Reseller sales teams are bombarded with incentives. The problem is that many incentive programmes are stuck in a rut and are not delivering the same return on investment as they did when originally launched. I think it is time for many channel partners to look again at their incentive scheme and check whether it is actually working for them.
In recent years, sales incentives have been very much focused on cash equivalents. During a time of austerity, reseller bosses and vendors have assumed that money talks and that sales people will respond best to incentives that simply increase their income. That was not the case then and it is not now. The challenge is keeping any incentive programme fresh. In a highly competitive and global market, sales people will respond best to the right incentives that stand out as being different from the rest.
It's possible to transform a standard salesperson into a super fan for your brand. Super fans are the best brand advocates and their loyalty will boost brand perception, increase the business and drive revenue. A super fan is made not born - we have to move beyond just looking at sales targets and communicate the values of the brand clearly to salespeople and reward them explicitly for living these values. It's even better if you can somehow match the incentives on offer with the values and goals of the brand.
Back to the future
The channel market is flooded with MasterCard or Visa prepaid chip and pin award cards, because salespeople want something that is as close to cash as possible. Or at least that has been the accepted wisdom. In fact, we are looking again at some of the old, but good, ways of incentivising sales staff.
We are using big dangly carrots, such as big-ticket holidays, to help resellers motivate people who have become jaded with small cash equivalent incentives. That type of big-ticket incentive died out a bit a few years ago, as sales managers were worried about incoming anti-bribery and corruption regulations. It's now become clear that concerns about finding yourself on the wrong side of the law are unfounded when it comes to internal sales incentives.
There are some things you can do right now to improve your sales incentive schemes:
- Make sure KPIs are realistic. Usually the main KPIs relate to sales totals so it's important to make sure that these are structured so that salespeople get regular, achievable incentive rewards. Don't just reward people who have achieved the highest sales total, but think about rewarding those who have improved the most or sold specific solutions. Some sectors, such as the automotive sector, have a much stronger focus on incentives related to customer service metrics. Computer resellers, and vendors could take a leaf from their book and reward sales staff when CSI and NPS metrics rise. If you can turn customers into super fans too, they will do some of the work for you when it comes to future sales.
- Segment your salesforce audience retail-style. Resellers can learn a lot from consumer retail marketers. In the first place, ask the audience - what kind of rewards would they like? Research demographics such as age and gender to help decide what kinds of incentives to offer. Do your research and find out what competitors are offering in terms of incentives. At the same time, watch out for falling into the trap of stereotyping, offering rewards that appeal mostly to one group such as young single males. A range of incentives will give your scheme appeal to the young mum or skydiving 60 year old on your staff.
- Communicate your incentives better. I have seen instances where salespeople have received incentive rewards through their standard reseller reward system and not even known what the rewards was for. They didn't know to which promotion or which product it applied. Communication should be two-way. Don't just broadcast at people but give them a voice to communicate and engage with you. Give them chance to suggest ways to innovate within the brand and grow the brand.
- Use technology - don't just use email or even snail mail to promote your incentive scheme. And don't send out blanket communications - personalise messages to the specific and current interests of individuals of target groups. Send targeted push notifications out from your reward and recognition or collaboration platform. Use social channels - closed groups on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are good platforms for communicating about incentives.
- Don't follow the crowd - be different. Reconsider using old-school, big-ticket items. Definitely don't restrict yourself to the same old 12-month campaign with the same old incentives. Shake things up - use different tactical rewards at different times. Surprise salespeople with a big-ticket holiday to Vegas and watch them hit those targets.
As the economy is on the up and acquisitions are on the rise, growing the business is key. Your budget for rewards and recognition schemes has to work harder. If there is £1m in the pot for sales incentives, don't spend it all the same way. I recommend ringfencing 10 per cent of it and using that to provide big-ticket tactical rewards on top of the baseline sales incentive scheme that your sales staff will expect. Also set money aside for communications management and experiential marketing promotions as this will drive ongoing participation. The idea is to build a strong ‘service-profit chain' between profitability, customer loyalty, and employee satisfaction, loyalty, and productivity.
The bottom line is, is your existing incentives programme working well or is it stuck in a rut? Have you checked recently? Is it making super fans of your salespeople, or not? Is it delivering great value? If the answer to those questions is ‘no', how can we do it better? I believe resellers must look again at how they can add value to their sales incentives to develop the super fan advocates who will be key to retaining customers and growing the customer base.
Adam Whatling is global engagement lead at Love2shop Business Services
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