The Trends Justify The Means

By Malcolm Fleschner

Many salespeople recall fondly the incentive atmosphere of the late 1990s when companies fell all over themselves to lavish successful salespeople with travel to exotic locales and expensive, big-ticket merchandise. But then the new millennium dawned, the bottom fell out of the market and the same companies had to scramble just to maintain sales levels. Not surprisingly, the extravagant sales incentive rewards dried up, perhaps never to return.

Despite recent lean times, a recovery in the incentive market is now underway as organizations recognize that regardless of economic conditions, salespeople still need to be motivated to succeed. According to Promo magazine, companies are finding more creative ways to generate enthusiasm through reward programs. Here are a few of the new trends Promo identifies.

1. Offer an exclusive. People like to feel that they’re members of a select club. To this end American Express Incentive Services developed a program for a Chicago client distributing debit cards that could only be redeemed at a few of the city’s more high-end establishments. Similarly, travel incentives that used to be open to a broad range of salespeople are being limited to just the select few top performers.

2. Think home sweet home. Terrorism concerns have reduced the appeal of international travel rewards. So instead of sending their winning reps abroad, some sales organizations are offering domestic trips, but spicing things up with one-of-a-kind experiences like hot-air-balloon rides.

3. Make it personal. Generic rewards are definitely out. One growth area is in customized lifestyle awards that appeal to recipients with little extra time. Atlanta-based USMotivation now develops trips or experiences that are tailored to fit each winner’s needs, whether coordinating a picnic lunch in a rep’s Napa Valley territory or helping a double-amputee find a cruise line that can accommodate his or her unique requirements.

4. Create a buzz. The more creative and memorable an experiential reward is, the fewer prizes a company has to offer to generate excitement. Los Angeles-based RPMC specializes in creating such unique packages as Live Like A Spy, where winners train to become undercover operatives, and Live Like A Celebrity, that includes a tour of Hollywood worthy of an A-list star. Such rewards stir so much water-cooler talk and informal company publicity they often more than make up for the high price tag.