By Malcolm Fleschner

It works for NASA, it works for Dick Clark every New Year’s Eve, so maybe you also should use a countdown strategy to spur interest and maintain excitement in your next sales incentive program. As those who like to work their sales teams backwards from 10 to 1 will tell you, there’s no better way to consistently remind your salespeople what they’re working toward and just how much time they have left to get there.

But there’s more to a countdown-based incentive than simply memorizing numbers in reverse order. For ideas about how to make a countdown work for you, the folks at the Sales Marketing Network ( recommend the following plan of action.

1. Break it up

If you’re dealing with a sizable project, try to divide it into manageable chunks by setting interim goals and deadlines. This will make things easier and more orderly for you as you try to run the program.

2. Get the word out

Send out newsletters and post updates on office bulletin boards that are keyed to each interim deadline. Provide rankings among your salespeople, as well as tips or suggestions to help people with their day-to-day efforts. Whenever you’re reminding people what they need to achieve it’s always a good idea to provide a means for them to clear an obstacle from their path.

3. Get together

Conduct meetings in miniature where people can provide status reports. Make sure the meetings are short – just long enough to know what’s been done and what has yet to be accomplished. Then send them on their way with a positive, motivational message.

4. Bring it home

Mailings sent to participants’ homes can be very effective, particularly if the incentive reward involves the spouse and family (a vacation trip, entertainment center and so on). Get the spouse involved to offer that added level of encouragement.

5. Email and Re-mail

Email represents an easy and obvious way to keep participants updated and informed. But be sure to provide useful information along with your messages or the emails are likely to get lost in the deluge of spam and other electronic correspondence.6. Provide bangles, baubles and beads.

A terrific way to keep incentive program excitement high is with small, theme-related premiums along the way. It’s also a great opportunity to tap into your creativity. For a beach-themed program you could give out vials of sand, tubes of sunblock, sunglasses and seashells. A racing theme might mesh well with key chains, Hot Wheels miniature cars, checkered racing flags, and so on.

7. Make it prominent

Rather than encouraging participants to mark off the contest’s remaining days like convicted prisoners counting their days until release, consider getting a big clock to mount in the office that will provide a constant reminder of just how many days, hours, minutes and seconds remain to your salespeople to hit their goals.