Incentive Heaven In Seven

By Malcolm Fleschner

Few colleges or business schools offer classes in how to run a sales incentive program, so most sales managers wind up winging it and simply doing the best they can. Others, however, turn to experts by farming the job out to companies that specialize in running incentive programs. With this approach, choosing the right partner plays a major part in determining your program’s success. The Sales Marketing Network suggests the following seven steps for finding the right incentive house.

1. What do you want?
Naturally, the first question to ask yourself is: What you expect from an incentive house? Do you want to outsource only a few activities, such as promotion and award fulfillment? Or, do you expect your new partner to take care of it all, from program design through award delivery? What you want may depend on such factors as your budget, your own expertise and how much time you have for administration.

2. See what’s out there.
Use available resources to find out the companies that might be able to help you. Some places to look include the Society of Incentive & Travel Associates (SITE), Incentive Magazine and And you can always ask colleagues and associates for referrals.

3. Send an RFI.
Rather than sending out long, involved RFPs to dozens of candidates, why not begin by circulating a far shorter and more manageable request for information, or RFI? Include questions about how much of the company’s business comes from incentive travel versus merchandise, other awards, communication, training and so on. Ask what their recommended solution to your incentive challenge might be, what distinguishes them from their competitors and whether they offer a money-back guarantee.

4. Conduct interviews.
Having pared down the list of likely candidates from responses to your RFI, invite representatives from the remaining companies to your office to discuss your needs. Not only do you want to find someone you feel comfortable working with, you also want a thoughtful partner. Ask questions like: How would you measure ROI for our program? Would you recommend an open- or close-ended program? How do you keep awards from being perceived as entitlements? Should we use a fixed or variable approach when budgeting for award fulfillment?

5. Now it’s RFP time.
Now that you have a considerably shorter list of possible candidates after the interview process, you might wish to send out an RFP that articulates your needs and will help you determine which provider can deliver the greatest value. Specifically, focus on technology issues, such as whether the company can provide online access to participants’ performance data, point earnings/redemption data, program rules information and promotional messages, and awards redemption or shopping capability. Also, ask to see a demo Website so that you can verify any claims about the technology’s functionality.

6. Look beneath the surface.
In addition to what your incentive partner does, you’ll want to investigate how they operate. Will there be one point person you’re dependent on? If so, what happens if that person leaves? How flexible are they about compelling you to conform to their business methods? How well do they retain clients from program to program?

7. Check their record.
Before making a final decision, be sure to check references. Request contact information for people at five current clients and three former clients. Then ask these individuals open-ended questions about the company’s strengths and weaknesses, whether they met expectations and how well they performed against your most important criteria.