30+ sales incentives that will actually motivate SDRs

Excited african woman feeling winner rejoicing online win on laptop

Sales incentives are much more than attractive commission packages. They do way more than boost sales figures, too.

An effective sales incentives program can help reps feel valued and stay positive. Incentives can even help reduce churn.

If you’ve ever wondered whether cash prizes were better than experienced or whether incentives should be awarded individually or to the entire team, we’ve got the answers you’re looking for.

Here’s everything you need to know about incentives for inside sales reps plus a list of some of our favourites.

Should you offer cash or non-cash incentives?

One of the most common questions we see is whether to offer cash or non-cash incentives. There are largely two schools of thought. Some believe that nothing motivates salespeople more than cash. Others believe that most SDRs are rewarded adequately in cash through their salary and commission. Physical or experienced-based rewards are much more appealing as a result. 

We fall into the latter group. We offer a very competitive uncapped commission structure at EngageTech that pays high-performing reps very well. Knowing they effectively have this money in the bank, our reps tend to be much more motivated by gifts or experiences. 

Not only do these gifts represent something out of the ordinary, they also offer SDRs a chance to one-up their colleagues. Everyone can earn a commission cheque, but only one person can win a new Xbox or tickets to a football match.

What’s more, cash incentives are rife with tax issues. It’s much easier to buy a £1000 laptop through the company and give it away as a prize than it is to give someone £100 in cash. Trust us; we’ve tried.

We’re not the only ones who think this way. 

In the experience of Zach Barney, Director of Sales Development at Teem, cash incentives don’t increase activity levels enough. “The most effective spiffs are actually rewards that bring the team immediate joy, laughter, or more intangible experiences such as having lunch with the CEO.”

Karrie Lucero, a content marketing manager at Xactly, believes non-cash incentives can also build company culture and tradition. “If that non-cash prize becomes something like an annual ski trip that everyone looks forward to, you now have a non-cash reward that has become a focal point for the organization’s employees to rally around,” she says.

Should incentives be personal or team-based?

Incentivising individual performance can be very effective. XANT’s Christopher Tuttle managed to increase the number of appointments set by 3.4% by offering a cash prize per appointment booked. When he added a further cash prize to the top performer, his team responded by booking 19% of the month’s total appointments in a single day.

But the big problem with personal incentive programmes is that only the top reps get recognised, says Darryl Praill, CMO of VanillaSoft. There are two solutions. One is to devise a personal incentive program that takes individual improvement into account (i.e. not just results). The other is to combine personal programmes with team-based ones. 

Hubspot’s Dan Tyre does a great job of finding a balanced approach to incentives. As well as rewarding teams as a whole, he makes a point of setting very specific personal incentives. Rather than just setting a prize for the best performer, Tyre asks each individual rep what they want as a reward AND asks them to set their own target. In doing so, he makes sure that every team member gets recognition based on their performance and all of them are incentivised by a prize they actually care about. 

“The most effective spiffs are actually rewards that bring the team immediate joy, laughter, or more intangible experiences such as having lunch with the CEO.”

Can salary and commission act as an incentive?

In our opinion, your salary and commission structure has a massive impact on how motivated your employees are. We’ve seen dozens of examples of tech companies providing reps with significant base salaries and then wonder why their reps are unmotivated to book meetings.

AltiSales CEO Tito Bohrt discourages companies from paying high base salaries. But you can’t go too low with your base salary he warns. Otherwise, you’ll struggle to attract the best talent, regardless of how good your commission structure is. 

It’s a tricky balancing act, but we recommend erring on the side of higher commission levels rather than higher base salaries. Of course, you’ll need to have a high enough base salary that reps feel secure if they have a slow month. But higher commission levels will mean reps are always motivated to make a dozen more calls at the end of the day.

Do you need a big budget for incentives?

Absolutely not. How you budget for incentives will depend on what you want to achieve. 

We’ve found that short-term wins, like an uptick in weekly appointments booked, are best achieved by incentives that don’t require much of a budget — if any budget at all.

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for larger incentives, however. Every year we run a quarterly competition where reps can win their place on a company trip abroad. We typically see an increase of between 5%-15% in sales as a result of the incentive. But it’s the team bonding experience that is really valuable.

Your budget will also depend on the types of sales staff you manage. Short-term incentives are great for sales development reps, but sales executives will be far more motivated by a strong commission plan. They’ll be even more motivated if you work with them to put that plan together. 

Who you work for can also dictate your incentive budget. We’ve worked alongside plenty of B2B tech sales teams who are able to bankroll their entire incentive efforts through clients. If you’re a reseller, see if your partner brands will sponsor events and competitions in return for additional exposure.

