Beyond the Pay Mix: What Makes Salespeople Tick Today

Mihai Popoaca, Chief Operating Officer, WorldatWork

The massive shifts in today’s economy are changing what drives salespeople to be engaged and productive. Incentives and bonuses are just the starting point. To retain top salespeople, we need to change the conversation around rewards and work.
The current model is fraught with competing priorities -- increase revenue and optimize costs, while at the same time hiring, engaging, measuring and retaining a sales force that is motivated by a diverse set of goals. These can be delivered with Total Rewards.
Consider the landscape. Millennials, 73 million strong, account for over 35% of the current workforce and are flexible, coachable, communicative, data-driven and confident. They know technology and process, and they understand data and demand it.
One way to support them is through AI-powered sales tools. AI is speeding up the process from lead to close. Salespeople aren’t the best candidates to be replaced by robots since sales is still about persuasion, communication and building relationships. But AI-powered new lead gen tools, such as Salesforce’s Einstein, are replacing customer-mining tasks, leaving salespeople free to pursue prospects and other high-value tasks. This data impacts decision-making at all levels – and salespeople are demanding it, in real-time.
Bringing the benefits of the gig economy into your sales and compensation strategy will reap rewards. The gig economy fuels a workforce without set salaries who enjoy flexibility, freedom and the ability to chart their own path. By 2020, the number of self-employed workers in the U.S. is expected to increase dramatically and reach 42 million people. Organizations must adapt and be ready to attract and retain self-employed salespeople.
In this environment, how do you engage and prevent your current sales force from leaving the company? Start by paying attention to the top priorities for job seekers: money (92 percent), security (87 percent), holidays/time off (86 percent), great people (80 percent), and flexible working (79 percent). (Source: ManpowerGroup Millennial Careers: 2020 Vision report M

The Total Rewards model and its pillars provides a roadmap:
1. Compensation: Think beyond cash incentives. Reward not only sales, but also behavior such as teamwork and product knowledge, proficiency. Offer incentives on the go and focus on experiences (e.g. travel incentives).  Improvements in data and IT can be implemented to get better metrics, better access to information and maximum transparency.  
2. Benefits: Sales reps are notorious for working long hours. Work/life balance is an impossible dream for many. 96% of U.S. professionals say they need flexibility, but only 47% have it. Consider unconventional hours, location independence, travel time and reduced workload. Offer it to them.
For a highly mobile workforce such as sales, a virtual care assistance is recommended.  More and more U.S. employers are considering implementing more virtual care solutions such as behavioral health, physical therapy, medical decision support, etc.
And, according to recent findings from WorldatWork’s 2019 PTO/Paid Parental Leave Programs & Practices Survey: 37% of employees don’t use all their PTO, and most organizations allow immediate use of vacation time benefits while some are allowing PT alternatives such as donation, cash value or 401k.
3. Wellbeing: In a high-stress environment such as sales, wellness programs help mitigate and create balance in employees’ lives. According to a 2018 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 82% of large employers and 53% of smaller ones made some kind of wellness program available to their employees, generally in the three main categories: physical wellbeing, financial wellbeing, and emotional and mental wellbeing.  
For younger employees, the mental health is an important dimension to their overall wellbeing (23% of them), while the older employees care most about their physical health (27%), according to the National Business Group on Health.
4. Development: Integrate learning and development into sales comp programs. According to Deloitte Human Capital Trends: “People now rate the opportunity to learn as among their top reasons for taking a job, and business leaders know that changes in technology, longevity, work practices, and business models have created a tremendous demand for continuous, lifelong development.”        
98% of sales reps asked in a 2019 sales performance survey said that they were more likely to stay at a company that offered a development program.
The investment made by the company in salespeople development makes perfect sense from an ROI perspective.  It improves the skills of the sales people and positions them to sell more for the company, while also increasing their engagement and loyalty given the logic: if the company invests in me, I will invest in the company.
5. Recognition: Typically, sales organizations have done a better job than other organizations in recognizing top performers. Going forward, recognition will continue to be critical. It must be public to reinforce the behaviors and set the benchmark for others to follow and should be provided as close to real time as possible.
In addition to these areas, in today’s hyper-competitive environment, the ability to listen, connect and empathize with customers is a game changer – and a diverse sales force is better able to have empathy for its customer base. Racial and gender diversity is associated with increased sales revenue, more customers, greater market share, and greater relative profits.  
Finally, there is a need to address the critically important and complex issue of pay equity. These differences may subject the organization to risks of legal liability, reputational harm and competitive disadvantage, which is why pay equity is at the forefront for reward leaders around the world.

The gender pay gap is a persistent problem that isn’t going away, and employers of choice are committing to going beyond pay equity analysis to identifying root causes of the issue with the goal of building sustainable programs and a culture that rewards people fairly.
The Total Rewards model will only add value with support from leadership, and when it is integrated into the organizational strategy and embraced throughout the culture of an organization. It takes time and effort, but if implemented correctly, it’ll bring value to the salespeople and the entire organization.
Mihai Popoaca is chief operating officer, WorldatWork, the Total Rewards Association, a global nonprofit organization for professionals who are engaged in the critically important practice of Total Rewards. Contact him at: