The results are in, and it appears that cash’s grip on the incentive crown has loosened. In a 2001 study conducted by the Incentive Federation, 71 percent of the sales, marketing and human resource executives who responded said they use merchandise as awards, edging out cash, which was cited as an award by 69 percent of the participants. This is the first time cash has not held the top spot. Other awards further down the ladder included discounts/rebates (57 percent), individual travel (47 percent), time off from job (47 percent), group travel (42 percent), travel gift certificates (35 percent), merchandise gift certificates (32 percent) and debit cards (14 percent).
As expected, Internet use as an incentive tool is creeping up, compared with survey results from previous years. Nonetheless, merely 15 percent of respondents said that the Internet has become a featured tool in their motivational toolbox. About half who take advantage of the Internet (48 percent) do so as a means of locating vendors or suppliers. Other uses include: a means of communication (31 percent), a place to purchase merchandise or services (30 percent), to gather information about creating incentive programs (26 percent), to purchase travel-related items (20 percent), to facilitate award redemption (7 percent) and to administer programs (5 percent).
All the above results referred to incentive programs not limited to sales personnel, and they include consumer/user promotions, dealer incentives and other business gifts as well. When respondents were asked to rate the various incentive and reward options for effectiveness exclusively with sales and marketing personnel, cash did emerge on top, followed by merchandise gift certificates, discounts/rebates, individual travel, merchandise, time off from job and group travel at the bottom.
Parsing the results, the researchers conducting the survey concluded that much of Corporate America continues to ignore the downside of cash as an incentive but that the tide may be turning, albeit slowly. And picking up the slack is the Internet, where sales managers and VPs of sales are just discovering the tremendous flexibility and powerful tracking tools the online world offers to incentive program managers.