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Promotional Products as Sales Incentives

The Spring in their Sales
By Cynthia L. Ironson

Chances are you spend plenty of time wondering how you can motivate your salespeople. Stop wondering, because motivation can't be provided - it has to be inherent. But you can make sure reps have the tools they need to keep their motivation levels high.

Motivated salespeople are the most valued components of a business, in terms of revenue generation and relationships built in the marketplace, notes Cedric Fisher, group publisher for Peterson's Magazine Group. At the other end, a demotivated salesperson is a "salary soaker" who doesn't generate the three R's - reputation, rapport, and referrals - that are the building blocks of your business.

There are a lot of opinions, debate, research and books on what keeps reps motivated. Tim Connor, CSP, speaker and author of "Soft Sell & Sales Mastery" and "The Road to Happiness Is Full of Potholes", says successful salespeople aren't motivated by external influences. "They are doing it for inside reasons; very personal and sometimes very private reasons," he explains. "It's the role of the manager to create an environment in which salespeople will want to motivate themselves."

Until experts and psychologists solve the motivation equation for us (whenever that may be), companies can find a better way to motivate their sales staff by opening up communication with reps. Find out what you can provide them with to maximize their productivity and ensure their loyalty. Do they want you to put on the pressure or take it off? Do they want more independence? Will incentives, recognition, or awards help inspire them?

What Falls Short
If you ask a salesperson what motivates him, the knee-jerk answer is probably going to be "money." But get him talking and you'll stir up a host of additional words and images such as recognition, freedom, control, happy clients, good relationships, service, and contribution.

Giving cash bonuses is certainly one way to motivate reps to reach goals. But if it's your only approach, it might be a mistake. Counselor Karyn Heckman performed an experiment: She gave out cash bonuses to her salespeople. Three weeks later, recipients couldn't tell her why they got the bonus. "Cash is not a motivator. Cash is an expected item that pays the bills," she says. "Plus, you have to report it as income."

What other rewards are there? James Feldman, CITE, MIP, spokesperson for the incentive industry, suggests if you want your rep to remember an award, don't use cash, but give him something more memorable. "Merchandise is a reality prize, travel is a fantasy prize. Cash is neither," he says.

Cash is good only as a short-term motivator, says Howard Henry, CIP, consultant to the Motivation Show, an annual trade show for the incentive industry. Giving cash is the easiest thing to do, he says, requiring no dedication or follow-through. And make no mistake - savvy salespeople know a bonus is a no-brainer. Do you really want them to take the easy way out?

Intangible Motivation
At the opposite end of the motivation spectrum from cash are intangible factors such as providing service to clients, having control over how work is done, receiving recognition and accepting a challenge. These can be prime motivators for salespeople. "Most successful salespeople tend to be motivated by providing service," offers Connor. "It's their main drive and focus."

Trust is also a big motivator, and some salespeople say managers ought to give them more free reign and let them work the way they want to. "I'm a very creative person and I'm trusted to do my job," says Mark Doyle, an account executive. "I don't have someone watching over me and I don't always have to justify what I'm doing."

But, notes Dr. Blaine Lee, vice president of the Franklin Covey Co. and author of "The Power Principle", they must earn that kind of control over how they work. A high level of independence should be open to all salespeople who show initiative, but attaining it is a progression, fueled by the demonstrated ability to perform a task and follow guidelines. "Character and competence - both have to be there in order to negotiate for it," he says.

Though reps can be motivated by a more independent work environment, that doesn't mean they don't want some recognition. Account executive Dianne Gauer says she's motivated by the recognition doled out at her company's weekly sales meetings. "It's all positive motivation…given out of mutual respect," she explains.

Yet consistent recognition of salespeople is neglected by many managers, says Barry Hults, founder of a training school for the promotional marketing industry. "Most run so hard that they forget the everyday things, like saying thanks (to a salesperson) for having a leadership attitude, or doing good work processing her paperwork," he says.

Salespeople can be recognized at a special event like an awards banquet, or on a smaller scale, such as a dinner at a restaurant. Giving engraved or personalized trophies, plaques, writing instruments, jewelry or pins, to name some items, can enhance the recognition. If you publish the award's criteria for salespeople to see, provide a level playing field so veteran reps and newcomers can compete and reward the recipients with something they perceive as valuable, those awards will confer status on the recipient and become year-round motivation tools, experts say.

Managers who know their salespeople as individuals have an easier time pinpointing the push they need to excel. Use your strategic, diplomatic and creative abilities to learn what each salesperson needs. "If you're too consumed with what's good for you…you'll miss the opportunity to learn about your people," Fisher says.

