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A Home for Incentive & Engagement Solutions

A Closeup Look at the IESP

From the time when the Incentive Engagement & Solution Providers (IESP) was launched a few years ago by combining three existing strategic industry groups (SIGs) of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) into a single entity, it has remained steadfast in offering value to members, as well as educating and helping businesses to achieve their goals.

The IESP has continued to provide valuable resources such as white papers, toolkits, blogs and webinars to help educate members about the latest incentive and sales solutions, and more.

What Is the IESP?

David Gould, president of the IESP and CEO of CR Worldwide, a company that creates recognition, event and reward programs for businesses around the globe, defined the IESP as "a group of senior business leaders from incentive and engagement companies who are passionate about raising the profile of engagement and incentive solutions."

He said, "We are thought leaders in our field. We are building an invaluable library of content and resources to help business leaders make informed choices when considering investing in incentive and engagement programs."

Juan Manuel Valenzuela, CPIM, treasurer of the IESP and CEO of Above Target, added that "The IESP produces educational content and resources created by solution providers from around the world. The content helps IMA members and organizations stay on top of the latest trends in recognition and engagement."

He noted that "IESP members bring a broad array of experiences with incentive program planning for organizations of all sizes across many cultures and languages. The IESP provides forums for members to network and build relationships."

Gould added that the IESP was created "as a strategic industry group (SIG), as a specialist group to share best practice and ideas, within the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA)," and added that its mission statement is: "The Incentive & Engagement Solution Providers (IESP), a strategic industry group of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA), is a trusted resource for business leaders globally in helping their organizations achieve results through engagement and incentive solutions."

Current Trends

When asked about what some of the latest trends are in the industry, technology and AI (artificial intelligence) were at the top of the list.

For example, Gould noted:

  • Technology to create and manage programs is getting more and more sophisticated. Gamification is being built in, sometimes as standard, to increase engagement and participation.
  • More companies see incentive and employee recognition programs, using non-cash rewards, as a competitive advantage and are, therefore, investing more heavily.
  • Rewards catalogs are becoming more comprehensive across more countries allowing for more fairness and consistency within multinational companies.
  • The use of AI in programs is starting to emerge, with more predictive/smarter choices being made available to program participants.

Similarly, Valenzuela noted that "Artificial intelligence is being used to tailor experiences on the programs' platforms or even with the awards, for instance on incentive travel. AI is also used for mobile-based incentive and gamification platforms. Now you can play from your mobile device, which feeds the database, and you earn points for your training while you play," he said.

"Behavioral economics helps give 'nudges' to the participants to keep them aware of the program's existence by providing visual cues at many touch points such as providing office products with the program's logo on them, which helps create connections that make the program more emotional than transactional," Valenzuela said.

"In my work I see these types of applications more often used in programs for employees and commercial partners than for consumers," he added.

Mark Herbert, an IESP member and president and CEO of Incentive Solutions, a company that provides customer loyalty, travel and online incentive programs, noted that one of the trends in the B2B incentive space is the move for more personalization within our customers' incentive programs.

"Each participant wants to feel that the sponsor of the program is speaking directly to them and engaging with them on a personal level. This has required the need for greater data analytics in order to segment participants into narrower and narrower bands, so that messaging and calls to action can be more targeted," Herbert said. "There is also the need to be able to communicate with each participant depending on their particular preferences. With four generations in the workplace today, each group likes to communicate differently. Chatting, texting, e-mail and mail are different communications methods that each generation responds to differently."

He added that the need "for greater personalization is also coinciding with the need for more automation. The systems that the members of the IESP have created need to continually adapt to our customers' needs and create efficiencies where manual processes used to be required.

IESP members bring a broad array of experiences with incentive program planning for organizations of all sizes.

"With emergent technologies and digitalization, access to data is a competitive differentiator. For companies running a channel incentive program, supplying their partners with relevant data that enables their success and incentivizes them to share their data with you is an increasingly important part of channel partnerships.

"Another hot topic with our customers," he added, "is how to measure the return on the investment of any results-based program. With the increasing demand from the C-suite on leveraging spend on the most effective tools, incentive program sponsors are having to justify the budgets spent on these types of programs. The IESP works to show the measurable ROI for these types of programs through the sharing of successful programs and the results that they have obtained. Each of the programs that were awarded the IMA Circle of Excellence Award this year shows a great ROI that was achieved through the use of a reward or incentive program."

IESP member Lincoln Smith, IP, executive vice president, sales and marketing at HMI Performance Incentives Inc., a company that specializes in rewards fulfillment and group travel for B2B sales, loyalty and special promotion programs, said that "Most organizations are looking for strategies that help with several business goals at once. New technologies and processes come to the forefront every day, making the need to differentiate and innovate even more vital for companies at every level of the channel.

