When was the last time you took out your bonus check and showed it off to all your friends?
Sales people (and most other people, really) enjoy talking about their accomplishments. They’ll tell you when they win a major award (we all recall the infamous “Major Award” from the movie A Christmas Story and how proud he was of it), or they’ll post jealousy-inducing photos of their hard-earned “Top Sales” award in Maui. They’ll tell you stories of how they managed to accomplish earning a designer handbag AND a set of golf clubs in just 6 months. They’ll invite you over for dinner to enjoy their new, earned patio set.
But we’re guessing they wouldn’t show you their bonus check. Why the difference, especially when the external perceived value is the same?
Cash vs. Merchandise Incentives
The fact is, when people work for cash bonuses, they see it as necessity. It gets lumped into their paycheck – and they can stop performing when they feel they have “enough.” But when they’re working for luxury items, it becomes a goal. It becomes a dream. Research shows people actually work harder for a personal luxury award than for cash.
What Successful Programs Have That Others Don’t
There are 4 major things that can make or break a merchandise incentive program:
- Choice of merchandise
- Overall quality of merchandise offered
- Ease of redemption
- “Secret Sauce”
Choice of Merchandise
What makes a merchandise incentive program exceptionally successful is the element of choice. Employees are much more likely to be motivated by something they select themselves rather than a standard prize, say a handbag or an iPad. (What if you hate the style of the handbag? Or what if you have multiple iPads in your home?)
The Motivation Excellence Book of Awards, for example, has over 160,000 items currently listed. This number changes daily as new items are added and others are removed. In addition to merchandise items, we offer experiences – such as packages to see the World Cup soccer game or tickets to the Emmy’s.
Instead of earning dollars, participants earn points (all dependent on the client’s program). The points systems are based on a variety of items such as sales or units, or any measurement that drives the business.
Merchandise award values for items in the MEI Book of Awards range from $6 for something like books, all the way up to $39,000 for travel experiences. This way, participants may either choose to reward themselves immediately, or save up their points for something more lavish. It is all up to them – putting the entire reward experience in their own hands.
In addition to the over 160,000 items currently offered, MEI provides a custom shopper option for when a participant is looking for something specific or unique.
One of our favorite custom shop items was – wait for it – a heifer. That’s right: a live animal! A participant’s granddaughter was involved in her local 4H organization, and he wanted to provide her with a special gift. How exciting for us to be able to provide such an extraordinary item – and more importantly, for the sponsoring company.
This company has gained his loyalty because ultimately, they are the ones who provided him the opportunity to give such a gift. This is yet another benefit of a points-based program: the emotional impact attached to a personally selected item. These sentiments are not quickly forgotten, and your employees or participants will always remember where their item came from – you.
Quality of Merchandise
The second item that can make or break a merchandise program is the overall quality of merchandise.
You want to make sure that the items people are working for are something they typically wouldn’t buy for themselves. A designer handbag (say, Coach or Kate Spade) is a lot more appealing than an off-brand bag that will start falling apart in 3 weeks. A Bose sound system is much more attractive than a dinky set of portable smartphone speakers. You get the picture.
We’re not necessarily saying that name brands are everything here (although they do matter to many people), but the overall perceived value of the item has to be decent. Some of the most popular items we see redeemed are designer handbags – keyword being designer.
You must remember you’re trying to incent people to work hard for you – make them want to show it off!
Ease of Redemption
You’ve been saving your points up for months. You have a photo of that amazing grill posted up in your cube. You can’t wait to invite everyone over for a cookout once you earn it.
Then the email comes, telling you you’ve hit your goal. Yes! Off to redeem and order that grill.
And then you can’t get a hold of anyone. Or the website doesn’t work. Or you have to wait “4-6 weeks” to get it. Or even worse, you have to mail order it. (And who knows how long that will take.)
What can really destroy a great program is the redemption process. You want to make it incredibly easy for the participant so that after the work hard, the redemption is a piece of cake.
With the MEI Book of Awards, we set up a specific merchandise site for each program we run. Participants can log in and even create wish lists for things they want, which helps with goal setting. Once they know what they’d like to redeem for, they simply add it to their cart and proceed as with any online shopping site. The items are then shipped directly to the award winner – there is no middleman.
Another benefit we offer here at MEI is a 100% satisfaction guarantee. We want our participants to love the awards they’ve worked so hard for. If they receive an item and it’s not what they were expecting, or just decide against it, we will take it back and reinstate their points so they can select something else. No questions asked. The 100% satisfaction guarantee is not an industry standard – it’s just one more way MEI surpasses client expectations.
The truth is, there is no secret sauce. We’re just a hard working team that’s fully committed to giving you everything we’ve got. Customer service is of utmost importance to us, and we’re dedicated to setting the bar high and then exceeding those expectations. It’s all about providing a personal, special, and one of a kind reward experience for our participants.
Michelle Lien-Burdick, our merchandise buyer, contributed to this post.