Are You The Sales Rep’s Emotional Favorite?

Selling through a network of third-party reps or sales agents can be a challenge. How do you get more than your fair share of their time?

When I was marketing a line of electronic components at Panasonic, we spent a lot of time thinking about the most effective ways to work with our sales partners. Along with a very smart sales leader, Dave Kenneth, we came up with an approach to becoming the emotional favorite which seemed to work pretty well.


Easy to Do Business With

This was the guiding principle around which all other decisions were made. If sales reps find it easy and low-stress to work with you, they’ll be more inclined to push your products. After working with the principals at a a few of the best Electronic Manufacturers Reps, we focused on the following:

  • Be fair and honest
  • Provide top-quality training and sales tools
  • Deliver excellent support through the engineering and inside-sales teams
  • Listen to feedback
  • Run contests and incentives that align with the reps’ goals

So, how’s it done? Here are some ideas on hitting the right note in each area:

Fair and Honest

Like any relationship, you need to meet on even terms. Even though, as the supplier, you are likely to be a larger organization (with more lawyers!) than the rep, make the contract terms mutual where possible. Provide clear rules on territories and house accounts; carve out exclusive territories or clearly-defined verticals; and include reasonable payouts for taking customers direct. The criteria for converting a rep customer to a house account should be clear and reasonable – and always discuss with the rep management before making an account direct.

Training and Sales Tools

Gone are the days when you can expect all the sales reps to be in the office on Monday morning for “mandatory product training.” Your knowledge base needs to be online, accessible 24/7 – whenever and wherever a rep wants to learn – and mobile-friendly.
Add incentives for completing training modules or passing progress tests, and use gamification with leaderboards and head-to-head contests between offices.

Support Teams

If you make it easy for reps to get information – technical specs, pricing, shipments – then you make it easy for them to pull in the order. Set them up with a dedicated inside sales contact, give them online access to product information and price sheets, and get your technical team to visit the territory and make joint calls.

Sales Incentives and Contests

Base the contest on products and selling behaviors that both you and the reps care about, otherwise – unless the reward is substantial – it will just become noise. Keep the rules and qualification simple, so the rep doesn’t need an algorithm to know if they’re winning. And use leaderboards and regular communications to show them how they’re doing against other reps, and progress towards the goal.


You can’t beat traveling with the reps as a way to find out what they need. Ask them which sales tools they regularly use (yours, and from other suppliers); what’s most frustrating about working with your company; and what their best supplier does for them.

A Rep Council brings together a few of your reps to talk about specific topics on a regular basis. In-person is great if you can manage it, but phone-calls or virtual meetings can be effective too. Just be sure you’re willing to act on their recommendations.

I won’t guarantee that a focus on these will make you their #1 product line – brand-value, price points and market-share all play their part. But if you become the rep’s emotional favorite, you’ll soon find that you get more of their time and energy than the other suppliers.

If you want to read more, take a look at my white paper on Designing an Effective Sales Incentive Program


[Note: This article was originally published on Linkedin]

How do you Define a Product Manager?

A “Product Manager” role often describes a perfect person who will solve all your problems! It’s a broad term that can encompass a range of skills and responsibilities…and so is often misunderstood, or badly implemented. In the worst case, it becomes the person who does everything that no-one else is doing.

I have worked with Product Managers (PMs) in a variety of industries and company types, and in general, there are three main areas that the role will impact. Depending on the situation, the PM may focus exclusively on one, or bring together elements of them all.

Since I’m currently interviewing candidates to manage our SaaS product line (Dittman Incentives provides software for employee engagement programs), I’ve been reflecting on the various roles:

Product Roadmap/Development

As the owner of the Product Roadmap, the PM must be comfortable managing the development process, most likely a Stage Gate approach for hardware products or the Agile methodology for software.

Often seen as the core function of a Product Manager, this requires discipline, an ability to pull together diverse information, and a touch of diplomacy to ensure all stakeholders feel that their input is valued. A high level of trust with the sales team is vital, to allow frequent customer interaction for Voice of the Customer meetings, focus groups, and beta testing.

Project Management

A product roadmap doesn’t get you far without executing on the development plan. The second part of product management deals with defining the project, creating BRDs (Business Requirement Documents), keeping deliverables within the original scope, and managing the resources and timelines.

Definition, Deadlines and Deliverables – a Gantt chart is a project manager’s best friend. The skills needed to succeed in this role include attention to detail, persistence and knowing when to be flexible.

Product Marketing

Here, the PM is primarily outwardly focused. How can we bring the product to market most effectively – who are the targets, what channels will we use, how do we structure pricing…? This is where Product Management meets the traditional 4Ps of Marketing.

The PM needs to interact well with the sales team, be comfortable presenting to customers, and have an understanding of how to go beyond simple “features and benefits”. If the products are technical, some level of technology or engineering background makes it much easier to translate the complex explanations of the design team into simple, impactful messaging. A creative flair, or at least an ability to work closely with a creative team, is a plus, to be able to generate engaging sales tools and promotional materials.


