Sales stories from the front lines: Lessons from clients in driving sales behavior


Sales is the lifeblood of business. Indeed, one of my favorite parts of being product offering manager for IBM’s Incentive Compensation Management solution is not only meeting with clients for the better part of every month but also hearing stories from the “front lines” of sales as clients describe how they are using technology to help them adopt strategies intended to drive ever more profitable sales behavior.

Shifting tactics and incentives

A client once described to me how her sales compensation team addressed a seasonal anomaly in their retail organization: “At the end of the year [when sales generally spike], there are a set of metrics that seem to always go down each year. There were all types of excuses that the internal team provided for this dip: People are too busy. It’s the wrong product to sell in December. That has never gone well. There is nothing we can do.

But rather than giving up, the team decided to take a different tack when dealing with this particular metric. Instead of giving everyone the chance to win a $50 gift card, the team used both competitive and social incentives to drive behavior, offering that season’s latest iPad to the two best-performing members of sales staff.

What made this reworked incentive strategy compelling? First, not one, but two people would win; second, the reward was the hottest gift that holiday season. By striving to earn such a prize, sales staff members had the chance to gain the perfect gift for a loved one during the busy shopping season.

The results exceeded even the sales team’s best expectations—the metric for the targeted product line skyrocketed. In telling me the story, the client remarked that analysis of a second year’s implementation of this promotion strategy had revealed even better results than the first implementation had.

Driving behavior by knowing your audience

If you have ever heard me talk about sales performance management, you’ve heard me emphasize the importance of paying people accurately and on time while driving desired behavior. And yes—the behavior is always the hard part.

Selling one line of business rather than another, bundling to accelerate sales, or just plain keeping a team excited about selling requires a good source of motivation. Compensation programs should match sellers with desired outcomes. Indeed, the offer of iPads instead of gift cards emphasized the perennial relevance of a golden rule of sales incentive management: Know your audience. Dollars are not always the best motivator—and a percentage that is not connected with an action can be confusing.

Save a slot on your calendar for IBM Vision 2016, scheduled for 9–12 May 2016 in Orlando. When you attend, join leading sales compensation professionals from around the world for your chance to network while learning about the latest and greatest developments in sales performance management. I look forward to meeting with clients old and new during the conference, exchanging “war stories” from the front lines of sales while discussing the challenges that drive us to seek ever more profitable sales behavior.

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