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Incentives - Just Rewards
Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, May 1999

Just Rewards…Are salespeople bored with your incentive programs? Then it’s time to get creative. Here’s how four innovative companies inspire strong performances.

Chris Dillard, National Account rep for Texas based Monarch Business Systems, has earned numerous cash rewards, and though the extra chunk of change may be nice, it’s not the only prize he seeks. Dillard would rather travel, knowing that Monarch’s incentive trips are one-of-a-kind experiences that have taken him from a private mansion in Mexico to an extravagant weekend in New York. “For the money spent on some trips I’ve been on, you just can’t beat it,” he says. “It makes me focused to go out and win.”

Manager who are constantly dangling boring beach photos or brochures of TV sets in front of their salespeople, hoping these prizes will inspire them to crush quotas, should consider pumping some creativity into their incentives programs. In today’s tight labor market, where a good salesperson has many employment options, a gold watch is about as rewarding a gold star, and if executives don’t think of something better, it’s guaranteed their competitors will.

Many experts and salespeople agree that cash alone isn’t a top motivator, but an Incentive Federation Survey shows that 63 percent of 968 respondents still use monetary rewards exclusively. What’s more, says Jim Kouzes, chairman of the Peters Group/Learning Systems in Palo Alto, California, and coauthor of Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others, managers who do run incentive programs often create rewards that disregard what really encourages people to excel. “Rewards should be personal, special, and unique to the person who is receiving them,” he says, “Goals themselves have no impact-people need feedback.”

What follows are four companies that have found innovative ways to motivate top performers. Some plan once-in-a-lifetime trips, and others believe that making work fun on a daily basis is incentive enough to boost sales. Their stories show that even those who can’t spend a fortune can create rich rewards.

The Jokes On Them

Kevin Neuse, Former vice president at Monarch Business Systems, which sells Toshiba copiers, fax machines, and laptop computers, planned all aspects of a sales incentive trip to New York last year. Or so he thought at the time.

Other executives thought it might be amusing, albeit a bit bizarre, to shake the trip up a bit at Neuse’s expense. The plot unfolded at the Four Seasons Hotel bar, where the group was meeting after its flight (on a private Lear jet) from Dallas, where Monarch is based.

A mystery woman approached the table, claming she knew Neuse. He couldn’t remember ever meeting her, though she said they knew each other well at college. As she got more detailed and specific, referring to bars and people and even a motorcycle accident that nobody else knew about, Neuse’s mind was racing, while the rest of the salespeople watched. “You must remember that night,” she said, getting increasingly serious and frustrated. She ended the 20-minute conversation by leaving her phone number, begging Neuse to call her to talk about her 10-year-old son (Neuse was 10 years out of college at the time) “I kept thinking that it was a prank at fist, but she knew such obscure details,” Neuse said. “ I was sweating bullets-I went back to my suite and emptied the mini bar. I didn’t know whether to call her or call my wife.”

What Neuse and his salespeople thought was going to be a weekend of Broadway shows, club hopping, and Yankees games was taking a strange twist. Neuse was hysterical, much to the amusement of his reps. “He was trying to decided whether he should jump out the window or call his wife,” recalls Chris Dillard, the national account rep, who got a laugh out of watching his boss squirm. That’s when the trip’s organizer, Gregory Patrick, CEO of Tours of Enchantment, reluctantly let Neuse know it was all a joke and the woman was a hired actress. Neuse, who is now vice president of One Source Financial in Austin, Texas, says he felt relieved, if a bit angry. “ I wasn’t laughing hard at the time,” he says.

The element of surprise is what Patrick specializes in at Tours of Enchantment, based in Houston. The company organizes events ranging from dinner with powerful political figures to accommodations in Mick Jagger’s mansion (Enchantment’s motto: “Our service is limited only by your imagination”). Incentive trips lasting seven days usually cost $2,500 to $4,200 per person, Patrick says, adding that his business has grown an average of 37 percent each year since 1991. He attributes its growth to a savvier market that’s finding many incentive programs stagnant. “People are hopping back and forth from countries in fifteen days,” he says. “They want to cultural exchanges-anybody can plan a trip, but I won’t do anything someone else can do.”

For the rest of Monarch’s trip, the group toured the city in a limo, taking in the nightlife and eating in such top-tier restaurants as Tavern on the Green and Vong, where the average meal costs upward of $50. The crazy antics didn’t end with Neuse either. One afternoon, when some salespeople were parked in front of Bloomingdale’s an “armed robber” jumped into the car. “By that time we pretty much knew it had to be a prank, so we just started messing with the guy,” Dillard says.

So why take an otherwise typical trip and turn it into a fiasco? Wasn’t the first class treatment enough to make it interesting? Neuse and Dillard agree it wasn’t just another vacation-it was an experience. “I’ve won a lot of trips and they were mostly all routine,” says Dillard, one of Monarch’s top reps. “ I’ve never been to New York that way. When you get back to the office and you can’t stop talking about it, it pumps other reps up to want to win the next one. If you take money versus fun, it doesn’t compare.”

Neuse believes the more effort a manager can put into an incentive, the better the results will be in the end. “We still talk about the trip,” he says. “It kept us on out toes the whole time, which is a good way to go if you’re in New York.”

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