While there is movement toward a broader and more encompassing definition of employee rewards underway, it doesn't appear that the concept has gained much traction in the sales compensation arena.
Experience and research has shown us that sales people are different. Study results released a couple of years ago by Sibson Consulting confirmed that sales employees are more motivated by compensation than non-sales employees (82% versus 62%). They also tend to be more engaged (57% versus 51%), more committed to their employers (68% versus 62%) and have higher career satisfaction (57% versus 52%). I would hypothesize that at least part of these findings can be attributed to the highly leveraged and performance-based compensation programs in place for most sales employees, where cash rewards are tied very clearly and directly to sales results achieved.
So, we don't want to mess with that, right?
Mostly, yes. But neither do we want to over-rely on cash as the only tool available to manage sales people and sales results. Our propensity for treating all sales problems as sales incentive problems shows how easy it is to fall into that trap. And the consequence of landing there can be overly complicated (and ultimately ineffective) sales compensation plans loaded up with too many measures and mechanics.
Using one of the visuals I am so fond of, the problem can look like this:
I think there is a place for a total rewards conversation in all sales compensation design efforts. To keep the focus exclusively on sales incentives is to miss the opportunity to throw a larger arsenal at our sales problems.
And who, these days, can afford to do that?