How to Choose the Right Incentive Program Provider

By: Steve Damerow

May 1st, 2017

Looking to implement an incentive program or improve your existing one? Then you’ve probably noticed there are plenty incentive companies to choose from.  The one thing all these companies have in common is that they offer rewards. But you shouldn’t settle for just a rewards supplier when you could have a strategic partner in achieving your sales and marketing goals. The right incentive company can become full-fledged asset in helping develop incentive plans that align with your organization. What should you expect from incentive companies to make sure you get the most out of the relationship? Ask your incentives provider these questions to see if they measure up:

  1. “Are you reward neutral?”

    A company that’s reward neutral or “reward agnostic” has no commitment to providing you any specific type of incentive rewards.  Look out for reward program providers who try to push you too hard to use one reward over another. They may just be trying to earn as high a mark-up as possible off your business. An incentive program provider should sway you toward what will work for your business, not what they want you to buy. Their goal should be the same as yours: for your program to achieve as high an ROI as possible.

  2. “Can you tell me which incentive rewards will work best for me?”

    Here’s a counterbalance to the issue of reward neutrality. An incentive company should be knowledgeable enough in the effects of each type of incentive reward to tell you which is best for your objectives. They should offer a diverse selection of reward types to choose from so you can motivate any type of participant audience you want.

    Bonus question: When is each type of incentive reward most applicable?

      • Merchandise rewards
        Toys. Goodies. Everyone has that certain object of desire they can’t resist. Whether your incentive program participants are bibliophiles, movie lovers, video game geeks or tech freaks, merchandise rewards are one of the most motivating incentives you can offer (electronics are always particularly popular, according to an Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) study).They work best in:

        • Long-term incentives programs in which reward points are accumulated over extended periods of time
        • Programs with large, diverse participant audiences
        • Programs with middle and low performing participants, so you can motivate them with “low-hanging fruit” rewards like books and movie tickets
      • Travel incentives
        Your incentive program participants could always go out and buy a 4K TV or state-of-the-art grill instead of redeeming their online reward points for the same merchandise. But travel experiences are a one-of-a-kind, carefully planned out ventures participants won’t forget anytime soon. Whether the individual travel rewards in your incentive program catalog allow your participant to take his/her family on an unforgettable vacation, or you reward your top salespeople or channel partners with a hard-earned group incentive trip, travel opportunities are the ultimate incentive reward.They work best in:

        • Programs focused on rewarding top performers and customers
        • Building company loyalty with top performers or brand loyalty with top B2B customers
      • Debit and gift card rewards 
        Sometimes you need to offer a quick and easy reward, without worrying that it won’t click with some participants. Everyone understands debit and gift cards. And everyone could use one, whether they choose to spend it on utilitarian purchase like gas or groceries, or guilty pleasures like vintage action figures from eBay.They work best in:

        • SPIFs or short-term sales promotions, when you want to quick results
        • Rewarding large, diverse participant bases
        • Rewarding international participant bases (with virtual VISA® debit e-codes that can be emailed and used in online stores overseas)
      • Digital downloads
        How important are digital download rewards? Well, digital and streaming media completely changed the way people consume home entertainment, so they’re a pretty powerful draw. People love the convenience of downloading or streaming media right to their home or mobile devices. Plus, the immediacy of receiving digital reward points and redeeming them instantly means that the psychological correlation between behavior and reward is stronger. That means the participant is much more likely to repeat the behavior.They work best in:

        • Rewarding low performing employees and customers—they’re not too difficult to earn, but still exciting enough to motivate
      • Individual milestone rewards
        What do you get for the customer, partner or employee who’s earned it all? Something really special that dramatically impacts their lives and ensures they never forget how rewarding their hard work or loyalty is. If you want to reward your ultimate, VIP performers, B2B partners or customers, work with an incentive program provider who can make extraordinary, unique reward experiences happen, like home remodeling, vehicles, tuition payments and more.They work best in:

        • Motivating the crème de la crème, tip-top, outstanding star performers who’ve earned something that’ll blow them away

    Combining any of these reward incentive plans with powerful, versatile incentive technology will ensure you’re working with a marketing tool that improves your business in several areas.

  3. “How will you help me market and communicate to my participants?”

