Sales SPIFF Programmes: What are they and how can they boost revenue?

SPIFF is a common acronym in the sales world. Over the years, it has become something of a boardroom cliché – a statue rubbed for luck by all that pass by. 

But just because something might be regarded as a cliché doesn’t mean it’s not still an incredibly valuable thing for the people who use it. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to understand about sales SPIFFs – or more affectionately, ‘spiv’ – and how these can transform motivation in your sales team. 

What does SPIFF stand for in sales?

SPIFF stands for ‘Sales Performance Incentive Fund’ – the extra ‘F’ is for added flair. It refers to a specific incentive used to drive sales, often during a particular promotion or push on a product.

The idea behind sales SPIFFs is that they offer a quick and effective boost to employee engagement, which drives improved sales performance. Ultimately, this brings businesses a strong ROI in the form of higher value sales and a reliable way to shift otherwise slow-to-sell products. 

One thing that sets a SPIFF apart from another type of incentive is its immediacy. Sales pros don’t have to wait for the next paycheque or Christmas party to receive this incentive. 

A SPIFF could be monetary, but it doesn’t have to be. So long as it’s offered as an immediate bonus for meeting a particular goal, it counts. 

Sales Performance Incentive Fund


Where did the term SPIFF come from? 

Nobody quite knows, but the term SPIFF has been used for more than 150 years. Back when employee incentives were still a novel idea for businesses to dabble in, SPIFF referred to the commission that a salesperson could expect to receive for selling slow-to-shift stock. 

Last year’s bolts of fabric, for instance, would be assigned a SPIFF (unbeknownst to the customer, of course) which would be represented by a small mark on the label, promising the salesperson a bonus if they could convince a customer to buy it.

Ever since then, the term has continued to refer to immediate bonuses that sales teams can expect if they manage to meet a particular sales target.  


Do sales SPIFFs work? 

Absolutely. Why? Because sales pro disengagement is a little like a drain on an otherwise watertight business model. 

Sales targets in and of themselves are not necessarily motivating. Even a brand-new sales team is motivated by something – if not a tangible reward, then the ability to prove themselves and stand out as a top performer.

But the drive toward the top of the ladder can keep even the very best sales teams motivated for only so long. Whether they start to feel as though their efforts are going unrecognised, are off-kilter with the company’s goals, or feel that they are adrift with no clear development opportunities – or any number of other reasons – the fact is that no employee is immune to that sense of disengagement and demotivation.

Unfortunately, plenty of stats suggest that disengaged employees are in the majority. 

One particularly startling statistic shows that, in the US, 85% of employees are not engaged with the workplace. These employees inevitably represent the source of the drip – a pretty significant loss of revenue that can’t be remedied without decisive action at the source. 

The Workplace Research Foundation discovered that employees who feel engaged with the company they represent are 38% more likely to be above average in terms of productivity

In other words, you can’t compensate for employee disengagement elsewhere. Investing into other aspects of the business in the hope of boosting revenue and sales is just dancing around the point. 

How SPIFFs help sales and customer loyalty

But how do SPIFF programmes impact customer loyalty? 

Better productivity and increased engagement on the employee side of the business are like the many ropes, cables, costume racks and prop tables that are housed behind the stage. The audience (in this case, your customers) will never look directly at them – or even think about their existence, ideally – but the effect of their being there will be tangible.
Without them, the show can’t go on. True, the actors are on-stage, but how good a performance can they put on when the lights aren’t working, the props are missing, the costume-changes can’t be carried out, and the scenery is falling down left, right, and centre? 

Not a great performance at all.

A sales SPIFF isn’t for the customer’s eyes. Back in the 19th century, shop owners would mark SPIFF products with a vague symbol – a hieroglyph, for instance – to ensure that the message was received by the salesperson, but that the customer was none the wiser. 

But engaged salespeople – those who are truly motivated to push forward on sales targets, meet goals, and, ultimately, give each customer a memorable, enthusiastic experience that shows quite how engaged and motivated they are by the company they represent? That makes the world of difference to a customer – and your business. 

Customer loyalty isn’t just predicated on the incentives you give them – although choosing the right rewards is certainly important. Beyond the incentives, you also have to create the sort of experience that inspires an emotional connection from them – something that runs a lot deeper than whatever deal or promotion you (or your competitor) are running. That means utilising the marketing channels available to you in order to maintain contact, giving them an experience that feels unique, rather than copy-and-paste, and optimising every element of their experience with your brand. 

Nielsen found that, in the marketing world, ads that elicited an emotional response generally led to a 23% spike in sales. That’s an incredible pay-off for targeting our emotional minds, and an excellent example of how easily driven we are by our happy chemicals. With an engaged sales team – one incentivised by a structured incentive programme – you can tap into that emotional connection further still, and reap the rewards.  

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