The first step, the most important step, is defining your goals. The #1 mistake made by frantic companies is racing to implementation without clear, concise, written goals.

Your goals should support your overall company strategy. They should be tailored to reflect today’s realities of your market, your customers, and your target audience. Increasing sales is the most common incentive objective; however, we suggest being more specific. What product? What sales channel? New customers or selling more to existing?


When putting your goals in writing, strive for SMART goals:


Choose just one or two clearly focused goals so program participants can channel their efforts effectively. For example, instead of saying, “Increase sales,” state your goal as, “Increase sales by 12% in the healthcare vertical market between July l and December 31.”


Be sure your goals involve quantifiable activities that can be measured easily. For example, a salesperson’s success can be measured by tracking increases in units sold, orders, or new customer contracts – In dollars or percentages.


It’s tempting to set the bar high, hoping to achieve dramatic improvement and excite everyone in the process. However, overly ambitious goals can backfire if they seem unattainable to the participants in the program and could demoralize them.


To be meaningful and have a long-lasting impact, your goals must align with the company’s overall objectives. Is retaining key customers the priority? Or is the company investing resources to grow a new product or market segment?


Consider any seasonal highs and lows that occur in your business during the period chosen for the incentive and then adjust the date range accordingly. Also, be sure to consider the sales cycle when setting a timeline as well.


Resist trying to accomplish all of your goals in one program at once. Setting up a firm foundation lays the groundwork for the future. Focus on the most important objectives. Start simple. Tackling too much will cripple your launch and confuse your participants. Prioritize to 3 goals or less.


Analyzing your audience and their desires is imperative to selecting rewards that will truly motivate. Spend some time considering each of the following points as they relate to your audience and make notes to refer back to after we cover program length and reward types.



Employees or customers
Sales reps, channel partners, third-party agents
Age – average and range
Average income
Functional role, job titles, and levels
Education level
Number of participants
Number of locations, stores, or companies
Countries, regions, divisions


Level of buy-in or engagement presently
Current level of motivation
Capability to improve, learn, or sell
Extrinsically or intrinsically, motivated
Attitudes, interests, opinions


Are you focusing on the top 20% of performers, the low 20% or the 60% that generally fall somewhere in the middle? Remember, even a small improvement by the big group in the middle 60% can have the most significant incremental benefit.

Does your audience have expectations based on previous experience with other incentive programs that either your company or competitors have run? This is also key to discovering what will motivate your participants.


You may also want to research any HR or cultural aversions to particular awards. For example, sometimes HR departments will not allow prepaid cards or cash as a reward option, because they often “disappear” on gas, groceries, etc.

In some Asian cultures, cash rewards may be seen as offensive.

International countries don’t always have adequate merchandise vendors or stock levels on merchandise, so a strong fulfillment partner is important.

To predict what awardees might like best, look at the history of redemptions on past incentive programs or distribute surveys.


You have likely already settled on the length of the incentive program you will be implementing. Program length should always be considered when selecting the appropriate rewards.

Research consistently suggests that programs too short in duration often fail to achieve buy-in because it takes people too long to learn about them before they’re expected to act. Alternatively, longer-term programs can suffer from “program burnout” because employees simply lose interest.

If you intend to run a quick sales SPIFF contest, gift cards or pre-selected merchandise rewards may work well.

Points for prizes in a merchandise catalog are most effective when points can be accrued with multiple earning achievements to reach for higher merchandise rewards. Plus, they allow everyone to win and visualize a personal reward goal.

Make sure the prize value matches the length of time you have worked to motivate the audience. You wouldn’t want to give away a $75,000 Tesla for less than a six-month initiative. The return received from the contest likely wouldn’t match the prize in that case.



We are often asked this question and our answer is “it depends.” There is no silver bullet when it comes to selecting the perfect incentive award. In fact, there really is no perfect award.

