“I think that the incentive business has really changed into the entitlement business. All brands are now giving and paying sales incentives. Therefore as a distributor, we're trying to be competitive in the business, but at the same time we're always trying to reduce our costs. We need help to be more competitive and help us reduce our costs, that would be valuable.” ~ Founder, US Distribution Client
When we hear the word entitlement, it often comes with the connotation of some character flaw on the part of the recipient. In the case of sales incentives, however, this is not the case. The real issue at hand is, of course, that programs become stale – either accidentally in their design or by virtue of the fact that they are not refreshed regularly.
I sent my marketing team out to interview some users, giving them an entire week to tour stores, speak with the people who are making the final sales to the consumers and ask them exactly how to help solve this question of incentive program non-differentiation.
Here are six learnings, straight from the front lines:
Ease Of Use
Consider two different roles that a partner claimant may have who enters sales spiff claims for your brand. The most typical program user is the salesperson herself: when that person isn't on the sales floor, they are not selling and that situation doesn't really serve the interests of either one of you. Your program should be simple enough that sales associates don't have to block huge amounts of time dedicated to entering claims. Whether they're doing this type of task during their work hours or during their off hours, rest assured that they would definitely rather be doing something else.
A secondary user role, but one that spends considerably more time working with your claims is that of someone inside your customer's business who enters claims on behalf of their entire sales staff. One person my team met with had the designated role of that dealer's spiff manager. In this person's role, they have the demands of their entire in-house team on their shoulders and they need to know that your brand is doing everything possible to make their job easier and save them as much time as possible. This makes them feel like you respect their time and appreciate the energy and attention that their business puts in to your partnering with your brand. Remember: there are only so many hours in anyone's workweek - if your claims are too much of a drain on their resources, this softly begins to limit their organization's engagement with your brand.
Incentive Progress/Claim Visibility
Nearly every salesperson we spoke with stressed that if there is any issue that could delay payment of their claim, they wanted that issue pointed out to them quickly and they wanted to have an opportunity to correct it right on the spot. What they don't want is to have claims partially paid or put on hold with no explanation of why. They also don't want their claims languishing on hold in your system – this ties up their money!
Think of your claims processing flow the same way you might think of a well-designed sales process, anticipating the claimant's needs and managing her expectations at every step.
Provide Answers, Keep Things Moving Along
A retail salesman in Memphis summarized what many reps told us: “if there's an issue with my claim, I don't want to have to call my district sales manager, and maybe that takes 2 days, then he's got to call the right person and they've got to look into it and before you know it, the whole inquiry takes a week or a week and a half.”
That sentence is a mouthful and the point he was making dovetails perfectly with both of the above points. If your front-line sellers know that they have a strong contact point who can resolve any claim problems fast (preferably on the first call or email) then they are going to be continue to see your brand in a more favourable light.
Pay Quickly, Pay Often
100% of the salespeople my team spoke with on the tour, when asked what they like most about their favourite programs answered that they like when they get paid quickly. This just makes sense, doesn't it? You perform an action with the anticipation that you will be receiving an incentive. Once you have completed your end of the deal (the sale) it stands to reason that you are looking to receive the other end (the payment) as soon as possible.
Delaying payment for incentives claims makes it very difficult for the recipient to associate your reward with the original action that they took to get the reward. There is a great deal of research that demonstrates the increased difficulty our brain has linking cause and effect as the time elapsed between the two increases.
Another winning program factor was frequency of payment. All the way from New Jersey to California, sales reps agreed that the current top program in their dealership was the one that paid out to a reloadable card three times per week. Knowing that they have the ability to have three paydays per week from this particular brand has a monumental effect on how these reps decide what to sell to each customer.
Top Tier Salespeople Need Top Tier Treatment
If your current sales incentives programs don't offer a bonus for the super performers, you are missing an opportunity to bring out the best in people who are already highly motivated simply by their own knowledge that they are at the top of their game. Your programs are obviously designed to incent everyone who sells your brand, but it is important to understand this truth that A players will always go the extra mile to be A plus players when challenged to do so.
So, budget for some secondary bonuses on top of your programs; whether it be top rep at a store, in a chain or in a territory. As Harry told us in Little Rock, “it doesn't even have to be much; it's just nice to know that you're appreciated for doing your best and being the best.” Adding a leaderboard to your online claim entry portal is also powerful motivation for these personality types.
Pay them cash.
There is no shortage of debate on this issue within the incentives fulfillment industry. There are plenty of academic justifications and loads of web articles arguing the cash vs. other rewards scenario. One thing all of these blog posts, e-books and white papers have in common however is that they are not written by retail sales reps; the very people who are receiving the rewards.
The folks at the front lines let us know loud and clear that companies can keep their points systems, travel rewards and branded goods. As our new friend Mike in Nashville said, “People come to work to earn a living, not an inflatable boat.”
A lifelong technology entrepreneur, Jason Atkins is the founder and CEO of 360insights. 360insights is the world's first Channel Success Platform, allowing brands to run spiffs, rebates, co-op/MDF, and sell-through allowances all processed and paid with 100% audit and powerful analytics to predict what to do next. For more information, visit: http://www.360insights.com.