Sales Compensation Focus

How to Engage Your Sales Team to Drive Results

By Donya Rose and Timothy W. Weiler, Towers Watson  |  May 2014

Sales success isn't magic. It's the direct result of an intentional and well-balanced system composed of the right people with the right focus who are fully engaged in their work. While each of these 3 components is essential to sales success, engagement may be the one most prone to misconception and myth.

2 Legendary Myths about Salespeople

Myth No. 1: Salespeople are money-motivated and self-managing. Strong producers will thrive and stay with the company; weak performers will either find a way to improve or exit.

Myth No. 2: Sales leaders should focus on a few top and bottom performers to maximize overall sales. The mandate to focus on the top performers is based on the Pareto principle, the notion that 80% of sales come from the top 20% of salespeople, which makes them worthy of focus and support.

The reality is that salespeople across the performance spectrum are most engaged, and therefore most productive, when they are managed well by effective leaders who provide appropriately challenging goals and constructive feedback and coaching. It's not just about money, and it's not just about the top 20%.

Talent Management is the Key to Sustainable Engagement

Engagement matters, but only when that engagement is sustainable over time and across levels in the organization. According to Towers Watson's 2012-2013 Global Talent Management and Rewards Study and the 2012 Global Workforce Study, the top 5 drivers of sustainable engagement are:

  1. Effective Leadership. Highly engaged sellers believe in their leaders. They have trust and confidence in the job being done and believe that leaders are effective at growing the business. These leaders behave consistently with the organization's core values and demonstrate a sincere interest in employees' well-being.
  2. Proactive Supervision. Effective sales managers go beyond monitoring and reporting results — they encourage new ideas and new ways of doing things. These managers initiate frequent and effective conversations on career development. They also treat sellers with respect and act in ways that are consistent with their words.
  3. Management of stress, balance and workload. In the wake of so many "right-sizing" actions, it is critical that the organization is staffed with enough sales and sales-support employees to get the job done right. Stress levels need to be kept manageable and a healthy balance needs to be struck between work and personal life. Flexible work arrangements go a long way to supporting this.
  4. Goals and objectives. Poor goal setting is the Achilles heel of many sales organizations. To achieve high levels of engagement, sellers must have a good understanding of the organization's business goals and steps the business needs to take to reach those goals. At the individual level, each representative should have a clear line of sight to how he/she contributes to achieving the organization's business goals. The representative must understand the tools and processes used for goal setting and believe that the goals are fair.
  5. Performance Management. In a well-functioning system, there is clear link between performance and pay, and individuals are held accountable for their performance. High-performing sellers are rewarded in line with performance and there are clear consequences for poor performers across pay, promotion and retention. 

Improve Engagement to Improve Sales Performance

If low engagement in the field is impacting results, you first need to identify the areas of weakness. Which of the 5 cylinders above is misfiring? Ponder these questions to help identify weaknesses.

  • Leadership, Goals and Objectives:
    • Have the sales and business unit leaders communicated a coherent growth strategy, overall financial and marketplace objectives, and explained how each sales role must contribute to achieving those objectives?
    • Has leadership clearly signaled the selling priorities to each segment of the salesforce, specifying what the company expects of the salesforce and what the company is willing to provide in return?
    • Are sales quotas perceived as fair and reflective of territory opportunity and have sellers been involved in determining their quotas?
    • Has management communicated explicit statements of core values and modeled leadership excellence?
  • Supervision and Performance Management:
    • Are sellers and supervisors collaborating to ensure that account/territory plans are documented, reviewed and updated?
    • Do sellers receive frequent feedback in the form of 1-on-1 coaching as well as status and quantitative performance reports?
    • Do salesforce rewards go beyond pay and include such offerings as training, career development and career advancement opportunities?
    • Are the non-financial expectations about how the work is done (collaboration, teamwork, skill acquisition) tracked and rewarded?
    • Does the incentive plan adequately reward top performers? Are there clear consequences for poor performance?
  • Management of stress, balance and workload:
    • Are managers monitoring how salespeople are spending their time and identifying needed changes in internal processes so that sellers can remain focused on customer- facing activities and selling?
    • Are vacated territories routinely split up and added to adjoining territories, and are staffing levels adequate to provide sound coverage?

To reap the financial results of a highly engaged salesforce, management must go beyond tracking results and writing commission checks, and support the field with leadership, direction, coaching and career management.

About the Author

Donya Rose is a director in the Sales Effectiveness and Rewards practice at Towers Watson in Charlotte, NC.
Tim Weileris a director in the Sales Effectiveness and Rewards practice at Towers Watson in Stamford, CT.

Read the May edition of Sales Compensation Focus.

Contents © 2014 WorldatWork. No part of this article may be reproduced, excerpted or redistributed in any form without express written permission from WorldatWork.

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