Motivation’s Top Ten List

By Malcolm Fleschner
Benjamin Franklin once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” The legendary founding father had it right in every area but one – sales incentives. In fact, for managers trying to motivate top sales performers, the madness lies in expecting the same results from the same programs and prizes year after year.
For suggestions on how to keep high fliers on the sales staff soaring, Incentive Magazine recently solicited input from some of the top experts in the motivation business. They came up with the following 10 suggestions.
  1. Appeal to their vanity. Because incentives are supposed to be about rewards andrecognition, one of the most effective ways to say thanks is with pictures. One expert reported commissioning a portrait of a top sales rep after he closed a particularly difficult deal. The portrait hung in the sales meeting room with the caption: They said it couldn’t be done.
  1. Share the wealth. Instead of running closed-end programs where the number of winners is determined beforehand, consider open-end contests where everyone who achieves at a certain level wins. Top performers will find new competitors challenging for prizes while moderate performers will have something to shoot for.
  1. Let them plan. When you offer travel incentives, give winners the flexibility to plan how they want to spend that leisure time. You might even provide the services of a destination management organization to help them decide among the various recreational options available wherever they’ll be headed.
  1. Add a feel-good element. Most people are motivated by more than just material rewards. To feed your winners’ spiritual sides, consider adding a charitable element to an incentive program. For example, qualifiers at a resort might compete to see who can build the most bicycles and then donate the bikes to a local orphanage.
  1. Recognize that things change. Remember that as people grow and change, so do their key motivators. Single salespeople in their 20s might relish the prospect of partying until the wee hours, but once they’re older and have kids they may be motivated more by a trip to a blues club or an amusement park.
  1. Stay ahead of the curve. Attend electronics, travel and incentive shows and you’ll get a hint of what the next big thing is supposed to be in that particular industry. While there work on developing relationships that will help you obtain and use these cutting-edge products as rewards before they become widely available to the masses.
  1. Make it unforgettable. Unlike cash or merchandise, experiences remain fresh in the mind and never lose their value. Instead of offering the usual piece of merchandise to be added to the winner’s existing pile, consider a unique experiential reward such as a ticket to the Grammy Awards or access to the red carpet at a paparazzi-laden Hollywood movie premiere.
  1. Mix it pp. Running regular, predictable programs is fine as long as you spice things up with additional random contests that keep participants on their toes. Announce that whoever sells the most of product X will get a two-hour paid lunch. Provide free massages for team members who work a certain number of overtime hours. Find ways to drop in these added, unexpected motivational boosts and, as long as they don’t come to expect them, salespeople will respond.
  1. Get on the ballot. Instead of choosing a destination yourself, set up a system that allows team members to vote on a variety of destination options – one rep, one vote. Then stand back and watch the real selling begin as salespeople pitch one another on each location’s merits.

Stop the guesswork. Your top performers probably account for a substantial percentage of your overall sales, so your incentives should be developed with them in mind. The only way to know what they truly want is by conducting in-depth interviews. Sure, it may take some extra time and effort, but it’s worth it, considering how devastating getting it wrong can be to your bottom line.