Sales incentives ideas concept

How to get sales incentive ideas off the ground & make them unstoppable

This blog will take you through the key areas you have to hit to get your sales incentive ideas off the ground. We won’t bore you with another long list of possible incentive tools, because those are already out there if you need the inspiration.

This blog is about taking your good ideas and making them unstoppable.

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A great sales incentive idea is only the start

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before. You put together a list of great sales incentive ideas. They’re creative, exciting, and you’re thrilled to present them to your managers.

Everyone on the team agrees they’re great, too. You’re all convinced they would increase sales, motivate sales teams, and everyone would have fun doing it.

But it never quite seems to get implemented. Your incentive ideas bounce around, they’re brought up when you’re under pressure to come up with a new idea. But it’s not what you could have won.

Maybe you see a form of it implemented, a watered-down version. But you never really see them brought to life in a way that maximises their potential.

We get it, we’ve been there. Just about everyone has.

You’re not alone on this one

Many companies run into this issue. Because every organisation has inertia. A resistance to changing processes that comes from the inherent need for a business to keep doing its daily tasks. And for that business to be efficient while those tasks are performed.

It’s not a reason to give up on your sales incentives ideas though. Incentives are a proven method for bringing enthusiasm and performance out of a sales team.

You just need to know how to build the bridge between the good idea you have today, and the scheme you want to see running tomorrow.

1. Do the research and canvas key stakeholders

Undertaking research

We don’t need to tell you to do the research and put a plan together. But you need to think about the scope of your research and who you talk to. Not enough people do the internal research that will make an idea easy to implement.

Your ideas need to accommodate the pain points of leadership and any teams affected by your incentive. If your sales incentives are likely to affect a department, you need a conversation with them before putting any grand plans to paper.

This is to:

  1. Minimise any extra difficulty to them
  2. Actually alleviate a paint point if possible

Combined, they make it more likely your ideas will gain traction, and reduce the likelihood of a surprise roadblock as you put an idea into action.

Make sure the managers have a voice

The most important person to speak to are the managers of your sales teams. You need their input at the start of your planning stage. Their needs, and their potential objections, are the ones most likely to be a killer roadblock when proposing your ideas. It’s best to answer those objections as soon as possible.

You don’t want a problem to pop-up later on that turns into a reason for leadership to pull the plug and re-focus attention to something else.

The planning process is also an opportunity to put the voice of sales staff into your incentive idea. Not only does hearing their concerns increase the chance they’ll buy into your idea, but you can ask them questions, getting a clear picture of what, in terms of rewards, feels like a good return on investment.

2. Be specific

Sales targets

Set out clear goals about what you want your sales incentive idea to achieve, and for who.

Too many incentive ideas promise to reward outcomes that are washy and broad. Lay out the specific behaviours that will turn into rewarding moments.

Be clear about who you’re trying to motivate, too. Do you need a fire lit under your top guns, the bulk of your staff just getting on with their work, or the low performers? The staff whose behaviour needs to change are the ones that need to be explicitly targeted by your incentive scheme.

Who you need to target will inform what you do to target them.

Focus your ideas on the moments you’re trying to generate and the people from whom you’re trying to draw a reaction.

3. Sell your sizzle


We don’t say this to be rude, but it’s a truth that bears confronting. While this is your project, it’s actually not really about you. It’s not about showing off how clever you are, or how hard you worked, or how great your idea is. It’s about the results, the difference your ideas can make to your company.

This is important to remember when you’re selling an idea internally. No matter how clever, creative and new your ideas are, you need to get your stakeholders invested. And that means selling the sizzle. Focus on communicating the outcomes, the motivation, the possibilities. Not processes.

Don’t dwell on the intricate details of a mechanism for your incentive ideas until you’re asked about them. Let the audience open that door themselves once they’re invested in the outcomes, the advantages are clear to them, and they want to know to achieve them.

This is an investment. Building enthusiasm for the sizzle now will help keep interest in the steak alive later. It’s the difference between a leadership figure asking: “what happened to that incentive idea you had? It sounded really good” and something that sounds complicated being set aside.