So, should your Product Manager handle all three roles, or focus on just one? As you can see from the descriptions, they encompass a broad skillset, and it’s likely to be difficult to find someone who excels in every area.

Your approach may depend on the industry, or on existing resources. When I was at Veeco, a capital equipment manufacturer, the products were complex and a dedicated product development and design team was already in place. In that case, PMs focused primarily on the top-level roadmap and product marketing areas. At Panasonic, component products were developed in Japan, and the local PMs were responsible for feeding Voice of Customer input to the central design team, and for promoting the products in the regional markets.

Large organizations tend to form Product Teams, with individual players taking the specific roles, and working closely together. So long as one of them is the true product Champion, who brings it all together and makes the big decisions, this can work well. You can hire people with the best match of experience and skills for each part of the role, and they can focus their energy at each stage.

If you choose instead to go with a single PM, then decide which is the most important of the three roles. At Dittman , much of our development work is for custom software projects. So as much as the roadmap is important to us, the skills required to support the sales process, define customer requirements and manage client projects is the priority. Of course, an ability to plot the overall product evolution is part of the interview process as well.

Define the Definition

There is no single answer to “what is a Product Manager”. Take the time to identify the gaps in your existing resource pool; evaluate how important the three areas – Roadmap, Project Management and Marketing – are to your organization; and make sure the role does not become a catchall for anything product related that isn’t handled by someone else.

Over time, if properly defined, the Product Manager will become the most critical member of the team. Doesn’t that just make sense?!

[This post was originally published on Linkedin]

Keeping it Simple – Sales Incentives

Have you ever run a contest where a salesperson hit a big bonus or qualified for a trip by gaming the system?  If you’re in Sales or Marketing management, it’s almost inevitable. It’s unfortunate, and it’s frustrating, and you’ll vow to never let that happen again. But the fear of repeating it can often lead to over complicated contests.

It’s easy to get carried away – cramming every possible metric into the payout tables, adding kickers, and carving out exceptions. Here’s the problem. If a sales professional needs a spreadsheet or an algorithm to figure out if they’re on track, the contest doesn’t work.  They won’t even know what to focus on, or how to modify their behavior, to win the reward. So the sales team will just do their usual job, and hope that it qualifies them for the win.

Shoot for simplicity.

The goals should be based around one or two threshold numbers, so that at any time, the sales team knows what they have to do to win. And those thresholds should have a clear basis – a percentage increase over their actual sales in the prior year, or a portion of the overall sales target prorated based on the size of their territory. Numbers pulled from the air can suggest that the deck is stacked against certain individuals or regions, and can be demotivating. So make the goals Fair and Achievable.

Perhaps you want to increase the number of outbound phone-calls, meetings with new prospects, or proposals generated. If the aim of the contest is to drive new behaviors, then focus on one or two easy-to-count metrics. But beware – as soon as it becomes a matrix of actions, events and arithmetic, you’ve lost them.

If you do find that the rules are complex, and it’s out of your control to simplify them, the next best thing is good communication. Provide frequently updated leaderboards, clear reporting that highlights progress, and tip sheets with examples of the type of actions required to hit the goal. Look at how your team communicates – would a (private) Twitter feed help them? A micro-site? Text message updates? An Instagram hashtag or Pinterest board? Find out how they want to interact with the contest, then drive communications through those channels.

When is Simple Too Simple?

I’ll admit, it can get too simple. One of the first contests I was asked to sign off one was extremely complicated – variable goals based on totals from different product lines, with varying multipliers on certain SKUs. Aiming for simple, we stripped it down to the bare elements – the two salespeople who beat their numbers from last year by the most units, would win a trip to the factory in Japan.

Oops! We forgot to set a minimum… and the worst-performing team member won (since he didn’t have much of a total to beat). There was some discussion about how we could disqualify the under-performing winner, but the ethical call was to honor the terms of the contest – and then we found a reason to send the third-place player to Japan on another trip.

To avoid these kind of mistakes, I’d recommend running the rules by one of your trusted, experienced sales reps. They can generally sniff out a loophole or an unintended consequence of the rules. And don’t forget to ask them if this contest would work for them – simple to understand, with a big enough reward.

I’d love to hear more about your experiences with sales contests that “went wrong.” Leave a comment, or shoot me an email. And for more ideas on running an effective sales campaign, download this white paper.

[Note: This article was originally published at – please visit for more ideas on Engagement and Incentives]

How Much Should I Invest in a Sales Incentive Program?

If that’s the first question that comes to mind when you start your sales planning then, congratulations – you’ve already decided that this is an investment, not a cost. And while many marketing programs require money to be spent without a clear path to an ROI calculation, the beauty of a sales incentive is that most of the investment occurs after the benefits have been realized.

Think of that initial question in two ways – “What budget is needed to match the required goals and ROI” and “How much should I reward the participants, to make it truly motivational for them?”. If you can match these two elements, then you’re on the way to designing a successful program.

