The sales incentive journey

A roadmap for engaging participants and driving results

We’ve all heard that “success is a journey, not a destination,” but whoever said this obviously never had to achieve annual goals and quarterly targets. Executives know the dire consequences of missed goals, new product failures, or losing share. These things get you thrown off the bus quickly, bringing your journey to a screeching halt. And yet, to arrive at a destination, you must make the journey. Whether the goal is improved profitability or a successful sales incentive program, you need a plan, a map to keep you on track, with road signs showing you the risks ahead, and mile markers directing you along the way.

To reach their growth destinations, sales executives stack the deck in their favor by creating detailed plans for beating the competition. Marketing leaders carefully map out every step of the buyer’s journey and create lead nurturing programs. This planning helps get inside the minds of prospects and customers. It becomes the foundation of a strategic roadmap, complete with mile markers showing progress and course corrections to get around roadblocks.

Yet when it comes to sales incentive programs, these same leaders often take a very different approach. Instead of trying to get inside the heads of their sales and channel personnel to understand their steps in a sales incentive journey, they start with the award. Usually it’s the hottest electronic device or a trip to Maui. What they should be thinking about is getting sales reps to authentically engage with the program. That means understanding what they’re thinking as they decide how much time and attention they’ll dedicate to your program. A sales incentive participant considering your program goes through a similar journey as a customer considering buying your products and services.

The first two steps of this journey are making participants aware of and knowledgeable about your program. That’s more than just telling them that they can win a television; it means helping them understand the goals of the program and how it benefits both them and their customers. Most salespeople seek long-term relationships with customers. If they don’t see the benefits of the product you’re promoting, they have no impetus to try selling it to their customers.

The third step is consideration. This involves reps weighing what’s in it for them against the effort required to succeed. If your program requires hours of work, resulting in only a sweepstakes entry for an award, chances are they won’t engage. That’s simply too much effort with no guarantees. But if they perceive the reward as fair for the effort expended, they’ll likely choose to continue along the sales incentive journey with you and actively participate.

Engagement is the next step. Your sales incentive participants have decided the program is good for both them and their customers, and they’re ready to take the plunge with you. Put in some early engagement indicators — an enrollment process, product sales quizzes to help them hone their skills, or a fast start bonus for immediate sales. Early program success will keep them with you on the journey ahead.

Optimization is the next step. When reps begin to see rewards from a program, they will look for ways to maximize their earnings. Let’s say, for example, your program has participants accumulating points redeemable for awards. As they see their point balance growing, participants will begin looking for additional sales opportunities to get the most out of the program.

Program advocacy is the final step. Advocates encourage their peers to get involved. They offer advice to help increase sales and promote the tools your company provides. And they’ll show off their awards to family and friends, increasing their own likelihood of participating in your next program.

Remember — this entire process begins with understanding the sales incentive participant journey and creating the roadmap for engagement. Think through each step of the journey, and map out the ways to help your participants become aware of and knowledgeable about your program, overcome their objections to engagement, and optimize your program by providing the right tools. When you do this successfully, you’ll put participants on the path to advocacy and send your business rocketing to new heights.

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