“There is no ‘I’ in team” is an old and possibly worn-out cliché. But what if “I” is for incentives? This leads me to ask two simple questions: Does your incentive program encourage teamwork? Should it?


It’s common in the culture of sales teams for the predominant mentality to be, “You eat what you kill.”  This mindset encourages a proactive approach to sales but may also encourage competition among coworkers. As sales processes become more complex, the need for a variety of roles on a sales team has become more common. This can be seen in the broader use of key account managers (KAMs) to drive sales with complex clients and the interplay of the KAM role and other roles within a sales organization. Often, no one individual can take sole credit for the sale as multiple team members have played a part in driving the new business. But traditional incentive plans are built on a foundation of giving credit where credit is due. If multiple people are now responsible for generating new business, how do we continue to drive sales while encouraging each of these different roles to work together?


The first and most important question to ask is, is encouraging cross-role collaboration a strategic imperative? If senior leadership believes this is necessary for success, they must be willing to communicate this as a priority. A communication plan should be developed to encourage teamwork before changes to the incentive plan are even considered. If this is not a top strategic priority, the introduction of compensation components meant to drive cooperation will be at best a distraction and at worst a demotivator.


If there’s agreement that this is important, the next step is to define your team structure: Who do you expect to work together? This will help you determine whether you need to address the challenges with your incentive plan.


Finally, leadership must clearly define roles and responsibilities. What will each member of the team be expected to do? How will they personally be responsible for helping to generate new business?  The incentive plan should then be tailored to these responsibilities. MBOs are often used to help create a direct link between team-related activities and compensation, but shared sales metrics can also be valuable if designed in a way to secure buy-in from all of the desired employees while still being attributable.


The role of the salesperson has historically been individualistic, but as roles evolve, so too must our compensation plans.