    An incentive program without a powerful “voice” doesn’t do you much good. Incentive program providers worth their salt understand this and offer incentive solutions with communication tools and marketing strategies to go with them.Your incentive communication tools should be versatile enough to cover a variety of different participant preferences. With today’s work generation mix larger than it’s ever been, you’ll likely be working with a diverse participant audience with a variety of communication styles and preferences.

    The tide of Millennials and Gen Z is rising fast, demanding mobile and online options for both business and customer experiences along with their personal, day-to-day lives. An Adobe study found that 90% of Millennials say they switch devices mid-activity. They expect your online rewards program to be either mobile optimized or available through an app.
    On the other end of the spectrum, Traditionalists and Boomers still make up a large portion of the workforce and may prefer face-to-face, mail-out or poster communications. And print communication shouldn’t be dismissed as an obligatory, outdated method of communication. In fact, a recent DashBurst study found that 70-80% of consumers open almost all their snail mail, even if it’s “junk.” They’re also 35% more likely to act right then and there on direct mail vs. emails. Combine this effective call to action with the personalized information you can retrieve from an incentive program participant database, and you have an even more powerful communication medium.

  4. “What kind of social media and gamification elements do your incentive programs have?”

    An incentive program is all about showing appreciation to your employees, channel partners or customers. Participants should view it as something exciting that adds value and positivity to their worlds. Adding fun to your program makes it all the more engaging and interesting. As an Incentive Research Foundation study reported, “over half the market us[es] social media to enhance their programs, and over 30% us[e] game mechanics.”
    Gamification like trivia, Spin to Win and Scratch Off, give your program that extra, down-time appeal. Competitive salespeople love to see their achievements displayed with features like personalized Leaderboards, which add bragging rights to an already rewarding experience.

    A social media and peer-to-peer recognition platform is perfect for team environments, where you want to foster uplifting employee interactions and energize company culture.

  5. “What features can your incentive program technology offer?”

    No two businesses have identical pain points and goals. Every organization needs to influence different behaviors in order to achieve different goals. Their incentive programs require the right selection of tools and features to meet those needs. Here’s a chart that lays out which incentive program tools are best suited to different program types:

    Sales incentives programs
    •  A documentation upload tool that allows you to authenticate sales claims faster and more accurately
    • Sales promotion scheduler that allows for multiple, ongoing and/or simultaneous sales promotions
    • Integration of your incentive program with your CRM system in order to exchange customer data between the two platforms
    • Mobile optimization or mobile app availability, so sales teams and reps can access your program when they’re in the field
    • Personalized leaderboards to boost performance and activity with friendly competition
    Customer loyalty programs
    • Integration of your incentive program with your corporate or intranet site to build on existing brand loyalty and familiarity
    • Leaderboards that display top ranking customers, inspiring them to race each other to irresistible loyalty rewards
    • An online training platform in which customers can earn incentive rewards for expanding their knowledge on your products and services
    • Open enrollment functionality, so any customer can sign up to join your customer loyalty program without an invitation
    Channel incentive programs
    • Everything you’d want for sales incentive programs, plus:
    •  Open enrollment, so that B2B customers you’ve had no previous contact with can sign up to your program
    • Integration with your corporate website
    • The ability to segment billing reports and analytics, so you can easily manage an incentive program divided up by dealer, distributor, regions, districts, etc.
  6. How will you help me track the performance of my incentive program?

    An incentive company that doesn’t offer you a way to track your incentive program’s performance is failing you. All companies are unique, ever-changing business ecosystems. That means there’s no such thing as an incentive program that earns you the best ROI possible by running on auto-pilot.In order get increasingly better results out of your program, you need incentive technology that continuously tracks program activity and features real-time reports that can be easily exported and interpreted at any time. Visuals, charts and graphs will help you quickly digest program analytics and present them to upper management, if necessary, to prove the program’s earning its keep.

Online incentive programs can be more than just rewards—if you choose the right program provider.  When you know what you need to succeed and how to ask for it, you’re much more likely to choose an incentive company that offers solutions in alignment with your marketing and sales goals. This ensures your incentive program company is more than just a provider, but a trusted partner and adviser.


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About Steve Damerow

Steve Damerow is the CEO at Incentive Solutions, an incentive program provider in Atlanta specializing in helping B2B companies increase distribution channel sales, establish customer loyalty and retention, and develop long-lasting channel partnerships.


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