Sales Management: The X Factor

Pharmas are developing incentive programs to keep Gen X sales reps motivated and productive.
Aug 31, 2005


Stan Striker
Gen X is a name that provokes controversy, fear, pride, and for many in sales management, confusion, when the label applies to their sales reps. This generation has the reputation of being the "free agent" workforce—workers with no fear of job hopping and challenging the rules. To Gen Xers, choice is power.

This group of more than 44 million young adults has overtaken the US workforce, and its challenging nature is causing non-Gen X managers to question time-honored incentive techniques. At the same time, Gen Xers are attractive to many managers because of their typically strong work ethic. Although self-reliant, they desire to be taken seriously and want to be valued by their companies.

Who Are They?

No birth dates wholly define the span of Gen X, but generally they were born in the '60s and '70s with a part of their teen years spent in the '80s—which defines the majority of pharma sales reps today. A search of various sources on trends for this group reveals that they were raised in a time characterized by high divorce rates, which forced high levels of responsibility and independence at young ages. They watched as women took on new roles. They experienced firsthand a world-changing boom of technological innovation.

All of these factors influenced Gen Xers to value both freedom and responsibility. They despise the materialistic ways of the previous generation, yet crave the latest in high-tech gadgets. They appreciate the balance between hard work and leisure, and tend to embrace diversity in all its forms—cultural, political, sexual, racial and social. A recent poll found that 90 percent of Gen Xers agree that helping others is more important than helping oneself. Also, nearly 70 percent of Gen Xers are parents and embrace strong family values.

As pharma companies shrink the size of their sales forces, managers are looking for ways to retain and motivate their most productive reps. With members of Gen X representing such a large portion of the pharma sales-rep ranks, managers cannot afford to overlook this generation's distinct attributes and needs.

Creating Incentive Programs

For this reason, managers should take great care in designing incentive programs to improve the performance of this unique population. A recent Maritz Poll found that 66 percent of employees surveyed said incentive programs influence their decision to stay with a company; for those under age 35, the number rose to more than 74 percent. Furthermore, research from the SITE Foundation, the research arm of the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives, found that a well-designed program can increase performance as much as 22 percent.

By taking into account the specific needs of Gen Xers, managers can incorporate a few key elements into incentive programs to motivate them. While there are a variety of award options available for incentive programs, some have particular appeal to Gen Xers: the latest technological gadgets for home, office, or car; furniture and appliances for the home; products for the kids; and items with high "splurge value"—things that are desirable but tough to justify buying, such as autographed sports memorabilia, or a digital juke box, pool table or diamond bracelet. Timesaving awards, such as cleaning services, personal chefs or caterers for at-home parties are also popular. Experiential awards, such as personal travel, tend to be well received as well.