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The High Cost of Cutting Sales Incentives: A Cautionary Tale

Published about 2 months ago • 2 min read

Neeraj Sabharwal

The High Cost of Cutting Sales Incentives: A Cautionary Tale

In the high-stakes world of sales, the motivation and performance of a sales team can often be the heartbeat of a company’s success. Sales incentives, carefully structured and deployed, serve not only as motivation but also as recognition of the hard work and achievement of sales goals. However, a disturbing trend has emerged in some circles, where sales managers, in a misdirected attempt to increase their own earnings, slash these very incentives, not realizing the dire consequences that often follow.

Misguided Management Moves

The rationale behind cutting sales team incentives might seem straightforward from a purely spreadsheet-driven perspective. Reduce the upfront costs, and perhaps, theoretically, you improve your department’s profitability. However, this approach is myopic and profoundly misunderstands the essence of what drives sales success.

Take, for example, the case of a sales manager I know personally. Eager to impress corporate with improved profitability, he decided to cut the commission plan of his team, including that of his top performer. This decision, far from improving the situation, led directly to a dramatic decline in team morale, an exodus of talent, and, ultimately, a devastating impact on the company’s bottom line. Where there once was thriving energy and a drive to exceed targets, there suddenly was resentment and disengagement. Not long after, the company faced severe financial difficulties.

The Real Costs

Such decisions fail to account for the real costs associated with diminishing sales incentives:

Loss of Talent: Top performers, who can easily find competitive compensation plans elsewhere, are often the first to leave.

Decreased Morale: Sales teams thrive on competition and recognition. Stripping away incentives erodes the very culture that fuels their success.

Reduced Sales: Ultimately, the goal of any sales department is to drive revenue. Disincentivized teams simply don’t have the drive to push for those extra margins that spell success.

Building Instead of Cutting

The alternative to cutting incentives is to cultivate an environment where excellence is rewarded, and performance is closely tied to achievable, attractive incentives. This model fosters a culture of continuous improvement, where sales personnel push not just for personal gain, but for the success of the team and company at large.

A Better Path Forward

For sales managers looking to genuinely improve their department’s performance and thereby, their own success, the focus should be on strategic investment in their teams. This involves:

Transparent Communication: Being upfront about the company’s financial health and working collaboratively on incentive plans that align with company success.

Training and Development: Investing in the continuous professional growth of sales staff ensures they’re equipped to meet changing market demands.

Recognizing Effort: Often, recognition can be as motivating as financial rewards. Regular acknowledgment of hard work goes a long way in building loyalty and commitment.

The Bottom Line

Sales incentives are the lifeblood of a motivated, high-performing sales team. Cutting these incentives in a short-sighted attempt to increase profits or, worse, a manager’s salary, is a strategy that is doomed to fail. On the contrary, investing in and properly incentivizing your sales team can lead to sustainable growth, a dedicated workforce, and ultimately, a healthier bottom line for the entire company. The tale of the sales manager who cut salaries serves as a cautionary story — a vivid example that success in sales is built on motivation, respect, and shared goals, not on the diminishing returns of cutthroat cost-cutting.

Tech-SalesPreneur, Author, Startup Growth Specialist

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