"For instance, a client of ours needed to provide a better user experience for their customers," Smith said. "They turned to us with their problem, and we offered them our mobile invoice reader, Snap2Claim. This new technology allows contractors to scan their invoices and earn reward points based on purchases. The contractor spent less time manually filling out forms, and our client gained valuable and actionable data points to help them market and segment further down the road. The innovation was a massive success, increasing claims processing 44% year-over-year and generating a 90% increase in revenue year-over-year."

In addition, "e-commerce, while often seen as a back-burner project for many companies, has surfaced as a real differentiator for those who have made it a priority. E-tailers (i.e., Amazon Business) have taken advantage of this and started to provide pressure on pricing, forcing channel partners to find new and creative ways to shift focus to more value-added services," he said. "Segmentation has become essential, allowing us to establish profitable customer profiles to market and create targeted offerings for clients."

New Resources

One focus of the IESP since its creation has been to generate new resources, such as blogs, white papers and webinars. For example, the IESP blog, which was launched about 18 months ago, is considered one of the IESP's hottest resources.

One 2019 blog post by Carlton One Engagement included three ways to build the best sales incentive program for your team:

  1. "Offer choice. Choice is the true differentiator to any sales incentives program. You need to ensure there is a range of prizes on offer that suit a variety of ages, genders and interests to really get people excited about their incentives."
  2. "Get feedback. The best employee incentives programs involve the input of employees themselves! Get their feedback on the types of rewards they'd like to see, including specifics on what would motivate them most and which KPIs should contribute."
  3. "Consider offering travel. Travel incentives have been shown to have a number of positive effects on the workforce. In a study conducted by the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence, over 75% of respondents found travel incentives motivating or extremely motivating. Additionally, 88% said they felt appreciated when their company offered them travel incentives, and 80% said a program with travel incentives increased loyalty."

Another post by WorkStride includes the reasons that you should re-evaluate the channel incentive solution provider you're using to get your channel incentive program out to your target audience. They include:

  1. "You can't segment your audiences by many (or any) demographic characteristics. The most effective channel incentive programs can vary promotions for different audiences, depending on certain characteristics."
  2. "The platform is limited when it comes to types of promotions that can be run. In our experience, there are two major types of promotions: loyalty-focused and SPIFFs. Many channel incentive solution providers out there can offer you one or the other, or try to separate the two. A robust channel incentive program platform should allow you to seamlessly focus on both at the same time—reward now and promote long-term loyalty."
  3. "Reporting and analytics don't provide a full picture of your promotions. Any channel incentive solution provider delivers reports, but the key differentiator here is how many of these reports are available and accessible to you in real-time."
  4. "They nickel-and-dime you. Need a new promotion? Want to run a custom report? Looking to change out some marketing materials on the site? All of those can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars in addition to your standard subscription fees, reducing the potential for positive ROI."
  5. "Administering the program requires a lot of back and forth. Some channel incentive solution providers have many of the tools your administrators need to make the program succeed—but you have to go through the provider in order to make things happen."
  6. "You don't get the guidance or support you need. A channel incentive solution provider should provide thorough, precise account management that is tailored to your business' needs."

(You can find the IESP blog by visiting www.incentivemarketing .org/iesp. You'll also find links to webinars and other events, as well as other resources such as a Member Directory.)

In September, a new IESP white paper came out that offers advice on strategies to reduce employee turnover and calculate ROI. The white paper—"Strategies for Reducing Employee Turnover and Tools for Calculating ROI"—includes eight downloadable calculator tools to help managers measure everything from the costs of turning over each employee (such as advertising the job, hiring and training) to the costs and ROI of the turnover reduction strategies, such as reward and recognition programs.

For example, the study states that " on average, 27%, or nearly a third, of employees voluntarily leave their jobs each year resulting in their employers having to spend up to 20% of a person's annual salary to replace each employee." (Data from 2018 studies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Center for American Progress as cited in the white paper.)

What the Future Holds

In looking to the future, Gould said, "We are looking to grow the membership of both the IMA and IESP, with recruitment of more solution providers.

In addition, "We are increasing the number of events for IESP members to educate and learn, through webinars and meetings," he said. "IESP has started to do more corporate outreach marketing, and this will only increase. It is all well and good being a trusted resource for business leaders help their organizations achieve results through engagement and incentive solutions, but if they do not know of us, or cannot find us when they look, it is all for nothing."

Valenzuela added, "We are working on ways to deliver more value to our members with more networking opportunities and access to the newest trends. The IESP is providing more content and educational resource for the IMA and for organizations."



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