Budgeting Based on ROI

Assuming you know your current revenue, growth targets, and gross profit margins, you can easily calculate the level of investment you can justify, assuming you hit those targets. Assign a specific percentage of the anticipated incremental profit to fund the sales incentive program [Download a worksheet here, for a step-by-step calculation]. Bear in mind that the majority of the budget will only be spent if participants reach or exceed their goals, so it is a low-risk approach to growing revenue.

Linking your budget to your incremental profit is a sure way to get sign off from the corner office.

Offering Incentives that Drive Motivation

There’s no point in running a program that doesn’t catch the attention of your sales team. The potential rewards need to be significant enough to change their behavior – to increase activity, move focus to particular products, or to close the right type of deals. While the level of compensation varies between industries and sales roles, a good starting point is to set the value of the available reward at 5% of their expected compensation, within the timeframe of the program (so for a one-quarter program, take 5% of three months compensation, including commissions and bonus).

Choosing the Right Reward

IRF Awards by BudgetNow that you’ve established a budget, how do you decide on the type of reward? The Incentive Research Foundation published an extensive review of the various types of awards in 2011, which highlights the typical awards used dependent on the budget. Merchandise and gift cards take an equal share at most budget levels, with Travel becoming most significant above $100,000 (see inset).  A more recent study by the same group, published on MeetingsNet, shows that the average per-person spending on merchandise awards in 2014 is $255, and on gift cards is $195.

As a general rule of thumb, consider the rewards levels as follows:

  • Up to $1,000 per participant : Points redeemable for merchandise and gift cards
  • >$1,000 : Individual Travel, or Points
  • >$5,000 : Group Travel, Individual Travel, or Points

Making it Count

Deciding the investment level for a sales incentive program is just the first step in designing an effective program. The rules and parameters that you set for the program will have a significant impact on the behavior of the sales team, and the style and frequency of the communication will influence the level of participation. Each of these areas is discussed in a new White Paper “Designing and Implementing an Effective Sales Program”. Download it now for more information, and ROI worksheets.


[Note: This article was originally published at – please visit for more articles on Engagement and Incentives]

Sales Incentives and Unintended Consequences

Do you mind if I include the extended warranty with your purchase? It costs $149, but the final price to you will be the same.

This sounds like a sales scam – add something in at the last minute to boost the value of the purchase. But in this case, I had already negotiated a 15% discount on top of the 20% Columbus Day sale. And the total we had agreed to pay was written in black and white in front of me. I literally had my credit card in my hand, and now the sales person was throwing in the high-margin warranty for no additional cost.

There could only be one reason – there must be a significant incentive to them to “sell” the warranty. So they threw away $149 of profit for their employer, and gave it to the third party seller of the warranty. [And yes, I know it means that despite haggling for a 35% discount, I had left at least $149 on the table!]. I’m sure that’s not the behavior that the store owner was hoping to create with the warranty program.

Sales incentives are a great way to drive revenue, focus the sales team on high-margin products, or boost purchases of slow-moving inventory. But, if poorly designed, they can also reward the wrong behavior, leading to unintended consequences. In Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner delve in to this in great detail. In one instance, they describe a study of childcare centers in Israel.

Daycare motherImagine for a moment that you are the manager of a day-care center. You have a clearly stated policy that children are supposed to be picked up by 4 p.m. But very often parents are late. The result: at day’s end, you have some anxious children and at least one teacher who must wait around for the parents to arrive. What to do?

A pair of economists who heard of this dilemma…. decided to test their solution by conducting a study of ten day-care centers in Haifa, Israel….. For the first four weeks, the economists simply kept track of the number of parents who came late; there were, on average, eight late pickups per week per day-care center. In the fifth week, the fine was enacted. It was announced that any parent arriving more than ten minutes late would pay $3 per child for each incident…

After the fine was enacted, the number of late pickups promptly went up. Before long there were twenty late pickups per week, more than double the original average. The incentive had plainly backfired.”

The authors go on to suggest that the reason for the “unintended consequence” was that the guilt that had driven most parents to pick up their kids on time, was now replaced by the feeling that they were paying for the extended service – and therefore were less inclined to hurry to the school to pick them up. So an effort to motivate people to be on time actually resulted in the opposite.

With these two cautionary tales in mind, how should this impact the way you design your next sales incentive program? Will you be rewarding your team for the right behavior? And will they act the way you expect?

Here’s an approach to limit the risk of pushing your sales team in the wrong direction:

1) Define & quantify the ultimate goal of the incentive (higher revenue, more profitable product mix etc). Then identify metrics which must not be adversely affected (profit margin, overtime spending, absenteeism),

2) Include both the goals and the adverse metrics in the rules

3) Review the contest rules with your sales leaders, or a reliable sales veteran, and ask them how it would drive their behavior. Do they see any trapdoors? Maybe even role-play some situations with them.

4) Monitor the adverse metrics, not just the goals, and be willing and able to amend the contest rules if you see it moving off-track.

Chances are, someone will still find a way to game the system, particularly if the rules are complex. You just want to make sure that’s the exception, not the rule!

[Note: This article was originally published at – please visit for more articles on Engagement and Incentives]

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