Sales burnout is real. According to LinkedIn, sales rep turnover hovers around 34 percent each year. But burnout isn’t just a retention problem. Sales is a demanding, high-pressure job, and even top-performing sales reps with no plans of leaving have rough patches.

Lagging sales, then, doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have the right people. It could mean you have great people who lack a good incentive system.

Money is without doubt the most powerful incentive in sales and probably always will be. But bonuses alone won’t motivate a team member if they feel like their hard work isn’t being recognized by sales leadership. Salespeople need to feel valued, not just compensated, for their contributions.

The best way to combat burnout and inspire your sales team to hit new goals this year is to create a culture of recognition. Gifting can be a powerful part of that culture. There’s just one caveat: the gifts have to be meaningful. Here’s why gifting is the sales motivator you’ve been looking for and how to implement a gift-based incentive program.

Promote a Culture of Recognition Through Gifting

Too many employees don’t feel recognized for their work. According to a Harvard Business Review survey, 82 percent of employed Americans don’t feel that their supervisors recognize them enough for their contributions. That’s having a negative impact on performance: another 40 percent of respondents say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often.

Simply put, when employees are recognized and rewarded for their efforts, they’ll be more compelled to reach higher.

The beauty of a culture of recognition is that it serves two functions: it motivates individuals and reinforces what success looks like to the larger group.

And no act of recognition resonates quite like a thoughtful, well-timed gift. Beyond recognizing your sales reps’ contributions, a meaningful gift shows that you care about your employees, and not just the deals they close.

Of course, there are other impactful non-financial means to incentivize sales reps. Verbal acknowledgment, healthy competition, and leaderboards are a few ways that sales leaders can publicly recognize their teams’ accomplishments – and energize them to stay focused and engaged. But gifts commend and incentivize employees to a greater extent.

Take it from the top-performing companies that leverage non-cash incentives: the Incentive Research Foundation found that high-revenue, high-growth companies were 30 percent more likely to see the behavioral impact of a rewards and recognition program.

How to Build a Meaningful Gift-Based Incentive Program

The catch with a gift-based culture of recognition is that company swag and snack tins won’t motivate top performers to achieve new goals. You’ll need to choose gifts that sincerely communicate your gratitude – and that your salespeople will genuinely enjoy.

Here are some guidelines and ideas for finding gifts that will engage and incentivize your sales team.

Gift a memorable experience. Has your team member been talking about a restaurant they’ve been dying to try? Or maybe they’re an amateur rock climber? Get them a gift certificate to that restaurant or a climbing gym, for example.

Pick a gift with lasting value. Try a gift that your team member can use and appreciate time and again, such as a calendar, a notebook, or a plant.

Pick a gift that does good. All employees, but especially Millennials (now the largest group in the workforce), care deeply about environmental and social causes – and they want their workplaces to care, too. Find a gift that has a positive impact, such as…

  • Granola made by women who are survivors of abuse.
  • Wine stoppers hand-blown by teens impacted by gun violence.
  • Artisan beach towels from a company that gives its proceeds to marine conservation organizations.

Give time off. Sometimes there’s no better gift than free time. Encourage sales reps who have been working relentlessly on a deal to take a personal day – sometimes the best antidote to a grueling work week is to take a break, reflect, and come back ready to refocus.

Make it a surprise. One essential element of a great gift is the element of surprise. Granted, a surprise-based incentive program won’t regularly work for sales reps – they need to know what the reward is to be motivated. Used sparingly, though, surprises can maximize the delight of a hardworking employee who isn’t expecting anything.

Include a personal note. You can’t recognize individual contributions with a generic email template. The most inexpensive gesture can also be the most personal and meaningful – write a handwritten note thanking your sales reps for their contributions.

Gift-Based Recognition Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

The best sales leaders know that each person on their team deserves individual recognition for their contributions. Praise is personal, and different team members will appreciate a different kind of gift. You have to get to know your team and what makes each person tick.

Through intentional gifting, take the time to individually thank your sales reps for the work they’re already doing – and incentivize them to blow past their 2020 goals with a culture that recognizes and rewards good work.

Leeatt Rothschild has over 15 years of experience at the intersection of business, sustainability, and brand purpose. In 2016 she founded Packed with Purpose, a corporate gifting company that embeds social impact into the everyday act of gift-giving, from empowering underserved women with job skills to supporting sustainability efforts. Twitter handle: @PackedwPurpose

Rewarding stock photo by fizkes/Shutterstock