shutterstock_530676085.jpgWe hear (or observe) generational stereotypes all of the time: Baby boomers work nonstop, or even live to work. Millennials, on the other end of the working-age spectrum, are labeled as entitled and work to live.

With those stereotypes in mind, we set out to understand the best motivators for each generation of salespeople. We surveyed 510 salespeople, split evenly across baby boomers, Generation X and millennials (170 salespeople in each category). In the survey, we offered trade-offs between work flexibility, hours worked, pay levels and incentive options.

The results showed that there are definitive differences in what motivates each generation. From our research, here are the key motivational differences between baby boomers and millennials. (Gen Xers, for the most part, landed in between these two groups.)

Incentive Topic

Boomer Preferences

Millennial Preferences

Pay at Risk

Less Pay at Risk

More Pay at Risk

Job Flexibility

Do Not Value

Highly Value

Team Metrics

Want to Be Paid Solely on Individual Metric

Want to Be Paid on Team Metric

Plan Type

Bonus Plan

Commission Plan

Pay Frequency



President’s Club

Very Important

Not as Important

Sales Contests

Want Differentiated Payouts

OK With Everyone Earning the Same Amount


If you’re like most sales organizations, you have some salespeople from each generation on your team, and you’re starting to see millennials replacing boomers, collectively, within your sales force. Your sales incentive programs likely have shifted toward boomer preferences over the years, so what needs to change so that you’re motivating the entire sales force?

Most companies will try to incorporate multiple elements to motivate all constituencies. For example, they won’t scrap their President’s Club simply because it doesn’t currently motivate some groups of salespeople.

In some very limited cases, sales forces have allowed salespeople to pick the plan features that work best for them. This can be a powerful way to individualize sales compensation, but it comes with some issues (buyers’ remorse and administrative complexity, to name the most prominent). 

Just as there’s no “one size fits all” option for salespeople, there’s no “one size fits all” solution for companies. The important takeaway is that you shouldn’t assume that all salespeople are motivated alike and, to keep up with generational changes in the sales force, we must pay attention to the new and different incentives that motivate millennials.

My colleague Steve Marley is presenting on generational differences in the sales force at Xactly’s CompCloud 2017 conference May 16-18 in San Francisco.


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Topics: Chad Albrecht, sales comp, millennials, generation X, baby boomers, multigenerational sales force