Top-performing companies do incentives differently

With everything happening in our economy, it is essential to understand which business tactics are critical for driving sales and which can be paused for a bit. Nearly all of America’s top-performing companies utilize non-cash sales incentives. Now, more than ever, we should evaluate what fuels their success.

The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) analyzed top-performing companies based on their strong revenues, sales growth, customer satisfaction and employee ratings. The IRF published a “signature series” of fascinating trends and findings on what the best-of-the-best do differently with their incentive programs. Applying these success drivers will optimize sales organizations, help retain top talent and power the prospect pipelines.

3 expected findings

Belief – The executives at these top companies believe more strongly in non-cash rewards and recognition. Specifically, top-performing companies were 20% more likely than average companies to say non-cash rewards positively affect recruiting, retention and overall engagement — and 30% higher on their conviction that incentives motivate behavior positively. While “cash is king” is a well-worn dogma, this empirical research signals that non-cash rewards are beginning to assume the throne.

Retention – Retaining talent is at the top of most CEOs’ lists of priorities. A recent IRF report drilled deeper into the financial services vertical and found that top-performing companies were 36% more likely than average peers to proclaim their reward and recognition programs are effective retention tools. That is even stronger than the 20% differential in the IRF’s first general study. The analytical research validates CEOs’ street smarts. Non-cash rewards and recognition keep top-performing sales reps in star roles on your team.

Better trips – Conventional wisdom would expect top-performing companies to have better club trips and the research validates it. They invest more. The financial services vertical study reports average incentive trip spending of
$6,438 per person, and the technology vertical study reports $6,833 — versus the benchmark of $5,193 from a broader-based survey by IRF called the 2018 Incentive Travel Industry Index. Sponsoring an incentive trip that stands above the rest is a success driver for top-performing companies.

3 unexpected findings

Reach – Everyone expects recognition of top employees. Researchers call this “exclusivity.” But these top-performer studies reveal a surprising twist: greater reach was found in elite companies, with wider groups of salespeople earning varying levels of recognition or award tiers. In other words, if a sales rep was not in the top 10% qualifying for the President’s Club trip to Maui, they might earn a merchandise award or a gift card. “Motivating the middle” has been popular advice in the incentive industry for years, and now these studies reinforce this success trait.

Simplify – The study adds a new insight that rings especially true in today’s torrent of emails and marketing messages —  simplification. Simple program rules and simple metrics are differentiators that make or break an incentive program. Simplicity cuts down on clutter, regains focus and makes everything easier to consume. Employees are overwhelmed with too much information. They appreciate concise messaging. Steve Jobs said, “That’s one of my mantras — focus and simplicity.”

Agencies – Top performers are more likely to look to outside incentive agencies for expertise and help. 88% of these companies seek outside partners on the best ways to recognize and motivate participants, which is 20% higher than average performing companies. In the same way these companies partner with legal firms, marketing agencies or IT partners, they work with incentive agencies because they know there is a level of creativity, experience and management that incentive agencies deliver.

Mike May served as 2018 and 2019 chairman of the Incentive Research Foundation Board of Trustees and is President of Brightspot Incentives and Events in Dallas.

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