Get The Most From Your Gifts

By Malcolm Fleschner

Incentive program designers love gift cards for one simple reason: they’re easy. While it’s true that universal gift cards or gift certificates redeemable at large chain retailers provide the flexibility of using a single prize to motivate a broad range of employees, they can’t do everything for you. As the experts at the Sales Marketing Network ( point out, sales incentive programs require a great deal of heavy lifting, only some of which can be shouldered by gift cards. Here are their eight key suggestions for running an effective gift card incentive.

1. What do you want?
Well run sales incentive programs can deliver all kinds of results – higher dollar sales, more new product sales, higher margins, more new accounts and so on. Before launching the program, however, you should figure out exactly what your goals are. Based on sheer numbers, how do you plan to determine if the program is a success?

2. Don’t complicate matters.
Overly complex rules can doom a program from the beginning. Your salespeople should understand, in simple terms, precisely what is being asked of them. Then they will know what they need to do to meet or exceed expectations.

3. Be realistic.
Unattainable goals commonly are cited as the reason for incentive program failures. Make your goals achievable so team members are inspired to stretch, but not so intimidated that they don’t try.

4. Get executives involved.
The program’s goals should be aligned with overall company strategy. Make sure you have management support and, if possible, have upper-level executives around to help increase excitement at the kickoff.

5. Keep on tracking.
A gift card-based program makes much of the incentive task easier, but you still need to track the results. If possible, try to use existing systems such as sales reports or the standard company spreadsheet program.

6. Spend right.
Budget breakdowns will vary depending on such factors as recipients’ level (the higher they are, the more expensive the program), program length, number of participants and program objectives. Expect to allocate between 10% and 20% of the expected revenue increase for the program, while sales award levels should be pegged at 2% to -5% of participants’ gross compensation.

7. Ask around.
When determining which areas you need to improve, consider including the target audience of salespeople in the discussion. Specifically, ask what steps they feel are necessary to improve performance and eliminate obstacles.

8. “Here’s what you’re playing for…”
If your program is going to succeed, participants must be energized and excited. There’s more to creating program fever than just making an announcement and expecting them to be off and running. Try this four-step process.

  1. Create a dynamic and compelling program theme.
  2. Generate a teaser piece that focuses on benefits.
  3. Announce the contest with a piece that reiterates benefits while laying out the program rules.
  4. Keep up the communication throughout the contest to let participants know how they’re doing while offering ongoing motivation and tips for achieving more.