Tips of the Trade

By Malcolm Fleschner

Are there hard-and-fast rules for creating sales incentive programs? Sure, and here are some of them:

  • Be careful about planning reward travel to the Caribbean during hurricane season.
  • When looking for a movie-based theme, there are plenty of options preferable to Death of a Salesman.
  • Electronics rewards are always appreciated, but they have to be up-to-date – the combination 8-track player/Betamax isn’t going to motivate anyone.

If you’re looking for even more helpful guidelines, there’s no better source than SalesDriver vice president Mark Sullivan. Writing recently in Potentials Magazine, Sullivan offered the following advice for incentive program managers looking to drive specific results and behaviors.

1. Fix your budget. In addition to offering a sound and competitive commission plan, sales organizations should invest between 3% and 5% of reps’ annual income in noncash rewards and recognitions, and then give individual reps a choice of rewards. Ideally, such a program would be extended to customer support, sales engineers, administrative staff and other third-party channels.

2. Make the theme relevant. The theme should resonate with the target audience, give focus to the program and be carried through to the end of the contest. For internal programs, consider building on initiatives already underway within the organization or company.

3. Keep it rolling. Managers tend to focus a great deal of attention on program rollout, which is fine. But remember that committing to an incentive means staying in touch with participants throughout the contest and fine-tuning along the way to keep things running smoothly.

4. Keep all channels open. Success in a sales incentive program always involves effective, quality communication. It’s essential for lines to stay open after the launch. Send out frequent emails that relate to the contest’s theme or post bulletin board messages (both online and in the office) to stay in touch and keep participants informed of their status and program updates.

5. Remember, information is power. Participants need to be provided the critical information about a program up front. Ask yourself: What tools will they need to meet the established goals? What about additional product information? Service knowledge? Think about putting such key information as price lists, competitive information and product spec sheets online and integrating them into the Website dedicated to the program.

6. Say what? Information transfer is a two-way street. An incentive program provides sales organizations with a unique opportunity to gather data about what’s really going on in the field. Try building a survey component into the program so managers can ask reps and resellers specific questions. You can even make it worth their while by tying incentive points to completed surveys. It’s a painless and effective way to get immediate feedback from the people most in touch with the customer base.