, a sale for one team member typically does not mean that sale is “stolen” from another member, and you start to understand how a sales incentive doesn’t just harness your salespeople’s natural competitiveness, it can enhance it.

To cultivate this healthy competitiveness, then, and get the most out your sales incentive strategy, it makes sense to find ways to highlight the competition itself. This can be done through easily viewable leaderboards that are updated consistently, or by sending out materials or holding recognition ceremonies that shine a spotlight on top achievers, often in front of their peers, and the award(s) that they’ve earned.

Easy Reporting/Performance Tracking

Two things you can do to help maintain this healthy competition amongst your sales team is to make the reporting process simple and streamlined and to provide consistent tracking of sales performance. On the back end, this typically means integrating a robust, user-friendly CRM system that’s easy for your sales team to access and manage. On the front-end, it may include some basic training with this software, as well as performance update communications via email, push notifications, etc. In this way, you’re able to keep your salespeople informed about their progress and engaged in maintaining it.

Pre-Sales Incentives

When dealing with a B2B sales incentive strategy, steps-to-the-sale behaviors are often integral to the achievement of the sale itself. Depending on factors like length of sales cycle and complexity of your sales channel, there may be opportunities to reward for completion of eLearning or other training modules, opportunity registration, achievement of special certifications, and other activities. By implementing an incentive program that targets these types of pre-sales and/or enablement behaviors, you can help ensure that your strategy targets more than just those home runs hit by your top 20%.

Strong Rewards Structure

Finally, an effective sales incentive strategy should have tangible rewards that salespeople feel are worth working towards. While there are those who will inevitably beat the drum of “cash is king,” the evidence for non-cash incentives continues to mount.

These rewards may come in the form of incentive travel, unforgettable experiences, or a wide selection of high-end merchandise, but regardless of what shape they take, non-cash rewards indicate to your salespeople that they are being rewarded for exceptional performances rather than simply being compensated for their everyday work. And, if you can go one step further and provide a rewards structure in which your salespeople are allowed to choose their own rewards, research has shown that this can elevate performance even further.


Sales incentive programs come in all different shapes and sizes. What works to motivate a group of 20 direct sales associates may not be effective with a legion of hundreds of channel sales engineers. However, there are some elements that tend to remain salient across the board, and these are what often form the foundation of typically successful sales incentive strategy. Sure, every business has their own unique problem when it comes to sales. The question is, do they have the right tools to fix it?

About the Author

After graduating from Emory University in 2008, Devin spent three years traveling, teaching, and writing. Upon returning to the U.S., he began working for HMI Performance Incentives as a content developer and marketing associate. He has served in that capacity since 2011, contributing to HMI’s weekly blog and producing a variety of materials for the company’s marketing, sales and group travel departments.