What are SPIFFs? And can they really turbocharge your sales performance?

In sales, the best incentives do more than just incentivize. They motivate, catalyze, spur your sales team into action. They ignite a hungry fire within each sales rep that cannot be doused until the target — whatever it may be — has been achieved.

Spiffs are one such type of incentive … but only when used correctly.

In this post, we'll talk about what spiffs are, what makes them so incredibly useful, how you can plan one yourself, and some common but avoidable spiff-related pitfalls.

What is a spiff incentive?

A SPIFF (Sales Performance Incentive Fund), o also called spif or spiv — is an ad hoc sales incentive that is used to generate quick, short-term results. It is similar to a bonus, except that spiffs are usually planned with a specific sales-related goal in mind.

For example, you're a SaaS company with a sales target of 500 subscriptions per quarter. So far in Q1, you've sold 300 subscriptions and have 20 days to sell the remaining 200. An uphill task to say the least. What's worse, your sales team isn't feeling particularly peppy at the moment. Solution? You announce a $1000 cash prize (aka a spiff) for the entire team if the target is met.

Note: A spiff does not have to always be monetary (though it often is). It can be anything your salespeople feel is worthwhile. As the Business Bank of Texas puts it:

A SPIFF can be cash or something the salespeople really value or think is “spiffy" — like a trip, drone, virtual reality headset or other "have to have" gadget as the reward and motivator.

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Why you should always budget for spiffs

Spiffs are motivation magnets. Allotting a portion of your budget for spiffs is a small price to pay to achieve your sales goals

From pushing new products to boosting customer engagement, from shifting product focus to reducing customer churn, a spiff can be just the tool you need when you want something done … and you want it done pronto.

Promote new products and services

Launching a new product is always difficult. Most sales reps will desist from selling a new product, especially when their current line is performing well. This is where using a spiff to nudge your sales team towards the new product can prove very effective.

In the same vein, spiffs can also be used to shift product focus. Lets say your company has pivoted to a specific product line and you want to increase sales of that product. Enter spiffs.

Boost customer engagement

Low morale or disinterest can kill productivity and make your sales reps seem unapproachable and disengaged. Not to mention it can really hurt your profit margins. Here, you can use spiffs to incentivize your team to focus on building better relationships at work. In fact, companies that use incentives regularly see better employee and customer engagement.

Fulfill short-term sales needs

Spiffs are, by nature, designed to help businesses reach sales targets in a short time. A well-designed spiff can be just the way to go if your company wants reps to fulfill their sales quotas quickly.

A moneymaker for resellers

Spiffs aren't just useful for employee-employer relationships. If yours is a reseller firm, you can demand manufacturers pay spiffs to employees who make the most sales for their products — similar to a slotting fee. This could be a smart idea since you end up saving a ton of money on staff incentives and prizes.

Retain your core commission structure

It's never a good idea to tinker with your core commission structure in the middle of the year. One of the best things about spiffs is that you don't need to restructure or tamper with your existing commission plan.

These are just some of the reasons that make spiffs great. As your company grows and you face new challenges, rest assured you will find new and inventive ways to use spiffs.

How to plan spiffs ‘spiffily'

Spiffs take less effort and time than other incentives, but they should be done correctly. When properly designed and managed, spiffs can be extremely useful in improving sales. Below are some steps you can take to build a good spiff program.

Determine your primary objective

Start with deciding what your spiff reward will be used for.

While revenue growth is the ultimate goal, your Spiff incentive will serve one of these three purposes:

  • Encourage the selling of a new product or strategy
  • Assist in its go-to-market strategy.
  • Aim for more success with an existing product.

Like we said earlier, there are various other reasons to use spiffs, but the above three are the most common.

Determining the incentives and exact amount

What are the goals your salespeople are aiming for? Money? A paid holiday? A 4-day work week for the next 3 months? Or maybe a gift card?

You need to figure out what reward will really motivate your team. If they are not too excited about the spiff, or unclear about it in the first place, they may not put in the effort you need — and expect — from them.

Ensure easy participation

Your spiff program should be easily accessible to everyone in the sales team. Anyone should be able to participate, regardless of hierarchy, seniority, or bias.

Also, do not make it overly complex. For instance, asking for hard copies of sales invoices, making your reps go through multiple approvals to claim rewards, etc. can make life difficult for your reps. You lose motivation points for these roadblocks.

Keep your rewards lucrative. Make your team an offer they can't refuse. That way, even if the claim process is long, there will be no lack of participation.

Decide a timeline

You need to decide your program’s runtime.

Ideally, spiffs work well in shorter periods. They're designed to promote sales in the near term. That said, you and your sales team must be on the same page regarding what "short-term" means in your case. For instance, if you want your reps to each bring in 75 leads in Q4, choose that quarter as your timeframe and communicate it to them.

Measure success

You must have a clear strategy in place to determine whether the spiff program was successful. For this, it's best to have well-defined KPIs at the outset. Pick metrics that best meet your sales objectives and use them as a guide for future spiffs.

For example, you plan to announce $1700 to anyone who brings in 60 leads. Here, you should first measure a rep's performance who has already brought in 60 leads, and refer to his stats before announcing the spiff.

Potential challenges with spiffs (and their solutions)

Insincerity from your sales team

Sometimes, if your sales reps know a spiff will be announced beforehand, they may decide to wait until the program begins to close deals that could have been closed sooner.

An easy solution? Don't let them know about it. That's the only way you can stop them from manipulating the system and intentionally delaying deals.

Too many spiffs can exhaust your budget

Introducing spiffs frequently can have negative effects on profits and cash flow, especially if your business is small. Use spiffs only when you need to grow sales to a level where the cost and returns are balanced.

Toxic work conditions

Spiffs can create a toxic work environment. Since spiffs usually go to one winner, employees who are convinced of their loss might withdraw from the competition as a whole. This type of "all or nothing" mentality causes conflict within the sales team, causing you to lose out on revenue in the bargain.

One way to solve this is to have a prize pool. It doesn't matter who wins, everyone gets something. Only that the winner gets the most. For instance, you announced a prize pool of $10,000 to reps who close the most deals. The top 3 will get $1000, $700, and $300 respectively. The remaining amount can be distributed equally among the other reps.

Spiff up your incentive game

In conclusion, spiffs can be a fun side activity while your salespeople compete for the top spot on the leaderboard. As long as spiffs are used wisely, they will have a visible impact on overall sales.

If you think bringing spiffs to the team will help increase employee engagement and sales, make sure you plan ahead of time to address the potential issues we discussed above.

Surprise your reps by not disclosing there is a spiff in play. Hand it out when they least expect it. Then sit back and watch the magic unfold.

Aloha, good folks 👋

Managing sales commissions over spreadsheets is a soul-sucker.

Here’s why:

• You can’t track commission data in real-time as it’s not integrated with your CRM or invoicing software.

• You find yourself resolving way too many disputes and answering tons of back-and-forth emails.

ElevateHQ kills this drama.

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