11. 06. 2018

The One Powerful Driver Most SPIFFs Miss

Poor sales incentive programs not only fail to get results, they can actually weigh a team down. But done right, SPIFF incentives can be more than just a pat on the back – they can have a long-term strategic impact on a sales organization and culture. 

Let's have a look at what separates SPIFF programs that fly from those that fail.

First up, what's a SPIFF? 

We'll worry about where the term comes from some other time - the internet is littered with origin rumors dating back to the 1800s decoding what 'SPIFF' might stand for.

In most companies, SPIFFs are small incentives for achieving short-term or secondary sales goals (e.g. a sales rep's long-term goal is to hit annual quota, but there may be SPIFFs rewarding things like signing multi-year contracts or landing customers from a specific target list). 

Though SPIFFs have been around a while, an explosion of popularity in ‘gamifying’ the sales process has brought their potential value back into the spotlight, aided by platforms like LevelElevenAmbition and Hoopla.

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It sounds unlikely that an incentive program could disincentivize, right? 

Especially with sales reps, genetically wired to latch onto any contest going and fight till the bitter end to come out on top…

And yes, correctly implemented, SPIFFs are what sales is all about. They're fun, performance-driven opportunities to win something - just for doing your job well. 

When they misfire, however, they can trivialize the entire sales function. Something designed to fire up competition can quickly nosedive into a demotivating, reductive initiative that compresses the company's vibrant growth vision into a scuffle to win a $50 gift card.

So how do you stay out of nosedive territory?

In our experience recruiting for hundreds of SaaS vendors across MarTech, FinTech, HRTech and other domains, the smartest SPIFF programs are the ones that align rewards with long-term thinking, and reflect overall company values and vision. 

It might sound contradictory – SPIFFs are a short-term incentive, no doubt. But motivating sales teams isn’t a short-term challenge, and deployment of short and mid-term sales goals works well if linked to the company’s broader mission.

Sure, a $50 gift card isn't bad. Most of us would take it. 

But it's not usually gift cards that drives us to go to work. If you've picked the right sales team, that's not why they've joined your company. 

SPIFF incentives have major long-term value when they tap into a really significant driver for the sales rep, such as:

Development, networking, collaboration and travel.


We've worked with companies whose sales competitions send the winners to top industry conferences, such as Dreamforce or SaaStr. Events like these don't just offer a ton of networking opportunities and the chance to sit in on presentations and workshops from industry pioneers - they're also a lot of fun (Dreamforce bands have included Metallica, RHCP and U2). 

International clients have paired reps in different countries across a company-wide league and offered the champions the chance to swap offices for a week. A different spin on the familiar Fantasy Football-style classic but building inter-office collaboration and mixing in a chance to explore the wider business.

Instead of a cash bonus or a freebie pizza lunch, some clients arrange for the top two or three contest performers to sit in on select senior management meetings or executive dinners. To an ambitious, career-driven sales rep that's an opportunity that might not come around organically for many years, and a window into a future world that will light a fire that burns longer than any spot bonus. 

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So, what are we saying, a giftcard promo is going to crush morale in your team? 

Of course not - but along with annual comp plans and career progression, correctly aligned secondary sales incentive schemes which tie in with long-term thinking can have significant impact in reinforcing company culture and values, and show your team you're investing in their success for bigger goals ahead.

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