As we’ve discussed, target audience and goals have a huge impact on building the right reward structure for your incentive. Program duration and budget are important as well. Each program should be carefully designed with these many factors in mind to discover the best solution for your audience

There are pros and cons to each award type. While travel incentives can be time consuming and expensive to plan and manage, a President’s Club trip will produce memorable experiences that last a lifetime. Alternatively, prepaid cards are easy to administer, but sometimes this cash-like reward can get confused with compensation (especially with long-term programs where winners begin to expect these funds).

To narrow down our search, let’s take a look at the award type options available, and weigh the pros and cons of each.


Industry research identifies four key reasons for using non-cash awards in incentive or recognition programs:


When properly presented, non-cash awards ignite the imagination in a way that enhances their perceived value. The participant’s reaction to the award substitutes for its actual value.


Non-cash awards deliver more recognition because they don’t get mixed with compensation. Cash invariably turns the extra reward into expected compensation. Cash creates entitlement – you can give it, but you cannot take it away. Non-cash spiffs can be turned on and off without entitlement problems.


Participants receive special satisfaction from non-cash awards because there’s no guilt associated with spending them. If a male participant has 50,000 points, he can guiltlessly select the 80″ plasma TV for football season. But if the reward had been $2,500 in cash, he and his wife might debate if instead they should pay off a credit card or start a college fund.


People feel free to talk about non-cash rewards in a way that would be inappropriate for cash compensation. It’s socially unacceptable to brag about your bonus or commission, but it’s acceptable to talk about an incentive trip to Maui. Non-cash prizes provide a tangible symbol of achievement.



Surveys show that merchandise and travel rewards are remembered longer than cash, with a longer-lasting boost in performance. They provide a lasting reminder of success and reinforce a positive association with the sponsoring company. For example, try to remember an employee reward, trip, or merchandise you won. Now, do you remember the amount of your bonus that year?


Cash is hard to promote – unless you keep increasing the amount. A trip to Monaco, a new HDTV, the latest i-anything from Apple, or big diamonds create visual interest that engages participants’ brains – they see the reward, they want the reward, and they consider how they can improve their performance to earn it. Plus, a buzz factor occurs when employees talk about the prizes.


Now that we equipped you with advice on selecting motivational rewards, you should be ready to complete the remaining steps of your incentive program plan. You might want to add a team of incentive professional experts to your execution team. Since we literally wrote the book on building a perfect incentive program, (12.5 Steps to A Perfect Incentive Program), let us share a few examples of program changes we recommended. Let us know how we can help!

Situation: A global channel partner contest to incent sales reps, lasting one quarter.

Issue: One $50,000 prize package per region.

Brightspot Suggestion: Break $50,00 prize budget into multiple prize levels to create more winners. One grand prize package worth $20,000; two packages worth $10,000; and ten $1,000 merchandise prizes to motivate more channel reps.


Situation: Prize drawing for global sales reps, lasting one quarter.

Issue: Client wanted drones to be one of three prize selections

Brightspot Suggestion: We suggested avoiding drones as a reward option. Many countries forbid importation of drones and soon drone
owners in the United States will be required to register with government agencies. Plus, there are concerns arising with lawsuits regarding privacy and also who is liable when drone accidents occur over neighboring homes. Simply best to avoid.


Situation: An annual President’s Club incentive trip to Hawaii looking for ways to further recognize winners.

Issue: Client had offered attendees a Maui Jim gift experience the past three years, and wanted to offer it again this year.

Brightspot Suggestion:  Often President’s Club trips have repeat attendees. We recommended a fresh idea of an OluKai sandals gift experience. If they still insisted on sunglasses, we would suggest offering Costa del Mar, which is a new, hot brand.


If your audience are at an entry level salary, then they will likely be motivated by lower valued prizes compared to more seasoned sales reps.

If competitors are offering $500 in merchandise per sale, then you should at least match their incentive offer.

If your program length is three months or shorter, then make sure reps can earn sufficient points for appealing merchandise redemptions.

If your intent is to run a quick SPIFF contest, then gift cards or pre-selected merchandise rewards could work well.

If your goal for reward is lasting, memorable rewards that will create a strong buzz, then choose non-cash rewards.

If you found this resource to be incredibly helpful, then you might want to contact us for an awards recommendation tailored to your audience!

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