4. The right incentive rewards

The carrot works a lot better than the stick for motivating employees. Which means making sure you have the right carrots.

You need to put together a variety of rewards at different value points. Sticking to just one reward value, and just one reward type, will hamstring you.

This is for two reasons:

We’ll go into more details on scale later, but incentives that last more than a couple of months benefit from being broken into parts. That includes offering smaller rewards along the way, building up to the big one.

The need for variety should speak for itself. What moves the needle for one employee leaves another cold. If staff can’t get excited for their rewards, it’s harder for them to be invested in your sales incentive ideas.

5. Structuring goals for your sales incentive idea

How to structure sales incentive ideas

It would be difficult for anyone to give your company advice on how to structure your incentives without proper knowledge of your business.

Every company has their own pattern of quirks, details and difficulties that make one-size-fits-all structures difficult, and frankly a little inadvisable.

However, we can offer you some tenets that should underpin your sales incentive structure when you’re navigating your company’s own problems.

The structure of your sales incentive idea should be:

  • Specific – To teams, and the people in them. We’ll cover this in a little more depth later on.
  • Measurable – Transparency in your scheme matters, and transparency is easier when you focus on quantifiable elements. Rewarding for ideas that rely on more qualitative elements immediately opens you up to unconscious bias – you quite literally won’t even know you’re doing it. If everyone can see an obvious winner, by terms laid out clearly, it’s much less likely anyone can feel hard done by.
  • Fair – Your incentive needs to tread the line between not being unreasonably difficult, but not being so easy an employee would achieve it through their regular work or random chance. This is why it’s important to get which segment of your sales team that needs motivating clear.
  • Routine – Organise an incentive idea that’s checked in and updated at constant intervals, with regular feedback to the users and the scheme stakeholders. We’ll go into more detail on how you can make interaction over time easier further into the blog.

Demonstrating care for these areas, and accounting for them in your planning, dramatically increases the chance of success.

6. Give recognition a place

Thank you recognition note

Making sure to integrate employee recognition. As we’ve pointed out many times before, recognition is one of the most impactful things you can do to improve your business.

Your sales incentive idea shouldn’t be any different. By making sure you include recognition as a component of your scheme, you can credibly claim that your incentive idea will help your company improve:

  • Employee engagement
  • Loyalty
  • Motivation

These benefits compound with the benefits of generating more sales and revenue. Be sure to communicate these advantages and work them into your sales incentive ideas.

7. Keep user processes simple

Confusing blackboard

The mechanic that moves employees towards their reward needs to be simple for your sales staff.

We can look to one of our own sales incentive clients for good practice on this. They’re a UK-wide reseller that rewards their customers for loyalty with a sales incentive scheme.

To keep that scheme simple, the end-user has minimal involvement in the crucial processes. All they have to do is submit proof of their purchases through a purpose-built web portal.

Our own incentive system handles all the complicated parts about confirming sales and banking points. The user would never know it was happening; they just have to worry about what kind of reward they want for their efforts.

The focus should always be on providing the user with opportunity, not obligations. This keeps the positive sentiment towards your sales incentive idea high and engagement will follow.

8. Plan touch points

Incentive system on ipad

Plan ways to bring users back into the incentive scheme as often as you can without being obtrusive.

Getting something off the ground is a battle, but it’s just part one. Part two is keeping users interested once the launch buzz fades.

We tend to default to common and familiar behaviours, and falling out of the initial excitement of an incentive scheme launch is a problem that needs to be addressed by continuous communication.

We use automated systems that alleviate the need for scheme operators to constantly badger users to come back to a platform.

Instead, we act on user behaviour. Even if it’s the absence of user behaviour.

You will need to set out a plan to communicate with senior leadership too. To keep their engagement with the scheme up. Ideally, you’d offer them a chance to exert their expertise where appropriate to make adjustments that keep engagement high.

Try our dedicated incentives platform

Sales Incentives Platform

Our Engage incentive platform drives sales, brand engagement and loyalty. Get in touch for a demo.

