How to Incentivize Your Multicultural Sales Team

You probably will need to try several approaches, especially if your employees represent a mix of cultures, each with different priorities when it comes to workplace motivation.

By Christian Arno, Founder, Lingo24

Here’s a question for you: Is your sales staff motivated and performing at its best? If you didn’t respond with an emphatic “Yes!” you’re not alone. No matter how highly you value your staff, when it comes to performance, there is almost always room for improvement.

Whether you are in Boston or Beijing, recruiting is only half the battle. Of course, paying a competitive salary gets the right caliberof people through the door. And training creates a skilled workforce. However, sales managers often are left with the feeling that those eager new recruits are not living up to their potential. Worse, sales conversions might be falling, staffers seem unenthusiastic, and your best people show signs of moving on.

It’s time to think incentives. The good news is that there are a number of tried-and-trusted ways to boost flagging staff motivation. And most of them don’t even involve dipping into over-stretched budgets.

Monetary Rewards

Money talks—no matter what language your employees speak. Monetary bonuses are the classic way to incentivize sales staff to meet targets. Are they effective? Yes, but maybe not to the extent you’d think. In a McKinsey global survey in 2009, performance-based cash bonuses were seen as very or extremely effective by 60 percent of respondents. Other financial rewards (e.g., base pay rises, stock options) lagged behind.

Praise and Recognition

In the same McKinsey study, “praise and commendation from immediate manager” was rated as a highly effective employee motivation strategy by 67 percent of those asked. And it costs nothing beyond a little time. Take praise a step further by offering awards and by publicly recognizing staff achievement. Some companies combine this with social events or staff gatherings, while others choose the “Employee of the Month” framed picture approach.

Show Respect

Beyond praising a job well-done, business leaders need to actively demonstrate respect for employees and their contribution to the company. This is a factor that is crucial in many Asian countries, says AsiaOneBusiness. For Chinese employees, respect is rated as more important than base pay by employees. Respect from bosses also has a significant influence on workplace satisfaction for Singaporeans, Koreans, and Indians, although in Japan the paycheck still ranks at the top.

Flexibility and Work-Life Balance

If you have multicultural staff, another incentive that could work wonders is building in some flexibility. According to the 2012 “What’s Working Around the World” Mercer report, flexible working was rated as “highly important” to motivation by almost three-quarters of those surveyed in the UK. In India, it was also a key factor, while the AsiaOneBusiness report revealed that the Japanese strongly value their work-life balance.

Promotion Opportunities

How about linking performance to promotion opportunities? Rewarding star performers with a more senior position was seen as motivating by Indian employees in the data examined by AsiaOneBusiness. On the other hand, staffers in the U.S. and UK were far less enthusiastic about this prospect, proving that what works well for one culture may fall flat in another.

Employee Benefits

One incentive that does work well in the U.S. is offering employees benefits, according to the Seventh Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends from MetLife. The study reflected that health and retirement benefits are especially important now that people expect to live longer and face uncertain retirements. The results closely tied job satisfaction with benefits, with 73 percent of those highly satisfied with their benefits package also being happy in their jobs.

Team-Building Activities

Offering incentives isn’t limited to individual motivation and rewards. In North American and increasingly in European cultures, overall team motivation is being addressed with activity days and “team-bonding” events. While the sky’s the limit when it comes to coming up with ideas (and don’t miss the opportunity for employee input here), the general theme is one that promotes teamwork. Successful events promote a happier and more effective workplace, believes Brick Jackson of

Points and Prizes

A good way to create excitement in the workplace is with non-financial prizes. This kind of incentive has the added benefit of avoiding the resentment that can be generated by cash bonuses. To build the momentum, come up with a competition where staff members or teams gain points, which then are traded in for prizes. While the prize could be the latest gadget or a gift card, another incentive is time off—if company policy permits, naturally.

When it comes to incentivizing your sales staff, you probably will need to try several approaches. This is especially important if your employees represent a mix of cultures, each with different priorities when it comes to workplace motivation. However, while some incentives are easier to put in place than others, it should be reassuring that from the staff perspective, it’s not all about the money.

Christian Arno is the founder of Lingo24, a provider of translation services. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has more than 170 employees spanning three continents and clients in more than 60 countries. In the last 12 months, it has translated more than 40 million words for businesses in every industry sector, including the likes of MTV, World Bank, and American Express. Follow Lingo24 on Twitter: @Lingo24.

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