Regularly motivating your sales team is at the heart of a successful business strategy. Sales incentives have been central to engaging salespeople for so long it’s hard to imagine how a business would succeed without them.

But getting the incentive right is a tricky matter. Advice about how to craft a sales incentives program is everywhere, with every incentive company, including Hawk Incentives, adding their two cents. But a lot of that advice is the same, and even the best advice can leave out some of the more hidden intricacies of a successful program.

Execution is critical for any plan. But the philosophy behind it—the logical framework on which the plan rests—is just as critical.

So instead of again reviewing the best practices for a sales incentives program, let’s review the secrets that few people talk about. You might just find the hidden wrinkle that’s keeping your program from working at its best.

Three secrets to sales incentive program success

Secret #1: Go beyond “Do this, get that” 

Yes, incentives are a proven, reliable way to motivate your sales force. And yes, you should couple action and reward. But no, you should not expect the art of motivating people to be that simple. Human beings, after all, are complex creatures, and your program needs to reflect that fact. For example, the wrong incentive structure or recognition program can actually reduce the desired behavior, or foster feelings of resentment or embarrassment. An ill-designed incentive program is worse than no program at all.

Instead, do a little digging and thinking. Find out what kinds of things actually motivate your salespeople. Worry less about the dollar value of the reward, and more about the meaning behind it.

Secret #2: Make the sales reward a share in the success

Do you sometimes act as if you were a medieval king or queen, throwing crumbs to the masses to keep them working? Because a good incentive program is not about mechanically tossing out rewards. It’s about encouraging effort and sharing in the success of the organization.

So make it clear to each person that they’re a key contributor to the organization’s success, and that their reward is a share of that success. Communicate your goals, both short- and long-term. And let them know how success will positively impact them.

Secret #3: Don’t think carrot, think caring

Talk about carrots (and sticks) is all over human resources literature. But this has led some managers to think that incentives are for combating laziness: that is, employees who aren’t putting in 100 percent will start to do so if given the proper reward. But this isn’t always true, if it’s even ever true. First of all, an employee that is truly unmotivated will probably not earn those rewards. Or worse, that employee will cut corners and take shortcuts to earn them dishonestly. Second, there’s value in recognizing and rewarding employees who are already putting in 100 percent.

So try changing your perspective. A good sales incentives program is as much about helpful feedback and shared success as it is about raw motivation. If you make a point of caring about others’ success and happiness, they’ll make a point of caring about yours.

Time to put the secrets into practice

If you don’t have a good sales incentives program in place, the boost in motivation and sales is well worth it. And if you already have one in place, there might be some hidden wrinkles that prevent it from working as well that it should. Incentives shouldn’t be a drain on company resources. They should be your secret weapon.