Motivation Via Incentive Programs
Well-planned and well-structured sales incentive programs can enhance your reps' working environment. According to a study released last year by the Incentive Federation, a consortium of incentive associations and trade publications, cash is the most popular motivation tool used by those surveyed (63 %) but merchandise was not far behind by any means (51 %.) "We've known for many years that cash continues to be a popular motivator, as it should be in the short term, but once the worker or salesperson has his or her own basic needs satisfied, merchandise or travel awards provide much better long-term motivation," Henry says.

The survey also showed that respondents are increasingly committed to using incentives beyond cash. In 1997, close to half the responding firms used more merchandise and/or travel for sales incentives than they did in the preceding year.

If you have a sales incentive plan in place, are you picking the right rewards? Ask your reps what rewards motivate them, eliminating cash as an option, Feldman suggests. If you're using one type of prize, chances are it won't motivate all your salespeople to be winners.

Does your rep like vacations? Does he crave electronics? Will she use a set of golf clubs? Would he prefer multiple small awards or one big one? And don't forget that award preferences can shift in a week's, month's or year's time because the reps' life circumstances change. People get married or divorced, children are born and homes are bought and sold. Heckman conducts a survey of her employees every six to nine months to stay on top of her salespeople's desires.

Program Construction
Program structure and objectives require a lot more thought than the award, says Henry. To help you construct a program, your counselor may ask if you reward the same people all the time. What do you want to accomplish? Is it a realistic goal? Are there extenuating circumstances for not reaching the goal? Will the program put undue pressure on your salespeople?

Next, set and stay within a program budget. A huge budget doesn't guarantee a successful program. "We find often that the better programs are done by small companies with small budgets," Henry says. Small companies tend to focus on the success of their programs.

Feldman says programs with a closed-end budget, - such as when the top 10 sales achievers get rewards - are limited motivators. Open-ended programs motivate salespeople to reach higher, sell more, and get better awards, and they pay for themselves. One example of an open-ended program is one based on a point value system, where salespeople amass points for merchandise by reaching sales goals. The points can be redeemed for goods from an incentive catalog. These kinds of programs are non-exclusionary; a salesperson competes with herself for a reward. Counselor Sherri Lennarson says that such programs offer participants choice and flexibility. "They allow other people to participate in the process," she adds, noting that spouses and children can provide reps with the inspiration to reach higher for rewards.

Your counselor can help you choose merchandise for a catalog and perform the creative work required. Lennarson's firm provides a bound book showing the rewards available to it's sales reps. "You've got to visualize the rewards," she says.

Experts say well-designed sales incentive programs should be self-liquidating, So should you be concerned that a salesperson's award will get too expensive? "So what? He's selling more," Feldman answers.

Creative Incentive Programs
Heckman puts a lot of thought and energy into her incentives. She reads publications and brainstorms to develop creative programs. She uses a variety of techniques, from cash bonuses to trips to money for clothing to products to paying off business expenses that the company doesn't reimburse.

"Each contest depends on what I want them to do," Heckman says. She created one contest to stimulate sales in the first week of a month in order to take pressure off administrative staff at the end of the month. Other programs involve the whole company by partnering administrative staff with salespeople. Programs should be highly targeted and developed to achieve specific results, experts advise, and don't forget to update participants during the program.

Heckman's programs often incorporate the element of chance to spark interest. In some, salespeople earn playing cards at certain sales levels. The best hand at the end of the contest wins. She also regularly uses promotions products as teasers to generate enthusiasm. For a themed program, reps received decorated buttons, mugs, and t-shirts at various stages. Products have also been sent to reps homes, to get spouses and families excited about an incentive program. The program culminated with a trip to Hawaii for the winning rep and spouse.

Lennarson agrees that an incentive program's support materials are very important to it's success. Creating program icons such as logos and slogans is effective. Use the logo anywhere and everywhere you can, including the company newsletter. "Just printing the logo will remind them of the program," she says.

She also suggests practicing repetition and reinforcement with targeted sales incentive programs. Materials like imprinted balloons or a roll of labels printed with the program's logo can help. Put a sticker on every letter or box used during the program. "I've found that people save those things as much as the end reward," she says.

Whether the award is merchandise, travel, day trips, entertainment or a special event, you can make it memorable. Henry will never forget one sales incentive program he participated in. For a "mystery night," salespeople were put on a bus and driven to an unknown (and slightly scary) section of Chicago. They were then led onto an unused elevated subway line, where they were treated to an unexpected celebration, complete with a jazz band, food and liquor. The subway party rolled around Chicago all light long.

"Creativity counts," Henry says. "We talked about that party for years."

COPYRIGHT © 1999 The Advertising Specialty Institute. All rights reserved.
Cynthia L. Ironson

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