Selecting Better Rewards for Sales Incentive Programs

We are often asked, “What are the most motivational awards to offer?” and our answer is, “it depends.” There is no silver bullet when it comes to selecting the perfect incentive award. In fact, there is no perfect award. Each program should be carefully designed with these factors in mind to discover the most motivational rewards for your audience:


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?

We recommend keeping your goals S.M.A.R.T:


Choose just one or two 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 1 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 in growing a new product line 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 future endeavors. Focus on the most important objectives. Start simple. Tackling too much will cripple your launch and confuse participants. Prioritize three goals or less.

Say to yourself:

I can increase sales….

Of ______________________________ (Product)

In _______________________________(Market)


During ____________________________(Timeframe)

By_______________________________($ or %)

Understand Your Audience

Analyzing your audience and their desires are imperative to selecting rewards that will truly motivate. Spend some time considering each of the following points as they relate to your audience.


Is your team entry-level or seasoned? Are there regional preferences from one office to the next? Keep in mind that some awards are going to fall flat on a statistical basis with specific audiences. If your sales team is younger, don’t spring for the golfing excursion. Don’t let a C-level mindset choose the wrong award; a VP’s motivations are generally much different than a Sales Rep’s.


Even more important than demographics are the psychographics. The most significant factor in deciding specific awards that are truly aspirational include the following: measuring the level of buy-in and initial engagement (whether motivated by extrinsic or intrinsic variables), and the general attitude or interests of your team.

Two good questions:

• Are you focusing on the top 20% of performers, the lowest 20% of performers, 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.

Extra tips:

• 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.

• 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.

Program Duration

You have likely already settled on the length of the sales 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 lose interest.

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

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.

Also, 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.

Pros and Cons

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).

Check out our 5 Keys to Selecting Motivational Rewards for a look at the pros and cons of each award type.

Selecting better awards for sales incentive programs

More often than not, we recommend non-cash awards. Industry research has identified several key reasons why non-cash awards are ideal for sales incentive programs:

1. Evaluability
2. Separability
3. Justifiability
4. Social Reinforcement
5. Memorable
6. Promotable

Dive into the details of why non-cash awards are the way to go in our recent blog post.

Ask an Expert

Adding a team of incentive professionals to your execution team could be the difference between reaching your desired ROI. Below are some examples of program changes that an agency like Brightspot can assist with:

Situation: A global channel partner contest to incentivize sales reps, lasting one quarter.
Issue: One $50,000 prize package per region.

Brightspot’s Suggestion: Break the $50,000 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 the three prize selections.

Brightspot’s Suggestion: We suggested avoiding drones as an award option. Many countries forbid importation of drones, and soon drone owners in the United States will be required to register with government agencies. Plus, concerns are arising with lawsuits regarding privacy and who is liable when drone accidents occur over the neighbors’ 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 Sunglasses gifting experience the past three years, and wanted to offer it again.

Brightspot’s Suggestion: Often President’s Club trips have repeat attendees. We recommended a fresh idea of an OluKai Sandals gifting experience. If they still insisted on sunglasses, we would suggest offering Costa del Mar, which is a newer brand to try out.

Some If/Then Scenarios

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 you intend 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 (preferably experiential.)


If you found this information incredibly helpful, then you might want to contact us for an awards recommendation tailored to your audience! Drop us a line, and we’ll get started with your no-strings-attached consultation.

Mike May

Author Mike May

President | Author of 12.5 Steps to a Perfect Incentive Program and recognized as one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in the Incentive Industry. Expertise: bucket-list incentive trips, motivational incentive program design, matching event goals with the perfect destination & hotel, cost savings strategies, global channel reward programs, and targeted communications.

More posts by Mike May

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