84% of U.S. companies are now using some kind of non-cash recognition as part of their business strategy. That can take many forms, from customer loyalty engagement platforms to luxury incentive travel experiences for top sales performers. Organizations are focused on developing engagement with employees, customers, and channel partners, and these programs make important connections between people and their organizations. But here’s the thing… To be effective, loyalty and sales incentive programs must be relevant to both the intended audience and to the organization.

Here are 5 things you should be thinking about:

  1. Use Data as a Guide

It can be daunting, but understanding the story data tells you about your company can make the difference in an effective program. Particularly with sales and channel incentives, you’ll need to know not only if you’re getting the big picture revenue increases you’re looking for, but also where the weak and strong spots are. Is there a region that’s not hitting the numbers you set? Why? Are they even opening and clicking communications? Are there big decliners pulling down your overall numbers?  What’s your strategy around them? What are top performers doing differently than those trailing the pack? Establishing benchmark data and reviewing it regularly gives you a chance to intervene or tweak the program where needed, increasing the odds that you’ll get the sales you need. 

  1. Don’t Forget the Middle 60%

Many programs reward those hitting the highest revenue goals. But what about the rest of the field? When over half of the audience knows they are out of the running midway through the program, you lose the chance at extra effort or incremental revenue associated with the program. Research shows that top performing companies spread their incentive budgets wide, going for reach over exclusivity. You can still provide fitting recognition for the best of the best, while carving out smaller rewards for those making the effort in the field. 

  1. Participant Experience is Tantamount

Every communication, every room gift, every interaction with the customer service team or travel staff on site is a reflection on your company and your brand. Whether program participants are employees of your organization or valued customers, the experience should be consistent, branded, and handled with care at every turn. Here at Next Level, our Travel and Marcom teams work together at every step to ensure that the messaging and experience are consistent with the intent of the program and with the brand. We invest thought and care into each contact with participants to be sure that their experience is easy and as stress-free as possible, with as many happy surprises along the way as possible.  That’s what makes us an award-winning incentive company. Your programs and your people should be handled with just as much care. 

  1. Mix It Up

When it comes to recognition and rewards, we know that people are highly individual. In fact, a recent study showed that 99% of survey participants preferred a unique mix of recognition and reward experiences. It is important to know your audience, and to mix it up, so that you have the best chance of inspiring the maximum number of people. Change up communications to include emails, videos, webinars, and even virtual reality. Offer an array of experiences on site to appeal to adventurers and serenity-seekers alike. And just in case anyone in your organization still thinks it’s easier to just give everyone cash, it’s not and here’s why: The Science of Rewards and Recognition.

  1. Be a Strategic Player in the Organization

Whether you are in Marketing, Sales, or Meetings and Events, as a program owner charged with the design and delivery of an inspiring incentive, you are essential to the success of your business.  By putting your program in the context of the organization’s overarching strategy, and letting that strategy guide your decisions, you contribute to the results and to the culture of the company. It’s not really as simple as ordering some gift cards or booking a hotel, after all.

By keeping your big-picture goals in mind, mining data for insight, and carefully guiding the participant experience, you can keep your program relevant, drive results, and inspire people stay engaged program after program.  You will keep your loyalty or sales incentive program relevant for all stakeholders.

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About the author

As Vice President of Engagement at Next Level Performance, Susan serves on the board of the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), and chairs the IRF Research Committee. She has also served on the board of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) and is a past president of the Recognition Council, and a past member of the Performance Improvement Council and the Incentive and Engagement Solution Providers (IESP). She is interested in the strategies and benefits of employee engagement, incentive, and recognition programs. An avid traveler, she is also passionate about the art and science of incentive travel. Favorite travel destinations: Costa Rica, Iceland, Switzerland, and Maine.

Susan Adams
Vice President of Engagement
sadams@nxlperformance.com