Better Motivation Through Science

By Malcolm Fleschner

Before choosing the ideal sales incentive contest prize for your team, do you take the time to review the latest scientific work on social and cognitive psychology, including such critical psychological processes as evaluability, separability, justifiability and social reinforcement? Of course not! What sales manager has that kind of time? Besides, thanks to the work of Scott Jeffrey, an assistant professor in the Department of Management Sciences at the University of Waterloo in Southwestern Ontario, you don’t have to.

In an article published by the Society for Incentive and Travel Executives (SITE), Jeffrey offers seven guidelines for incentive practitioners based on his research on incentives and participant motivation.

1. Go beyond the justifiable. Recipients should view your awards as things they could not justify buying themselves. This will increase their effort and the rewards’ perceived value.

2. Make your prizes special. It’s not enough that prizes are extravagant – they also must be special. Find ways to dress up your rewards to make them unique and particularly attractive to the group you’re trying to motivate.

3. Get your reps thinking early. Salespeople appreciate peer recognition – and also the anticipation of peer recognition. Encourage participants to envision themselves achieving the award and to think about the inevitable admiration of their peers that will result.

4. Urge them to splurge. Be vocal about the fact that contest rewards are splurge items. Use this information as a communications tool to depict the prize as a true luxury item or personal treat.

5. Give the power of choice. At every performance level, make sure you provide a variety of prizes. By catering to the diverse tastes of everyone on your team you increase what Jeffrey calls the contest’s utility value.

6. Avoid perceived losses. Be careful about switching from a cash to a noncash incentive program. Unless the new reward has a higher perceived cash value, participants may feel they are losing something in the changeover. The best policy may be to develop a wholly new noncash program rather than replacing an existing cash-based incentive.

7. Think outside the cash box. When developing a program, consider the ancillary benefits to be derived from noncash incentives. For example, participants who win vacation travel may return refreshed and relaxed, ready to attack new challenges. This is something a cash prize simply cannot do.