MORE COMPANIES REWARDING SALES SUPPORT, TEAMS: STUDY The number of companies with incentive programs for sales support employees is growing, while one out of two companies is creating new performance measures for teams, according to a survey of 207 sales forces conducted by Management Compensation Services (MCS), a division of Hewitt Associates, Lincolnshire, IL.

Overall, the 1996 Hot Topics in Sales Compensation survey revealed that companies are thinking more strategically about sales compensation. The most common reasons cited for changing sales incentive plans: strengthening the link between pay and performance and a change in business strategy.

"With mounting pressure on companies to develop strategic plans, they are working hard to identify ways to capture performance measures," notes Sandy Miller, manager of sales management and rewards consulting at Hewitt Associates. "Measuring results is even more important as companies increase their emphasis on developing global strategies."

Some key survey findings: * 41 percent of companies reported having incentive programs for sales support employees in 1996, up from 37 percent in 1995. Half the companies with these programs said the incentives were part of the overall employee incentive plan, compared to 37 percent in 1995.

* 55 percent of companies with sales teams changed the performance evaluation criteria and/or process to support the team. More than 70 percent added performance criteria related to teamwork/collaboration, 36 percent added performance criteria related to skills/competency, and 18 percent started multiple points of performance assessment.

* 90 percent of companies with sales team incentives use team sales volume as the primary performance measure, half use quotas, and 25 percent use customer service measures.

WHAT MAKES A SALES STAR? Talk less and do your homework. That may sound like good advice for your seventh grader, but it's also part of what makes a top salesperson, according to the Ron Volper Group.

The White Plains, NY-based consulting firm studied top, satisfactory, and sub-standard sales performers at 70 U.S. companies to find out what separates the stars from the Willy Lomans.

Here's what they found out: Top salespeople ask more and better questions during a sales call and let customers talk about 70 percent of the time, while nonperformers let customers talk only 30 percent of the time.

And sales stars do extensive advance planning, developing written plans that cover sales calls, key accounts, and territory strategies.

Other findings: * Top performers are more effective in identifying customer needs as well as recognizing objections--even silent ones--and responding to them.

* Sales stars offer product or service recommendations later in the sales call--after 40 percent or more of the time has elapsed--than nonperformers, and the offer these recommendations only after they uncover customer needs.

* Top performers present recommendations in terms of customer benefits rather than product features.

* Sales standouts do a better job than nonperformers of refining their skills and motivating themselves through sales training seminars, listening to motivational tapes, and reading inspirational books.

Companies today expect salespeople to produce business of about ten times their annual salaries, the study reports.

ONLINE TRAVEL BUYING YET TO TAKE OFF Purchasing travel online has yet to catch on in most companies--but it will within the next two years, according to a survey by the Air Travel Card.

More than half of the 200 travel managers polled in the survey said they do not have access to the Internet. Of those with access, 41 percent reported using the Internet only to obtain travel or travel supplier information, while 40 percent said they use it to communicate with those outside their company.

More than half said that even with Internet access they don't expect to purchase their company's travel via an online service. However, more than 43 percent reported that electronic travel purchasing is in their company's future--71 percent anticipate usage within the next two years.

FORTUNE'S MOST ADMIRED: MIRAGE RESORTS, SOUTHWEST AIRLINES Mirage Resorts and Southwest Airlines took top ranking in the hotel and airline categories of Fortune magazine's recent Corporate Reputations Survey.

More than 13,000 senior executives, outside directors, and financial security analysts were asked to rate the ten largest U.S. companies in their own industries. The companies were judged on eight key attributes of reputation: innovativeness, quality of management, long-term value, quality of products or services, community and environmental responsibility, financial soundness, ability to attract and keep talented people, and use of corporate assets.

Mirage Resorts also came in second in the overall ranking of most-admired companies, while TWA topped the list of least-admired companies.

Most Admired Companies: Hotels, Casinos, Resorts 1. Mirage Resorts

2. Marriott International

3. Hilton Hotels

4. Circus Circus Enterprises

5. Host Marriott

Airlines 1. Southwest Airlines

2. American Airlines

3. United Airlines

4. Northwest Airlines

5. Delta Air Lines

Source: Fortune