Expert Tips For Incentive Success

By Malcolm Fleschner

As the sales manager you’re probably your sales team’s number one cheerleader. Unfortunately, a couple of pompoms, glittery makeup and all the enthusiasm in the world are not enough to drive increased sales – that’s where the sales incentive program comes into play. But few sales managers also are experts in incentive program design and execution, which probably explains why so many incentive plans fail to live up to expectations.

To help distill some of the latest thinking on how to create successful incentive programs, Cynthia Ironson of the Advertising Specialty Institute consulted with a panel of experts. Here are a few of their suggestions that many amateur program developers may overlook.

1. Find the right prize. Offering reps just one type of prize is too limiting and likely won’t motivate every team member. So go ahead and ask the salespeople what they would like to see as potential rewards. Do they want vacations? Electronics? Maybe a set of new golf clubs? Also, ask whether they’d like multiple smaller prizes or one big one.

2. Keep the questions coming. As your salespeople’s lives change and develop, so will their preferences for sales incentive prizes. So remember to survey your team members at least once a year to keep your incentive programs current you’re your salespeople’s changing wants and needs.

3. Ensure the program is structurally sound. While it’s important to find the right rewards, program structure is even more critical. Give plenty of thought to what you hope to accomplish with the program, make your goals realistic, determine what extenuating circumstances might affect outcomes and keep the program from unduly burdening the salespeople.

4. Open up the budget. Although they’re easier to budget for in advance, programs featuring a closed-end budget – say, where only the top 10 performers are rewarded – unnecessarily limit the program’s potential. Instead, consider a point-based, open-ended program where the only prize limits are the reps’ ability to sell.