Incentive Programs: Productivity Up, Admin Costs Down


By John Riley

With a depressed economy and lagging sales, companies have significantly reduced their purchases.  As a result, sales personnel are dealing with tight fisted buyers intent on preserving their company’s money. However, with a little extra effort and creative thinking, a salesperson can find a way to pry some of that money loose.  That extra effort can be influenced by an incentive program.

 Incentive programs are most commonly associated with sales campaigns, however , they can also be used to increase employee loyalty.  Both programs have been effective. Over the years, these programs have become more pervasive, as  management felt pressures to increase revenues and profits.

 The Incentive Federation conducted a study in 2003 and found North American companies spent approximately $27 billion a year on travel and merchandise programs.  They also found that 78% of respondents remembered travel and merchandise longer  than cash payments.

 Companies have found, as they move to online administration, they can cut costs and improve their ability to exercise good control. The Incentive Federation pegs the cost savings at 60% . When you consider the printing costs of all the literature, direct mail and catalogs or brochures used to implement earlier incentive programs, savings were substantial by switching to the Internet. Other cost factors are award selection and award fulfillment.

Ironically, cost is also the reason many companies have not used incentive programs.

The Federation’s Harold D. Stolovitch, Richard Clark and Steven J. Condly conducted an additional study that revealed more metrics:

When incentive programs are directed toward individuals, performance increases by 27%.

When the program is directed at teams, performance increases by 45%.

Some 92% of respondents who reached their goals credited the incentive plan.

A properly structured incentive plan rewards only those who meet their performance goals. That means you don’t pay for substandard performance. In general, any function that generates metrics can be measured and therefore is a candidate for an incentive plan.  A basic tenet of designing a plan is to have ‘stretch’ goals, i.e. goals that can only be achieved with extra effort. 

 In my own experience, most of the metrics mentioned above were validated while with my former employer. For example, one year, we took 350 of the top building product distributors on a week-long trip to Monaco and London with accommodations at quality resorts . Each year it was a different international locale.  There was not a single distributor on that trip or any other trip who didn’t extend that extra effort to make sure he or she was included.

Travel tends to be more popular than merchandise.

Another incentive program was used in the agricultural market. Again, distributors were the target, but this time the awards were merchandise.  The awards were individual  and pegged to the distributors specific merchandise interests which were determined in advance of the program. In this case, the length of the program was six months and tied to the farm building construction season. The program achieved its objectives  and was continued for four years.

 As a testimonial to the success of incentive programs, the Online Incentive Council , a strategic industry group of the Incentive Marketing Association,  recently reported the online incentive industry is doubling every year. 

Online incentive programs properly structured and administered by the right provider can make a difference in your business.  Revenues can increase.  Costs can go down.

 If the sale department is worried about meeting their quota this year, an incentive program could be the answer.

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