These Dont’s Are Doozies

By Malcolm Fleschner

For a sales incentive program to be successful in the current economic climate, with customer temperatures hovering well below the freezing point, managers have to do everything right, whether choosing rewards, establishing criteria or communicating with participants throughout the duration of the program.

On the other hand, if you’re determined to foul up your next incentive program there are a few surefire methods for derailing a program. Daria Cutler, an operating manager with Iowa-based CTM Incentives (, has seen or heard of incentive programs going awry for a host of reasons. One reason, she says, is the failure to understand the critical value of clear and consistent communications throughout a program.

“Communication is absolutely crucial to a program’s success,” she says. “Failure to communicate is probably the mistake I see most often. Sometimes clients just don’t want to budget for it, which can be the kiss of death. You can have a great incentive program, but if participants don’t remember it or know how they are progressing towards the goal, the chances of the program’s success are limited. Different people pay attention to different forms of communication, so I recommend mixing it up – some print, some email, some 3-D promotional mailings, frequent and regular progress statements and other forms of communication to reinforce the message.”

Another trouble spot she identifies is trying to accomplish too much with a sales incentive program, particularly when the wheels may be coming off the organizational wagon in other areas that have nothing to do with the incentive program.

“We recommend limiting your goals to two or three primary objectives,” she says, “This helps keep communications clear and keeps your audience engaged and well informed. Also, it’s important to remember that the incentive program is not a cure-all. It can motivate a sales force to sell more, achieve goals or increase market share as long as other factors related to the product or sales environment are reasonable. Incentive programs cannot compensate for negative market factors, such as overpriced product, declining product life or lack of customer demand.”