Sales Incentive platforms


9. Timing is everything

Looking at watch

As with everything else in life, timing is everything.

Ideally an incentive would be short. Short makes it more likely you’ll get the initial take up, as you’re asking for less from your audience internally. It also more readily gives you results, numbers and feedback to start learning from.

If you’re planning to go long, “chunk” the incentive up into month-long or quarterly bites. While employees are always working towards a longer-term goal, there will also be something for them at shorter intervals.

There are three reasons for this.

First, regularly punctuating a scheme with rewards helps keep the excitement and interaction with that scheme high

Second, some employees might be put off by a goal that seems too far away or not achievable. Breaking into blocks makes it more digestible and shows how a big goal is just a series of smaller goals added up.

Third, when there’s monthly rewards, there’s always something to aim for. Imagine an incentive scheme that’s designed to last six months, but two of your staff happen to have exceptional months right off the bat in the first two months. Staff left to catch-up may feel put off, or discouraged, and disengage from your incentive scheme.

10. Be wary of the cost of doing business

Working on laptop

There have been companies that have sold more products, more often, and still lost money.

Essentially, an incentive scheme managed to run a company close to a cash crunch by giving sales staff too much power to set prices.

Giving sales teams some flexibility to bend prices makes lot of sense, too. After all, it’s better to have little bit less profit than lose the sale completely, right? That breathing room might be the difference.

However, the sales staff in these companies were motivated on volume alone. When they managed to wrangle a price from their warehouse to ship products at a certain level, the cost of producing, warehousing, shipping and recording the sale just about overtook the price of the item.

The company appeared to be doing plenty of business, and generating a huge amount of sales. But behind the volume and incentives was a lurking cash crunch that demanded the company spring into action.

Preventing this means talking to your finance department. Or whoever manages your business’ accounts. Alongside them, set hard boundaries on how far, and how often, your sales staff can bend their prices to secure their sales.

Demonstrating that you have considered these issues ahead of time gives your incentive idea much more credibility. In turn, it’s more likely to get off the ground, and unlikely to run into calamitous issues during its operation.

11. Align with the big picture

Open roadMake your incentive idea part of the big picture in your company. Make sure your sales incentive doesn’t just align with, but actively supports, what the wider organisation wants to achieve.

Not only does this make your scheme more likely to set off the right bells in your audience’s mind, it future-proofs you from.

Alongside the overall direction of your company, consider ethics. We’ve spoken before about how your values can be undermined by an incentive scheme that rewards staff for bending your ethics and values.

12. Plan for just one team

When you want to cash in a good idea and deploy it for another team, you can’t just copy and paste the concept.

The stakeholders, the employees, the teams, their needs. They all change and need room to breathe and adjust a good incentive idea to suit their needs.

Your initial plan should be to deliver your sales incentive idea for one specific sales team and one team only. It greatly increases the chances of success when you focus on the needs of that group.

That’s not to say there won’t be significant overlap if your idea ends up being deployed for other teams. But you’re considerably more likely to enjoy success with an incentive idea when it’s highly specialised.


13. Centralise communication

Holding up questionsCommunication is an important part of keeping users interested in a scheme and demonstrating transparency.

Putting everything in one centralised place makes it easy to be transparent, and it makes it easy to offer your incentivised staff a single portal. One idea, one message, one platform means consistency of message across a team.


Make sales incentive ideas a reality

When it comes to launching fresh sales incentive ideas, we’re often the people saying “just get started.” And usually we’d stand behind that. But as you can see, there are quite a few moving parts to a really good incentive scheme.

Because there are stakeholders that need to buy in and be involved, we would advocate doing your homework on sales incentives and building strong foundations before launching. This isn’t a scheme that can be driven and kept alive exclusively by your own determination, cross-department cooperation and buy-in is essential.

Your aim needs to be get past the excitement and delve into a bit of the grit. Yes, dazzle your leadership with the exciting top-level stuff and the prospect of sales and results. But proof your work against the people that will scratch the surface and dig into whether or not your incentive idea is practical. Its execution lives and dies in their confidence.

