8 Sales Incentive Program Ideas That Work

By: Ellen Linkenhoker
wooden blocks with symbols of ideas

SPIFs, spurts and promotions are great ways to drive sales activity. In fact, about 90% of top-performing organizations use incentive programs to reward their sales associates.

However, in the increasingly competitive channel market, smart companies influence desired behaviors earlier in the channel partner relationship to achieve better participation, higher engagement and more profitable partnerships.

But first, understand what behavior you’re looking to drive: Who is your target audience? What is the promotion’s time frame? What type of budget do you have? What are your success metrics?

Drive engagement and spice up sales incentives with new and fresh ideas beyond the classic “sell X, get Y” promotion. Here are eight examples of effective sales incentive program ideas.


1. Game Plays

Take your channel program to the next level by incenting desired behaviors. Fun and impactful games provide little (and potentially big) rewards for simply staying engaged. Compensate people for doing the things you want them to do (e.g., contact leads, add to the funnel, etc.), and they’ll do them more often.

example of incentive game play

2. Push/Pull Strategy

Consider motivating both the owner/manager and the counter sales reps in the store. For example, a sales rep receives incentives and communications pushing them to act. If you incent dealer principals or leadership teams on sales rep participation or goal achievement, they’re more likely to encourage reps to meet the goals. Not only is the rep engaged but leadership is pulled to engage and support the reps from the top down.


example of push pull strategy

Related: One of our clients, a leading automotive aftermarket parts distributor, needed to increase sales, drive engagement and gain mindshare with local sellers and customers. A combination of incentives and events drove a push-pull strategy through a buy-back opportunity where purchases help pay for a trip. See how it came to life.

3. Team-Based Qualifiers

Team incentives boost business efficiency by ensuring all teams work toward common goals. Measurable operational metrics guide the goals, with short-term and long-term reviews on a regular basis to provide insight on what’s working and what’s not.

  • Team-based incentives create and emphasize the need for company-wide collaboration.
  • The entire organization (partner, dealership, team, etc.) needs to complete X% training to be eligible for awards
  • Let teams see what they earn, but can’t collect until everyone meets the requirements
thumbs up and thumbs down incentive qualifier example

4. Gated Points

When organizations need partners to complete training or take specific actions, gating points or requiring pre-qualifications to earn offers a carrot instead of the stick. Gating is great for rewarding for steps-to-the-sale behaviors, like taking quizzes about the solutions or requiring a minimum service score. The pre-qualifications not only help the sellers sell, but also increase your company’s frequency in products sold and other key metrics. These types of incentives are often seen with training gates, satisfaction scores, service repair KPIs, lead response times, minimum sales levels, etc.

example of earning requirements for incentive

5. Personalized Goal Setting

There’s nothing more motivating than the power of choice. Whether it’s a personal goal or a benefit to earn, selecting their own goal gives partners built-in personal motivation to achieve.

example of personalized goal setting

6. Sweepstakes or Travel Awards

Some top performers may be so successful that most awards no longer captivate them. But you’re not out of luck. Offering travel for individual earners gives destination, timing and budget flexibility. Consider providing awards to different peer groups and rising stars to forge relationships with some of your best and brightest.

example of travel award incentive

7. Point Multipliers

Whether wanting to prove a strong ROI or care for margin-specific payouts, point multipliers help to push people over a performance plateau. For example, if you see most reps only submit 5 sales/referrals/activities, and it drops off steeply, place a multiplier on hitting that 6+ level.

example of performance payouts

8. Friendly Competitions

Let reps and participants compete in a head-to-head matchup over a specific metric. Pick a couple activities, set a time period, and reward whoever has the highest number of activities at the end. Add more competition by incorporating leaderboards. Sales reps’ competitive nature motivates them to complete whatever task at hand.

example of competition in incentive program

4 Steps to Choosing The Right Channel Sales Incentive

Don’t just start trying all these ideas without planning first. While the ideas above are good alone, deciding which will impact your people in the way you want must be a consideration. Follow these four steps to get the most out of your channel sales incentive program.

1. Figure out what motivates your audience.

Take time to interact and get to know your partner sales team and understand what they value. Use pulse surveys, past redemption analysis, demographic information, etc. to determine what sales incentive campaigns to run and what awards to offer.

2. Align sales incentive strategy to base compensation and annual programs.

Most sales incentives have to live side-by-side with compensation plans and other annual or ongoing programs. How does this interact with rule structures and earnings? Will you have enough mindshare? Is the promotion enough to drive attention? Create a compelling reason for your channel partner initiative investment.       

3. Provide proof the sales incentive investment warrants the expected outcomes.

Use your program data and sales goal promotions to prove what success looks like. Present the investment and anticipated outcome to your stakeholders showcasing the value this promotion provides.

4. Communicate the promotion.

Once your objectives are crystal clear, tell everyone eligible for the promotion about your incentive program. Articulate the promotion in a way that resonates with your partners to meet your goals. Communications should focus on the desired participant behavior needed and what value partners get out of performing.

Get Help Calculating Your Channel Sales Incentive Budget

Successful brands need realistic channel incentive budgets to award participants in meaningful ways. But it can be challenging to know what your budget should be and if it will move the needle. Our customizable incentive program budget calculator does the math for you. Our experts are happy to help guide you through exercises to make a pragmatic budget that’s personalized to your needs and audience. Ready to get started? Try the personalized incentive budget calculator.

Ellen Linkenhoker
Ellen Linkenhoker

Ellen Linkenhoker is the Channel Partner Solutions Lead for ITA Group. She drives the insights, strategy and evolution of the organization’s channel solution while offering advisement for client engagement and incentive programs. She’s worked as a practitioner in technology, software and service companies as part of the channel and as a vendor. She is an award-winning marketer and navigates all things channel, marketing, incentives and engagement, including pioneering thought leadership on channel partner ecosystems and the partner experience.