30+ incentive ideas for your inside sales teams

Ready to get started with incentives? Below we’ve compiled a collection of our favourite incentive ideas. They won’t all be suitable for your organisation, but you’ll definitely find a few you can implement. 

Competition and game-based incentives

Sales reps are competitive creatures. So much so that you often don’t have to give them anything more than a game to incentivise them to sell more. We’ve turned the following well-known games into sales incentives by letting SDRs who book appointments to take part or have a go.

  • KPI-based sales bingo
  • Battleships
  • The Nevermind the Buzzcock’s Intro game
  • Guess the embarrassing story

Experience-based incentives

Experiences make great incentives. They are often valued higher than cash rewards and can have a lasting effect on your reps.

  • Company trips
  • Fine Dining Events
  • Spa days
  • Golf days
  • Paintballing
  • Tickets to sporting events
  • Cinema tickets
  • Organised socials

Physical prize incentives

Everyone loves presents, sales reps are no different. The trick is to make the incentive as effective as possible by choosing something that your reps really care about. Here are some of the things we’ve given away in the past:

  • iPads
  • Laptops
  • TVs
  • Games consoles
  • Speakers
  • Scratchcards

Workplace benefits incentives 

You don’t have to blow your budget on expensive prizes or flash days out. Many SDRs will be motivated by workplace incentives that make their office life easier. Consider the following cost-effective workplace benefits:

  • Subsidised gym memberships
  • Extended lunch breaks
  • An extra day’s holiday
  • Working from home
  • Leaving work an hour early
  • A preferred parking spot
  • Dress down Friday

Professional development incentives

Professional development can be a huge motivator for high-performing reps who take their careers seriously, says James Meincke, director of marketing at CloserIQ. Opportunities to progress professionally can be much more incentivizing than cash rewards, he adds. 

Try the following incentives with reps who are going places:

  • Tickets to a conference
  • Membership to an industry body
  • Online training subsidies
  • Advanced sales coaching

How to get the most from your incentives

Make no mistake about it; keeping your reps motivated through incentives is hard work. 

The first step is to figure out what works for your sales team. Every company is different, and what works for us may not work for you. When you do find an incentive that works, be careful of becoming dependent on it. 

We’ve found that you can’t repeat the same inventive over and over again. Reps will quickly lose their enthusiasm. Instead, get creative and tweak the incentive to keep it fresh. For instance, if you find that office-based games really motivate your team, keep cycling through new games rather than repeating the same one or two games over and over again.

Make sure there are visual reminders of your incentives, too. It’s easy for reps to forget about an incentive after a couple of days, even if it’s something as big as a trip abroad. Litter your office with visual cues and keep a running tally of every rep’s efforts to keep them motivated. 

The importance of customisation: 

It's crucial to customise your incentives program to your team and their specific needs. For example, if your team is mostly comprised of younger sales reps, they might be more motivated by rewards that are relevant to their interests and lifestyle, such as concert tickets or gym memberships.

Celebrate milestones: 

Don't just reward sales reps for finalising a deal or bringing in a new client. Celebrate other milestones and achievements, such as the number of calls made or meetings set, to keep your team motivated and engaged.

Keep things fresh: 

Sales incentives should not be stagnant. It's important to continually come up with new ideas and rewards to keep your team interested and motivated. You might consider soliciting ideas from your team to get a sense of what kinds of incentives would be most effective for them.

Communication is key: 

Make sure that your sales reps know what incentives are available to them and how they can earn them. Clear communication will ensure that your incentives program is effective and that your team is motivated to achieve their goals.

Metrics to measure success: 

Incentives programs should be designed with specific metrics in mind so that you can track their success. By measuring things like sales numbers, call volume, and other key performance indicators, you can see whether or not your incentives program is having the desired impact on your team's motivation and performance.

Balance is key: 

A good incentives program should strike a balance between short-term and long-term goals, individual and team-based incentives, and cash and non-cash rewards. Finding the right mix of incentives will depend on your team's goals, your company culture, and your available resources.

Finally, make sure that you are getting bang for your buck. For SDRs specifically, this means that the actions you are rewarding (say, the number of meetings booked) are actually taking place. This doesn’t matter so much on short-term low-budget prizes. But if you are rewarding sales efforts with a company retreat, then you’ll need to make sure that almost all of the meetings your reps book actually take place. That’s why when we run our company trip, we wait several months before revealing the winners. And, yes, there have been candidates who have missed out because so many of their meetings fell through. That’s just the way it goes, I’m afraid.

Have we missed your most effective sales incentive? Let us know in the comments.


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