Earn their buy-in, secure their approval, and make sure your scheme is as close as possible to an airtight workable proposition. Doing this puts you one step closer to pulling off something that hundreds of people in your place talk about but few actually accomplish – having a great idea, knowing it’s worth the effort, and making it happen.

We’re always here

And if you need any advice on your sales incentive ideas themselves, feel free to get in touch. We’re always happy to talk shop.

8 sales promotion ideas you need to steal

Stand-out sales promotion ideas change the game for consumer-facing businesses. You, like any business, are locked in the endless struggle to secure fresh sales. No matter what else you do as a business, you’ll eventually live and die on actually making some sales.

Almost nothing is so good it sells itself. Which is why sales is a whole industry and specialisation. And, consumers are more apathetic and jaded than ever about embracing new things. Eye-catching sales promotional capture customer attention and interest, making more likely to make purchases.

8 sales promotion ideas you should consider


Broadly speaking, rewards work. It’s our speciality. They delight and they demand action. Attaching a voucher, gift card or digital reward to your products makes them just a bit more attractive when the customer is weighing their options or deciding whether to make a purchase.

Loyalty rewards

Customers that stick around deserve to be shown some love. You can make these schemes informal and simple or do something more robust. It could be a simple stamped card after every purchase, a store card that gives them a discount at the till, or full points-banking system that tracks purchases.

Bulk and combination discounts

As a tried and tested customer acquisition technique, it works. Assemble complimentary items and offer them at a discount when combined. Or, offer a sliding scale of discounts for customers placing the big orders. It’s not complicated or wildly imaginative, but it does work. For instance, we often find that our Shout! recognition portal partners brilliantly with our discount gift card schemes.

On-pack promotions

Catch the eye of customers when your product is on the supermarket shelf. Offer a modest reward for every sale, or dangle a really big prize like a holiday or big-ticket electronics. These prizes can be mailed out on purchase confirmation or distributed digitally. A swell of sales promotion ideas hinge on offering something of greater financial value to the customer, they’re a very effective approach.

Influencers and referrals

If you have fans, make use of them. Do some research and find out if any of your customers have an influential online presence and strike a deal for your brand to feature in their sphere of influence. Alternatively, offer a reward for any customer that uses their social group to pull in more new customers.

Buy-backs and trade ins

We’re rapidly approaching an era when companies are going to be asked to take more responsibility for what happens to their products after they’re sold. A buy-back scheme lets you address that concern while generating a reason for customers to make their next purchase with you.

When you buy-back your products, you can apply a discount to their next purchase. Similar to how video game retailers operate a trade-in system – you’ll naturally always be more generous with the store credit than the cash. For a sales promotion idea it combines ethical behaviour with a tangible reward to your customer.

You can also then control what happens to your products when you’re done with them. Recycle them or refurbish and resell them.

Financing and credit

Up-front prices can be deal-breaker when closing a sale. Offering finance deals to customers with reasonable credit makes it much more likely they’ll entertain a sale.

Alternatively, if you’re working with a trade audience, credit is a game-changing difference. Dealing with 30 to 90-day payment terms while securing materials for a job can cripple trade customers. Credit for trusted clients secures sales, and secures their business in the future.

Trial periods

Companies like Leesa Mattresses, for instance, offer guarantees of refunds after a trial of their products. It takes the sting out of committing to the purchase by offering the customer an escape hatch. If your products are high quality and meet the needs of your audience, very few will be sent back.

Flash sales and time-limited deals

Urgency is a common way to promote action. Create discounts and deals that are only available in a limited period to create a sense that the purchase has to happen now. These time-specific events prey on our fear of missing out on a great deal, creating an internal pressure to grab the bargain while it’s available.

Time-sensitive checkout discounts

Urgency combats cart abandons. A lot of online retailers notice their users often abandon carts just when they’re about to checkout. This idea offers them a time-sensitive discount on individual products in the basket, or the entire basket, as long as they check out within an hour. Or half an hour. Whatever you deem appropriate.

