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An Incentive for Every Budget

This month, our experts help readers find the right incentive products for every situation (and price).

Got ten dollars? Then you’ve got enough money for an incentive reward to start the year off with a bang. That’s right, ten bucks can buy you a small reward to fire up the troops in the first quarter. While many people think of incentives as high-ticket items – like flat-screen televisions and jaunts to Hawaii – our incentive experts came up with a variety of creative suggestions for rewards to fit any budget (even if yours is a mere pennies).

If you’ve always been hesitant to start an incentive program because of budget concerns, read on for four readers’ questions and our experts’ solutions for incentives for budgets both large and small. No more crying poor: Get cracking on your 2007 motivational plan.

Q: I would like to have a weekly sales contest among my 12 reps in which I will give out rewards to whomever makes the most cold calls. What are some inexpensive but unique incentives I can give to the weekly winners?

A: “Nothing motivates salespeople more than the feeling of being on top,” says Bret. “The desire to be number one is a very powerful force that most sales managers tend to ignore.”

Ignore no more: Stroke their egos by creating a symbol of their accomplishment, Bret suggests. “This symbol can be something as simple as a Burger King crown with ‘Top Dog’ written on top of it or a custom flag emblazoned with the company logo that can be displayed proudly above the winner’s cubicle for any and all to see,” he says. T-shirts or hats emblazoned with a ‘President’s Circle’-type logo should also be considered. “Public recognition can sometimes be more rewarding than prizes or awards.”

A different approach would be to create a more structured rewards program, Bret suggests. For instance, instead of giving out a small gift at the end of every week, “motivate your salespeople to make those cold calls by providing a larger pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” This strategy helps level the playing field for all 12 sales representatives, decreases the likelihood of one salesperson receiving the same giveaway multiple times (not such a hot motivator), and provides an added incentive for all the reps participating in the program to compete for the reward.

One idea: Give reps who reach their goal for cold calls each week a piece to a puzzle, a building block, or something else that can be pieced together, week to week, and once completed, can be turned in or redeemed for a grand prize. (Puzzles can easily be customized with a company’s logo or an inspirational message.)

“The prize should be something of value, especially since the initial investment in the puzzle piece items is minimal,” Bret says. Some suggestions for grand prizes: A $100 iTunes gift card, tickets to a show or ball game, or the latest techno-gadget.

Of course, the grand prize should be different from month to month, Bret says, to keep salespeople guessing.

Q: I work in a large hospital and we are looking to provide inexpensive corporate gifts ($10 or less) for employees who provide suggestions in our suggestion box which could result in cost savings for the company. The

recipients could be nurses, janitors, switchboard operators – virtually anyone who works at the hospital. What incentive products would you recommend for this diverse group?

A: The biggest mistake managers make when rewarding big groups like this one is to not consider the recipient, says Steven. “I often have clients giving out something that they themselves would want, when often this is not something that necessarily the end-user would want,” he says. One important thing to consider before choosing a reward is the job level and average salary of the prospective recipients, Steven says. They can offer clues for potential rewards.

For instance, since the recipients of these rewards are rank-and-file employees, rather than high-level doctors, “they might bring lunch or dinner to work to save money,” Steven says. With that in mind, he recommends rewarding them with a lunch tote/cooler with built-in liquid for freezing.

Another idea that has wide crowd appeal: candles. “They’re a nice gift to give and are something that practically everyone uses.”

Or, Steven suggests practical items that everyone needs, such as first aid kits or small bottles of antibacterial hand soap. “Package these in a nice logoed pouch so that they can use them for traveling,” he adds.

Q: I work for a technology firm with 15 sales reps. I am looking for a selection of high-end rewards to offer any rep who meets his or her personal goal for the next six months. I’d like to offer a range of four to five options that the winners can choose from. These are all high-earners ($75,000 to $140,000 per year) who are sometimes difficult to impress. What type of incentives would you recommend for this group?

A: Two words: Gift cards. That’s the advice of Rich Killian, president of RK Incentives. Why? “Gift cards offer flexibility, choice, higher perceived value and strong trophy value for different levels of employees,” Killian says. He may be on to something. According to a 2005 study by the Incentive Federation, gift cards are the most frequently used type of corporate reward because of convenience, ease of use and administration, range of choice and co-branding opportunities.

For this specific technology firm, Killian recommends that the manager offer several choices of gift cards instead of just one retailer. The reason? High-earning employees also tend to be highly picky and may be attracted to certain brands.

“The manager might choose an online gift card company that can fulfill everyone’s desire within the organization with hundreds of retailers, restaurants and hotels,” he suggests. “Most online gift card companies can create a customized program that is well communicated for any organization, such as this technology firms’ 15 high-end sales reps. Some companies Killian suggests:, and

Q: At our annual employee appreciation lunch this spring, we want to do a few raffles and give out three or four large items to employees’ holding the winning raffle tickets. We are looking to spend $50 to $75 per item. What are some products we should consider?

A: “To ensure the employees are sitting at the edge of their seats as they watch each ticket drawn for a prize, the merchandise must be of value and well thought out,” Bret warns. The rewards should also be items that most employees likely don’t already own.

With that in mind, “a nice Cross Pen and mechanical pencil set laser engraved with the company logo would serve as a lasting reminder and be of value in the workplace,” he suggests.

Another hot option: a digital photo frame, which lets you insert the memory card straight from your camera directly into the frame, serving up a slideshow of your favorite pictures. “This is a high value promotional product that is rewarding and could lead to increased employee productivity,” Bret says. “Studies show pictures of loved ones in the office place can often serve as a much-needed source of motivation.”

Another great item would be a custom debossed leather briefcase, which employees can use to lug paperwork to and from work and still look stylish.

Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2007

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