Improve Sales Incentive Programs with Better Communications

By Mike May, President at Brightspot Incentives & Events

Communication makes or breaks sales incentive programs.

During an interview on sales incentive trends, a reporter asked for a quick comment on a very pointed query: What can make or break sales incentive programs?

Honestly, I didn’t have to think for long. The answer is – too little communication. And, I’ve seen it happen many times.

To avoid dooming a new sales contest or a long-standing channel reward program, here are the 4 fundamental communication principles needed for an effective program:

  • Funded
  • Creative
  • Parallel
  • Repetitive

Funded Communications

The biggest problem you can have is underfunded communications. Many companies often opt to slim down communications to save a few bucks. The negative effect is that the incentive program becomes your best-kept secret. Winners ask, “Now, why am I getting this reward?” When that happens, a lousy communication campaign is to blame.

Incentive Pro Tip: Allow 5-10% of the incentive budget to go towards promotional communications.

Creative Approach

You may expect me to say “creative communications” on this list. And, I will. But here’s the problem. Many people give lip service to creativity, but their actual efforts are normally thoughtless, hastily thrown together, and frankly boring. People are overworked. The pace of business is fast. The length of the to-do list is long. And therefore, creativity is lacking in most departments. Any graphic designer will tell you creativity cannot be rushed. Instead, creativity needs downtime and careful consideration to flourish. I saw a local restaurant sign read, “You will wait on your soufflé, but your soufflé will not wait on you.” Marketing translation – if you are a bit patient, you can expect the creative result to be well worth the time, but you can’t rush it. .

Incentive Pro Tip: To break through the clutter, give the necessary effort to compelling graphic designs and strong messaging!

Parallel Media

Up next is delivering sales contest promotions across parallel mediums. That means pushing mixed messages over varied mediums using different formats. Do not rely on 100% email. That’s not a wise at all. The average recipient gets upwards of 200 emails a day and very likely scans and deletes them without any thought. It’s almost like they are playing a a game of space invaders with their emails and your email is the invader.

Savvy marketers utilize parallel mediums such as print, digital, video, team calls, and social media. For comparison, think about how the world gets their news these days. When it comes to getting information, individuals are not created equally. Baby boomers read newspapers. Generation Y and Millenials read electronic feeds or social. Meet your audience where they are.

Incentive Pro Tip: Mix it up.  Digital and print.  Short and long formats.

Repetitive Messages

Lastly, be repetitive. One or two emails are not likely to attract or connect with your incentive audience. Your incentive program is top of mind to you – but not to others. A Sales VP once told me: “Look, I get about ten announcements a week from marketing. I’m in a firefight here. I can’t be weapon shopping.”

Think of your incentive contest like an Apple iPhone product launch. Those Apple geniuses (the ones in marketing) start with a teaser to build curiosity. Then, a kickoff event for a splashy launch and announcements in digital and print. That includes email, billboards (which for sales incentive programs would be internal posters), online ads (which could be on internal portals or external channel sites), and more.

Incentive Pro Tip: Spaced repetition will get and keep your incentive audience’s attention.

Allow your sales incentive programs to thrive through funded, creative, parallel, and repetitive communications. And when, you’ve accomplished this, you’ll feel confident in knowing that you’ve created fertile ground for your sales incentive programs to succeed.


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