Ultimately the key to making sales promotion ideas work is getting over the natural apathy of your audience. Attention, getting it and keeping it, has become a currency in its own right. Whatever method you choose to rope in a few more sales, consider your audience’s urgencies. Tap into their emotions and their priorities and focus on inspiring them to act.

Your staff incentive scheme: What you wanted, and what you got instead

Your road to staff incentive scheme disappointment will be paved with the very best of intentions. That’s because the desire to provide incentives comes from a genuine place; you want to excite staff with rewards instead of crudely insisting employees work harder because they’ve been told to.

But, there’s a good chance you won’t get what you want from the scheme. It’s no reason to be downbeat, it happens a lot. What you expect to see from a scheme just isn’t always what it delivers. This article will jog you through what you wanted, what you got instead, and how you can improve in the future.

What you wanted, what you got instead, and what you can do about it

You wanted to see if your top performers could do more

You wanted to know if there was another level of performance that could be eked out of your biggest stars.

What you got instead

Even with new incentives on offer, the most prolific achievers in your company generally held the line. There wasn’t a measurable, sustained uptick in effort or achievement from your top guns.

What you could have done

Your big-shot staff aren’t likely to find another level of effort. They’re already your hard-chargers, they’re already obsessed with hitting their deadlines and targets. Personal pride and drive won’t permit them be anything else.

They’re also conditioned to expect any OTE and rewards you already dish out. You can’t rightfully withhold those rewards now and then ask for more effort to get them back. It’s a betrayal of your relationship, and more than likely will actually hurt morale. There’s no reason to mess your team’s biggest assets about for a marginal gain.

Rather than focus on core role KPIs and effort, focus on how they can improve the intangibles around the office. Measurable ideas like supporting lower-performing staff, finding efficiencies, getting clients to rely less on your customer support teams, running training for other staff in the company.

You wanted your lowest performers to start achieving

Every workplace has staff that are, at least outwardly, happy with below-average performance. You know they can do more, and you thought incentives would bring that out of them.

What you got instead

Nothing. Your lowest performing employees showed no reaction whatsoever to your staff incentive scheme.

What you could have done

To be blunt, what good is an incentive when an employee has no intention of doing any work beyond what’s required?

You could set the bar as high or as low as you like, it doesn’t make any difference to an actively disengaged, indifferent employee. Changing the behaviour of actively disengaged employees needs more than just the promise of an incentive.

You need to disassemble the reasons why they’re so uninterested in your business, then find a way to reignite passion for their work. After that, you can start thinking about how incentives will keep them energised.

You wanted average staff to turn it up a notch

Your plan was to introduce a system that incentivises the bulk of your staff to produce more outstanding performances, more often.

What you got instead

A mediocre uptake, with a fair few staff getting interested in the scheme. But, the effort didn’t sustain for any serious period. The vast majority became disengaged and dropped off.

What you could have done

Make sure an incentive scheme doesn’t get drowned out by your highest performers scooping up all the rewards. Your scheme needs to feel achievable, offer the chance to build towards bigger rewards, without getting drowned out by the top dogs in the department.

Which brings us to an important point.

The battle of the bulge is a battle worth fighting

Ultimately, middle performers are where you should be focusing the bulk of your incentive efforts. The top workers produce the numbers without your instruction, and the bottom need a different remedy entirely. Your middle achievers make up most of your staff, but they’re the easiest group to forget about because they chug along happily, achieving their targets.

One of the biggest problems with intensely KPI-focused incentive schemes is that the thresholds and rewards can be hoovered up too quickly by your top performers. On one hand, it’s great that your top performers are doing so well. On the other hand, your middle performers can feel alienated and disinterested in those incentives.

An incentive scheme needs to continually provide an opportunity to be rewarded for excellence, while still working toward larger, tantalising, rewards. When rewards are too frequent, they become a blur. When they’re too sparse, they feel unachievable.

