As we turn the page to a new year, companies typically begin rolling out their new incentive plans. The hope is that we’ve tweaked and updated the plans to refocus efforts and reenergize our sales forces. But are our salespeople motivated? Are they excited about their work? And if not, what would make them more enthusiastic in 2018?


Compensation practitioners tend to gravitate toward incentives. We know that money is important to salespeople, but incentives are just one piece, albeit an important one, of a much bigger puzzle that we need to solve when trying to motivate them.


If you asked people in various functional areas in your company how to better motivate your salespeople, you’d likely get different answers depending on each person’s perspective. In addition to incentives, some may suggest learning and development opportunities while others may propose autonomy, training, the ability for reps to set their own schedules, or the chance to work with great people. All are valid answers, and all could be correct. Salespeople—and, of course, people in general—can be energized by many things. Maximizing our business outcomes is best accomplished when we maximize human performance, and when we harness the enthusiasm of our sales force. Many books, studies and papers describe theories of motivation and ways to optimize the performance of our people. Sales compensation—extrinsic motivation—is certainly one method, but as we become smarter about designing compensation plans, we also need to become smarter about thinking through the different ways to maximize motivation and performance.


How do we ensure that people care? We’ve used this question to create a framework based on a simple acronym: CARE. The CARE framework assumes that people’s motivation and enthusiasm are driven by how well we meet four primary needs:


Control: Our need to have choices and be the master of our destinies

Affiliation: Our need for social contact and cooperation

Recognition: Our need to be acknowledged and appreciated as individuals and for our achievements

Excellence: Our need for accomplishment and growth


Our studies have shown that we all have our own “CARE fingerprint”: We are all motivated in our own unique ways. Therefore, to maximize motivation, we should consider how we can boost the impact of each of these needs.


Let’s frame this impact through the lens of an incentive program, even if incentives don’t explicitly appear in CARE. The impact of the incentive plan on these needs can happen in subtle ways. For example, we can boost the feeling of control, using the incentive plan, by clearly showing how a salesperson’s effort translates into her variable pay, such that she controls her outcomes. Similarly, an organization that scores high on affiliation may perform better with a team component in the incentive plan that rewards people who are working together toward a common goal.


The CARE framework is a great way to maximize the power of the incentive plan. Stay tuned for more on this topic, including how to apply the framework outside of monetary incentives.