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Recognize On The Prize

By Malcolm Fleschner

Managers developing sales incentive and reward programs can’t be blamed for focusing on dollar figures. It’s important to know what a program will cost, at what dollar sales level participants should qualify and how much more the sales organization will have to produce to make the program cost effective. The answers to these questions matter, but they shouldn’t obscure a larger point: that recognition isn’t just about money or ROI. As award-winning speaker, consultant and author of No Lie – Truth is the Ultimate Sales Tool (McGraw-Hill, 2003) Barry Maher ( points out, sales organizations can often gain substantial returns from programs that don’t entail a large outlay of cash.

"Recognition programs can cost almost nothing and I’ve never seen a well-done recognition program fail," Maher says. "Opportunities for more responsibility, more training, more freedom in scheduling, more high-level recognition, even the occasional pat on the back; all these things work wonders. I’ve seen this kind of thing turn sales forces around and in an amazingly short time. Of course, you’ve got to know your people to know what kind of recognition is likely to work best for them as a group or as individuals.
"Often the real value in this type of incentive comes from the significance that the company bestows on it. The award is a big deal because we make it a big deal, not because it costs a lot. Why else would people work overtime for their picture on an employee-of-the-month sign or their name on a ‘President’s Club’ plaque?"

Note the reference specifically to "well-done" recognition programs. Asked about the least effective efforts he’s witnessed, Maher rattles off a couple of the more – or possibly, less – memorable ones. "I recently watched a manager hand an employee a $50 gift certificate," Maher says, "practically tossing it on his desk, saying, ‘This is for you’ and walking away. When the employee asked what it was for, the manager replied, ‘They decided to give a few of these out. Congratulations.’ That’s a quick lesson in how to make $50 worthless from a motivational standpoint.
"And I don’t know how many awards I’ve won in my sales career where I wasn’t even really aware of the contest. Either the company hadn’t properly promoted it and I hadn’t heard of it at all or I’d long since forgotten it. Or it just provided so little motivation I never took note of it. I won the award, but the incentive had absolutely no effect on my sales. And probably very little effect on anyone else in the sales force. Incentives have to be promoted and sold like anything else."

One common problem Maher notes is creating an incentive or recognition program that is not properly geared to the people it’s supposed to motivate. "I know of one manager who tried to get her sales team charged up by ‘making the workplace fun,’" he says.
"Only it was her idea of fun, not her people’s idea. She scattered candy dishes around the office even though many of the employees were trying to diet. She had Muzak pumped in, and they all hated the music she chose. Then she decided to fill the office with motivational banners, and insisted that everyone contribute a saying. At least one person had fun with it. He suggested the ‘inspirational’ message, ‘Walk the elephant and pitch to the giraffe.’"

For those unfamiliar, Maher points out that this "adage" is merely the punch line to the risqué joke, "What do you do with an elephant with three balls?" Unfortunately for this company, the poster still hung in the office the last time Maher visited, a regular reminder for anyone in the know that employees are the ultimate arbiters of just what’s going to motivate them – and what they will think is just a joke.

To contact Barry Maher visit or call 1-866-243-8062