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Sales Recognition

Sales Recognition Best Practices (Recognition Series #2)

In a traditional recognition program to boost employee engagement, companies reward employees for a job well done. These proverbial pats on the back can have a big impact — but in a sales setting, they simply don’t cut it.

To use an amalgamation of analogies, employee recognition programs are the icing on the cake, the “bravo!” that makes an employee feel good about a job well done. Sales incentive programs, on the other hand, are the carrot you dangle to motivate increasingly good behavior.

And that carrot is critical.

The right sales incentive program attracts, motivates, and retains a best-in-class sales force. Here’s how to develop yours.

Make the incentive exceptional.

Regardless of the budget for your incentive program, ensure what you’re offering feels special. (While the costs of an exceptional sales incentive program may give you pause, the nature of such a program — such that it rewards incremental efforts and results — is that it can often be self-funding.)

To that end:

  • Make the reward relevant. It should be something your salespeople really want. Something that will inspire their competitiveness in a meaningful way.
  • Resist the temptation to offer up cash. While it might sound nice in theory, the Incentive Research Foundation reports that non-cash incentives are 50 – 150 percent more likely to be linked to employee retention, satisfaction, and performance.
  • Design a memorable experience. That might mean a one-of-a-kind trip with thoughtful touchpoints throughout, but even if you’re giving a physical gift, the delivery mechanism can and should be experiential and inspired.
  • Give it gravitas. After stoking the fire in their bellies all year, salespeople want their success to feel significant.

Create a comprehensive communications matrix.

While fêting top employees at a yearly awards event may be effective when it comes to general employee recognition, annual moments like these aren’t nearly enough when it comes to incentivizing salespeople year-round. Comprehensive communications are a must.

In fact, per Willis Towers Watson research, companies that emphasize effective communications in their incentive programs are three times more likely to report higher levels of engagement and 1.5 times more likely to achieve financial performance greater than that of their peer companies.

So as you design your incentive program, craft a communications plan that’s considerate of the four Cs.

  • Cadence: Communicate with a frequency designed to keep incentives top of mind, to maintain enthusiasm, and to reinforce target behaviors throughout the year. (On the flip side, of course, don’t overdo it and risk getting tuned out.)
  • Clarity: Ensure those qualification criteria are abundantly clear, as are details of the incentives themselves.
  • Creativity: Whether sharing sales tips and tricks, reinforcing desired behaviors, or announcing honorees, do It creatively. Cisco creates a theatrical video of winners finding out they won. Quest distributes monthly videos of top performers sharing their tips for success. Such content grabs viewers’ attention and holds it.
  • Competitiveness: Stoke employees’ competitive spirit with leaderboards and progress reports to show them how they’re tracking throughout the qualifying period, as well as public announcements of winners and the incentives they received.

A testament to the importance of incentive program communications, Enterprise Strategy Media recommends allocating a full 15 – 20 percent of the program’s budget to that line item.

Design for exclusivity.

As you design your incentives, ensure that every element perpetuates the exceptionalism of honorees’ achievements.

So how do you cultivate a sense of exclusivity? It might mean keeping the number of honorees small since an honor that thousands of people receive doesn’t feel much like an honor at all. It might mean creating opportunities for intimate interaction with C-level executives. Or designing an especially grand presentation of awards. It might mean positioning the honorees as part of the coveted club and welcoming the peer pressure that comes along with it. It might even mean showing off how extraordinary the rewards, so spouses start applying some pressure, too.

Salespeople are a competitive breed — and the greatest competitors want to be among an elite few.

But also, design for accessibility.

“Make sure you are giving something achievable to absolutely everyone,” explains InVision Senior Strategist Lynn Randall, who has spent north of two decades mastering sales recognition incentivization. “That’s what makes people keep trying. That’s what will result in increased sales activity and a better bottom line.”

While designing for exclusivity and for accessibility may seem like contradictory directives, they don’t have to be.

When Randall and the InVision team were designing an incentive program for an industry-leading engineering software company, we discovered that the company’s global elite program was growing too rapidly to be effective. So we contracted that program while complementing it with a suite of second-tier regional events, as well as a merchandise awards program for the third tier of achievers. (A tiered program like this happens to be right in line with industry standards, with Incentive Federation reporting that 80 percent of companies use more than one award type for employees.)

With a program like this, salespeople know that if they meet their performance benchmarks, they’ll be recognized. They don’t fear being pushed out of the incentives — and that in turn boosts performances across the organization.

For support in designing a sales incentive program for your organization, email ustoday.

Recognition Series #1 - Boost Employee Engagement: Building a Strategic Recognition Program

Recognition Series #3 - Designing an Effective Recognition Event