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What's the Hook?

If you find the right bait, you'll keep your salespeople motivated--and selling.

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This story appears in the September 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Before becoming an entrepreneur, I supervised a sales team that was responsible for supporting clients with clout, mostly Fortune 500 types. After months on end of murderous 70-hour workweeks while managing a staff that just about Caine Mutiny'd me during a reorganization, I was publicly rewarded with a faux gold medal that was inscribed with my name. Instead of being a rose-colored career highlight, the occasion was actually quite the opposite. The whole experience played out like a Fox special: "When Well-Meaning Incentive Programs Go Bad." I quit soon after.

Incentive programs can be tricky beasts. What motivates one salesperson may completely discourage another. Consider the allure of cash. I appreciate a cash bonus and suffer no hangups about the lack of thought on the part of the giver. Beats a cheese wheel, and the fit is always just right. But monetary awards, which you'd think would be a powerful catalyst and inspiration for a sales team, have both supporters and detractors. Proponent Rashid Khan, founder and CEO of Ultimus, a technology business in Cary, North Carolina, says, "If your salesperson isn't motivated by money, you have the wrong salesperson."

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