Skip to Content

5 Best Practices for Running a Local Incentive Program

Mar 01, 2016

Written by: Tim Houlihan
(View Author Bio)

Learn how to effciently and effectively run incentive programs at a local level. 


Designing an incentive contest can be easy – almost anyone can do it. Set
some goals, offer some awards, then sit back and watch everyone work like
crazy to achieve their objectives. Right? Wrong. 

Save time, money and resources by using these five best practices for running a localized sales incentives program.
1. Consistency
Establishing replicable methods and preferred rule guidelines for contest design is the key to ensuring a successful outcome. That doesn’t mean every contest design should be exactly the same – quite the opposite. It provides autonomy at the local level for contest managers to be creative, flexible and empowered to maximize engagement and sales results. 
How do you accomplish consistency? Stick with tried and true rule structures with various options to personalize each contest. Each location can customize sales objectives, contest goals, award payouts and tracking methods as long as the rule structures remain the same. Offering templates for communications and reporting will also ensure cohesion among all of your local contests.
2. Governance
“Begging for forgiveness instead of asking for permission” is not a sound contest implementation strategy. There are normally two outcomes for this type of approach. One: the contest was a flop and “I am sorry I forgot to run it by you.” Or two: the contest went way over budget and “the good news is that sales are up; the bad news is that I need a lot more money to pay out."

Contest origination at the local level should always include a review/approval step in the process. Contest designs overflow with good intentions but without a consistent means of checks and balances, a manager could establish unrealistic goals or design a contest that is not in alignment with the expectations of business leaders.

Another potential issue could be the payout to effort ratio. This refers to the relationship between the amount of effort the rep must expend for the payout amount they might receive. All too often, this ratio is out of balance and usually requires effort that exceeds the perceived value of the reward. Providing sales leadership with the ability to review (and ultimately approve or deny) a contest before it is announced allows local mistakes to be avoided. Good governance can also expedite the time from design to implementation, mitigate ill-conceived incentives and ensure nobody is asking for forgiveness.

3. Transparency
What does transparency have to do with local incentives? Plenty. Transparency impacts all stakeholders within a local contest. Salespeople feed clarity around the contest expectations, required outcomes of performance and their current progress towards achieving those objectives.

Managers need visibility into team members’ individual and collective performance. Sales management needs line-of-sight to both contest design and results to ensure every contest is aligned with organizational objectives. And most importantly, a contest creator needs the ability to foster transparency to ensure everyone is aligned with all of the contest parameters.

Nobody likes surprises at the conclusion of a contest. Reps don’t like getting caught off guard with “I didn’t know I qualified for a reward” and managers don’t like thinking “I didn’t realize my team was underperforming.” The worst question of all is “Who authorized this budget?” Good tools help track, update and communicate the progression of your contest from start to finish.

Whether it’s through an online tool, a spreadsheet or a self-reported claim form, it’s important to provide real-time progress updates to all audience members. Gone are the days of posting activity results at the conclusion of the contest. Stakeholders want access to activity progress anytime, anywhere and on any device. They want emails and text messages to alert them of contest updates. Timely, relevant and transparent are three words to live by with any local incentive.

4. Vividness
Drawing from behavioral economics theory, vividness refers to the fact
that people will remember and respond to things that are graphic and
dramatic. Because salespeople are emotional beings, better results can
be gained when applying vividness to incentives.
Once the rules are defined, the objectives set and the audience
determined, the next question is frequently “What am I going to use as
a reward to motivate my audience?” Frame it this way: “What is budgetappropriate,
inspiring, meaningful and equitable for the effort that I am
asking from my salespeople?” Cash can seem like the easy answer for
both management and the reps; everybody gets it when the reward is
expressed in dollars. But while cash is required to pay bills, it’s not the most
vivid nor the most effective at engaging your reps. Will reps chat about
the cash bonus they earned with co-workers, family or friends?.

Run a local incentive program today.  Download the Full Whitepaper.

Run a stronger incentive program today.

Submitting your information allows us to reach out to you in the future. 

Tim Houlihan at BI WORLDWIDE

Tim Houlihan

Vice President
Reward Systems Group

For more than 25 years, Tim Houlihan has indulged his curiosities of human behavior in the workplace. He passionately pursues answers to questions such as “Why do some people work harder than others?” and “Why do some people set and achieve goals?” and acknowledges that behavioral economics holds excellent explanations for some of these mysteries. As the Vice President of Reward Systems at BIW, Tim is responsible for leading the development of innovative reward systems. He partners with academic colleagues from leading universities around the world and he is actively engaged with leaders in Fortune 1000 companies to develop solutions for the human side of business problems.