SalesTech Star

4 Ways Leaders Can Leverage Incentives and Win the Talent War for Sales Reps

By Nabeil Alazzam, CEO/Founder at Forma.ai

Our idea of the talent search and its place in the business sphere is changing—rapidly. 

Organizations that would have never dreamt of hiring remote candidates are now doing so at a record pace. They’ve realized that skills and outputs should be a much higher priority than physical location. Even sales positions — which are known to thrive on in-person interaction — are going remote. 

Despite a larger talent pool, competition for sales talent is as fierce as ever. In our view, incentives and sales compensation remain the strongest tool in the sales leader’s arsenal to win the Talent War. 

Granted, incentives and compensation alone won’t get great people through the door — training, coaching, and a strong reputation all play an important role in recruitment. But if you want to retain your top performers — the top 10% of sales reps — you need strong incentives and a compensation plan to fairly reward their hard work.

If you have the best people working at your company, you win. If you don’t have to spend time recruiting new reps to replace the ones that leave, you win, again. Leaders must adapt their approach to incentives if they want to compete for talent on the global stage. 

Here are four ways sales leaders can rethink incentives and use modern tools to attract, hire, and retain more qualified candidates.

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Reinvent the Bullpen

In sales, the “bullpen” — the in-office camaraderie and palpable energy that comes from sharing a physical space — fuels momentum for the entire team. If your team overhears you winning big on a call, their excitement is contagious and energizing.

While remote workspaces may be convenient, efficient, and comfortable, the glaring absence of the “bullpen” can have a negative impact on performance. Luckily, creative team-based incentives can recreate the experience of the “bullpen” even when your team is scattered remotely.

It’s important to note that team-based incentives should be offered in addition to individual compensation—not as a replacement. Additionally, the “prize” doesn’t have to be a monetary reward. Oftentimes, fun prizes like the latest gadget or a team trip can spur a stronger interdepartmental connection than any sum of money would.

When sales reps work together towards a common goal, it helps them “feel the wins” together, just as they would have in the “bullpen” at the office. 

Amplify Recognition Internally

Recognition helps high performers feel seen, valued and can give them the incentive to go the extra mile. What used to come after a big sale in the form of ringing the bell, high fives, and happy hours must now be adapted to the realities of remote work. 

There are a number of creative and unique ways to recreate the feeling of ringing the bell while working remotely. Something as simple as a congratulatory Slack message in a public channel can give your top performers the visibility and recognition they crave. Whenever an employee hits their accelerator or quarter-end bonus, repeat the process to keep the momentum going. Get the whole team continuously involved and aware of each other’s wins to encourage a culture of high performance. 

Most importantly, when high performers are recognized and rewarded for their contributions and feel valued by the organization at large, it gets a lot harder for your competitors to poach them to their team.

Redesign Your Comp Structure

If your sales compensation plan is failing to motivate or retain top performers, it may be because you’re not offering them enough incentive or earning potential. 

The crux of this issue often lies in a misalignment of what “good performance” looks like, and how it should be rewarded. Even in our data-rich world, organizations still rely on instinct and past performance to design their plans and set quotas, often to the detriment of their sales reps — and especially top performers.

If you don’t know what true “good performance” looks like in the context of a given territory and its market conditions, it becomes nearly impossible to set optimal targets that reward and motivate your top performers.

Top performers bring in a disproportionate number of sales for companies. According to best practices, your plan should be compensating your top performers 2–3x the average, and only paying your bottom performers one third of the average.

Implementing a compensation plan with such an aggressive pay curve will pose risk to organizations who haven’t taken the time to define their standards of performance.

That’s why it’s important to invest in data, research, and analytics to capture a more accurate view of your sales territories. 

With a wealth of data to determine how to measure performance, who to reward, and by how much, you can create a feedback loop that helps you optimize your compensation plans, set fairer quotas, and create incentives that drive higher performance.

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Modernize, Automate and Execute Flawlessly

There are 15 million salespeople in North America and the process of paying them is still tackled in silos. As a result, the process is slow, inefficient, and takes a massive toll on employees on both sides of the equation. Companies need to invest in intelligent, automated solutions to execute sales compensation or risk burnout, turnover, and wasted resources.

Reinventing the bullpen, enhancing recognition, defining good performance, and ultimately rewarding and retaining your best performers — all of these aims are underpinned by a need for an automated compensation system. 

An automated, data-rich dashboard provides you with the up-to-date performance data needed to confirm wins, to know when to recognize & reward, and to see which of your employees are punching above their weight and deserve increased compensation.

Not only useful for recognition and team-building by allowing leaders to quickly identify and amplify wins, automation is a powerful means to communicate in real-time to reps what good performance is, what reps should do to meet these standards of performance, and ultimately maximize their earnings.

Communication is so powerful for sales leaders — Research shows that sales managers who build trust with their teams through effective communication can positively impact job satisfaction; conversely, poor communication in the workplace can lead to added stress, low morale, missed performance goals and more.

As you rebuild your approach to recognition, incentives, and performance measurement, technology will be instrumental in driving change; however, focusing on clear & consistent communication with your team throughout the process and after new tools & technologies are implemented is key. 

Conclusion

Sales is hard, to put it bluntly. There’s a lot at stake, steep learning curves, and difficult problems to solve under pressure to perform and meet your goals. Salespeople work hard because, at the end of the day, they want a reward, an incentive, better pay — something that not many professions can offer to the same degree, or with the same flexibility.  

To that end, the most powerful thing you can do as a leader to win the “Talent War” is to focus on and retain your top performers. Top performers typically win the lion’s share of revenue, so their incentives and compensation should be crafted appropriately to keep them satisfied and motivated. Research has shown that highly tailored, even individualized compensation plans were correlated with increased sales performance in several lab experiments and in-field studies.  

The ability to structure unique compensation plans for your organization, or even individual teams and employees, is your secret weapon to keeping employees happy, motivated, and interested in staying with you. To do that, you need to revisit and modernize your approach to sales compensation and incentives — including automated sales intelligence tools, something 77% of sales professionals say their organization is planning to invest “significantly more” or “more” in this year. 

In this new, globalized job market, individuals hold the power—it’s on employers to modernize their compensation structures and incentives to ensure the talent they attract is kept happy and secure. Simply put, organizations must invest in the future of their sales force with new technologies and unique, flexible compensation structures, or risk losing both potential hires and existing staff to greener pastures.

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