Feature Article - January/February 2016

All Aboard!

The Changing Nature of Sales Incentive Programs

By Rick Dandes

New developments in sales incentive and engagement programs can help an organization's salesforce meet its quota numbers, according to human resource and workforce motivational experts.

The challenge, in post-recessionary America, can seem daunting at first: Despite most economic indicators pointing to better days ahead, "We are seeing sales people having troubles meeting their goals, and that's when bad habits set in," said Mike Ryan, senior vice president, Client Strategy, Madison Performance, New York City. "In those cases, employees will go through the sales process quickly, and don't really develop the type of value-added relationships that are important, not only for success, but also, ultimately, to the reputation of the brand." Recognizing this trend, some new developments in sales incentives programs pay a significant amount of attention not simply to results, but also to the methodologies

Agreeing with Ryan's observation is Theresa Thomas, vice president, Strategic Solutions, Hinda Incentives, Chicago. "Yes," she said. "We are seeing companies incenting behavior as part of their sales incentive program because that does drive greater financial improvement for their organization, versus just incentivizing the results. These programs have a sharp focus on not just what is being sold, but how it's being sold."

Another development in program design allows various stakeholders into the process. For example, you might see a sales manager, internal support people, or in some cases even customers having a say in the efficiency, effectiveness and the skill set of the sales person. Reward mechanisms should be built into the program for all participants when you are adding in a discretionary observation-based component to the design.

On the technical side, it is all about being focused and streamlined, efficient and precise in the offering. Think of approaching sales force compensation resource planning in the same way you approach customer acquisition planning: What is the potential? What is your investment, and what do you hope to get in return? "All those components could vary by segment," Ryan said. "Your messaging, your offering and your projected returns for top performers might be completely different than it might be for folks in the middle, or folks at the bottom of the pack. More and more we are seeing that type of streamlined preciseness in sales incentive development, the same way that you would see it in developing an approach to the marketplace as a whole."

Technological Advantages, Social Media & Gamification

The use of social recognition platforms enables companies to show leaderboards more visually, similar to internal Facebook pages, which helps drive competition among salespeople to perform to their highest potential. Gamification elements are also being used effectively to engage participants and encourage participation, such as offering bonus point opportunities for selling specified products, taking quizzes, surveys and training, as well as sales challenges and contests for limited periods of time. And the use of mobile apps helps encourage and make participation easier for sales reps who are on the go.

All of these new things, said Ira Ozer, CEO, president, Engagement Partners, Chappaqua, N.Y., "are made possible by technology delivered via web-based, mobile-ready and in some cases native apps." When gamification companies such as Bunchball and Badgeville came to market about five years ago, large incentive companies were more likely to integrate with them, but now many organizations have built-in gamification functions within their own incentive software platforms.

New developments in sales incentive and engagement programs can help an organization's salesforce meet their quota numbers, according to human resource and workforce motivational experts.

Mobile is a must, particularly when you don't have the kind of dedicated sales force where you can dictate the type of device they are using. "You will want to make sure you have a responsive design so your sales incentive appears on any particular device consistently," said Ryan. Taking care of the mobile workforce and having the mobile workforce be able to access your sales program on any device 24/7 at their command has to be a part of the program. Many programs are using apps to measure certain aspects of the program on the behavior side of things.

In the busy, fast-paced world in which all organizations now operate, people still want to be connected, added Rick Blabolil, president, Marketing Innovators, Rosemont, Ill. "And through the use of smart phones and social media, they can be. Gamification is a phenomenal tool because it keeps interest high, and there are indicators of success and levels of improvement that can be a part of a gamification model. When someone hits their target quota, executives at all levels are able to send quick messages of acknowledgement and of appreciation."

Gamification can be used to drive behavior toward sales tactics preferred by the organization. "To that end," Thomas said, "We also see companies using gamification in their education and learning programs. Because of new technologies, we are seeing the use of analytics in dashboard recording. People expect you to be available in real time today so using analytics and dashboard reporting to drive that information to the participant on a real-time basis is really important."