When An Incentive Is Not An Incentive

We have a metaphor that we use a lot here in house when we are describing certain best practices in sales incentives programs.   It has to do with our founder’s dog, Neo.

Neo is a good boy (my own dog doesn’t even seem to know her name!) who comes when he’s called, stays off the couch and all that good stuff.

It seems that Jason Atkins, our founder, has done a good job of training Neo.   He tells me that training Neo did take some time, but it was quite simple:  he would reward the behaviour he wanted to reinforce with a little treat.  “Neo – come!” and then a little treat when Neo would come.   Eventually, the dog would come every time – the incentive had changed Neo’s behaviour.

Humans are more complicated creatures than Neo, to be sure, but some principles still apply.  If your incentives program does not change the behaviour of the intended parties (sales associates, consumers) then something is broken.

Too LateImagine, for a moment that Jason was trying to teach Neo to roll over on command.   Now imagine it with this one simple change: Neo rolls over and Jason says “Good boy, Neo.   You can expect your treat in 6 to 8 weeks.”  When Neo eventually got his treat, he would have great difficulty associating it with the trick he had performed two months ago, therefore his behaviour would not change, no future tricks would be done – nobody would get what they want.

The human subconscious mind is a powerful thing and it controls a lot more processes in our body than we give it credit for (breathing, anyone?).   It is intrinsically connected to the reward centre of our brain and it is very, very tough for us to truly associate a reward of any sort with an action we took anywhere beyond our very recent past.

My point?   The point is very, very simple – the sooner you reward the desired behaviour (a sale or purchase) the greater the chance that your reward will have a meaningful effect on future behaviours.

In a digital age such as the one we live in, there is quite simply no longer a need to take 6 to 8 weeks to deliver on your promise to your most valuable stakeholders – your customers and customers.   Reward the front line sellers in your channels quickly, and they will remember you and your products.   Reward your consumers quickly and they will remember your brand when their friends are asking for how they like their new product, or (better yet) asking for a recommendation.   (And remember how many of these conversations are now taking place in social media with an increasing number of eyeballs on them!)

What it all boils down to is when Neo gives Jason what he wants (good behaviour) he gets what he wants, which is that treat he now associates with his changed behaviour.

When you give your salespeople their spiffs in a timely fashion, you get what you want – they remember that you care about keeping your promise to them and they change their behaviour by remembering your brand more often.   When you pay out rebates as quickly as possible, you give consumers what they want which is to get on with enjoying their new purchase without the burden of an extensive, paper-heavy and unduly drawn-out process.

So when is an incentive not an incentive?   When nobody gets what they want.

Jason King 360 IncentivesJason is the Content and Community guy at 360Incentives.com Connect with Jason on Twitter @JayKing71LinkedIn or Google+  360 is changing the world of incentives.  To find out how, book a call with us now!