On The Right Tracking

By Malcolm Fleschner

Like the legendary coonskin cap-wearing frontiersmen who first journeyed into the American heartland, today’s sales professionals are avid and diligent trackers. As soon as a sales incentive contest is underway salespeople eagerly monitor the contest’s progress, watching as each of their successes is registered, checking on their colleagues’ rankings and noting how close they are to reaching established goals. In fact, says Harold Dunn, executive vice president of Olsen-O’Leary Associates, a Pittsburgh–based incentive house, tracking is a critical element of a sales incentive’s communications strategy that, if mishandled, can undermine the entire program.

“One of the goals of offering tracking is to maximize the communications for the incentive program,” Dunn says. “We strongly believe in long-term promotions, which make a more permanent impact on how the participant sells. Obviously we try to capture their attention with the reward, but to achieve the reward there needs to be a series of planned steps. When the sales organization shows the participant how they are progressing on a monthly basis, the individual can take the actions necessary to improve. Without tracking, there would be no feedback and therefore minimal improvement.”

So what does effective tracking entail? Dunn believes that participants should be made aware of all the program’s elements: objectives, measurements, items being promoted, salespeople’s earnings and, in a competitive contest, how individuals stack up against one another.

“We also recommend that the sales organization broadcast results of the top performers as encouragement to others that these types of results are indeed achievable,” he adds. “Typically we recommend monthly updates, but in short-term programs semimonthly is better.”

Tracking and effective program communications shouldn’t be limited to just the participants, Dunn says. Program information should be included as a standard part of any appropriate corporate communications.

“If there is a monthly newsletter, there should be an article about the program in it,” he suggests. “If there is a Web page only for sales reps, program information should be made available on it too. Salespeople tend to take the path of least resistance and often ignore the behavioral changes the program is designed to address. We have had programs designed for the customer where the sales force literally subverted the program, causing it to fail. That’s why constant communication and management involvement is essential for the promotion’s success.”

For more information, visit www.olsen-oleary.com.