Think of incentives like a ladder. Looking up at a ladder, it’s impossible to just reach up and grab the top rung. You have to climb one rung at a time. Even worse though, the very top of the ladder can never be reached if the same two or three people are always up there already. If you don’t think you can reach the top, you’re not likely to even start climbing.

Use achievable, repeatable milestones. Employ a mix of core KPIs and less tangible workplace improvements. And, crucially, make sure you structure them to furnish all your staff with the chance to be rewarded for excellence.

Explained: Why your cash only sales incentives never produce consistent results

The cash-based sales incentive is the archetypical “throw money at the problem” answer to sales teams with flagging revenue figures, but the majority of cash-based incentive programmes end in diminishing returns and a great deal of head scratching about why good old-fashioned money isn’t producing the results companies want.

The truth is that cash on its own, as a motivator, isn’t as inherently linked to motivation as employers, or even employees, would like to think it is.

Among the variety of reasons that these cash incentive schemes fail, there are four big areas:

Survival through compliance

Many employees don’t want to change their behaviour, but will bend their work to the whims of their company like a tree in the wind. While they flex and sway, they ultimately don’t go anywhere new.

Cash incentives prompt employees to do just enough to meet the prevailing wind’s demand without addressing why their work was underwhelming in the first place, and they’ll inevitably revert to their old habits if allowed.

Lazy use of resources

Cash incentives don’t necessarily improve long term performance, but still a great deal of energy is dedicated to quibbling and fretting about the appropriate amount to spend on cash incentives, and which behaviours to attach them to.

In many cases the cash and energy required to build and maintain an incentive scheme could be better spent improving the company, its culture, work environment, engagement and training.

Incentives aren’t special forever

Excessive reliance on cash sales incentives can be procrastination for addressing performance issues, but pulling the plug can seem an impossible task. The cash incentives can become so commonplace they’re no longer a reward but extra income employees are dependent on, long past the point of any benefit to staff, and employers are left without wiggle room to fix performance and culture problems.

Reinforcing old work habits

What a company chooses to distribute cash incentives in exchange for becomes the de facto set of values and priorities for the sales team; cash incentives for predictable behaviours like meeting revenue targets generate predictable working patterns and stifle creativity.

So, what do you actually need to do to make an incentive scheme work?

Abandon cash

Cash has value, but that value is limited; it’s the same old currency used in the monthly exchange of money for services. As such, cash is familiar and subject to the same anxieties and stresses as the monthly pay packet. A non-cash reward costs less to fulfil, and comes with a trophy value which is more valuable to employees’ sense of job satisfaction than just cash.

Periodically refresh incentives

Don’t let your sales incentives get stale. Change the pattern of rewards, the value of rewards, and the behaviour and outcomes you want to incentivise your employees to achieve. This stops any sense of dependency setting in as well as keeping incentives fresh and interesting.

Reward positive behaviour

Incentivise sales staff for not just getting rewards for the figures on a spreadsheet, but for their holistic role in the company. We’ve spoken before about how to pick behaviours which are worth rewarding in our blog here. It’s possible to create insular, toxic sales cultures which undermine your company’s values with cash-only incentives.

Keep your scheme simple

Make sure what you’re pushing employees to do is achievable and reasonable, and the reward system is similarly built to be as accessible as possible. Roadblocks can make incentives feel unworthy of pursuit, and difficult to access rewards mean employees are less likely to pursue them.

Address your company culture

Cash makes a poor substitute for genuine interest and enjoyment from work. Commit to producing a more hospitable workplace, greater job satisfaction and working processes which counter job dissatisfaction and frustration, eliminating the need to bribe employees to produce results. With this dealt with, it will be easier to effectively employ non-cash incentives for positive outcomes in the future.

Ultimately, cash-only incentives fail, whether it’s at the SME level where they fail to engage sales teams struggling for numbers or at the financial institution level, where they breed toxic money-first subcultures. Sales incentives do still work, but the rewards and incentive structure need to be layered on top of a healthier approach to work and a strong, ethical company culture