Eighty-one minutes into the movie Jaws, we find Sheriff Brody stuck with the unpleasant duty of throwing fish parts off the back deck of the boat while his shipmates, Hooper and Quint, are doing less strenuous, more interesting tasks. Brody’s grousing stops mid-sentence as he finds himself staring down the enormous throat of a gigantic shark. Drawing back from rows of razor sharp teeth, in quiet amazement, he walks up to Quint and makes a pronouncement: “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”
Most all of us can remember a time in our life when an unexpected challenge exposed the wisdom of sourcing the right tools for the job at hand. A key part of being a trusted advisor to our clients is that we know which provider, solution or resource will resolve, or even head off, issues that otherwise detract from the value of the promotional products solutions we create. Having that product and design intelligence explains why becoming a recognized professional requires education, training and experience. As you begin to move into the world of offering incentives to your clients, you will see how understanding the lingo, knowing the right contacts and being able to identify available solutions, are all key elements of your incentive success track.
In parts one and two of this series (PPB January 2013 and February 2013), we discovered why it’s smart to look into selling incentives, and how what you already know about selling promotional products can position you to sell incentives. In this final part of the series, let’s examine what additional resources will support you in becoming what I call a promotional incentive expert (PIE).
For me, the path to learning how to proficiently consult on and design incentive programs follows four steps:
- Understanding the most basic tenets of selling incentives;
- Determining what I already knew (and what I still needed to learn) to be effective;
- Getting educated in the areas where I need to improve my understanding;
- Forming the business and industry networking relationships that supply me access to the knowledge and resources my client expects me to provide.
Understand What You’re Selling
If you think you are just selling promotional products, you devalue your position as a trusted provider of branding and marketing solutions. The smart distributor knows that solving the client’s branding or marketing problem creates more value in the client’s mind than the products sold to them. As Barb Hendrickson of Livonia, Michigan-based distributor Visible Communication notes, you should become the “one-stop-shop for your customer.”
Similarly, selling incentives is not simply providing the merchandise, gift card or travel alternatives your client asks for. As an incentive consultant, your role is to design programs and options that influence specific behavioral changes in a targeted audience. Properly positioned, your client will value the sophisticated change-management tools you provide far more than the merchandise you sell them as a means to accomplish that change.
The Appreciation Game
Programs such as length-of-service are often ongoing, multi-year solutions. Conveying appreciation and gratitude can be a one-time gifting opportunity, such as:
- Executive gifts for board members or investors;
- Recognizing participants in a specific project; or
- A resort-destination leadership conference for top salespeople.
As in the promotional products arena, the trick is to choose the “perfect” gift or destination.
The world of business is changing. Paul Gordon, vice president of sales for Rymax Marketing Services, Inc., observed: “Today’s business environment requires business to be strategic and the expense self-liquidating. Budgets are tight and goals are high for corporations and employees. A well-thought-out program that is created to hit very specific benchmark goals is formulated by doing your homework on the business and on the participants.” If your clients think of you as an asset rather than an expense, they will actively find ways to incorporate you into their business.
Sometimes it may seem that being a solution provider works against you, especially when the solution you provide does not require the incentives you sell. However, I find that even then, the big picture is rosier when I concentrate on providing unique and effective incentive strategies. In one case this past year, a large restaurant chain was looking to reward managers who sold the highest volume of in-house gift cards. I suggested a fancy dinner hosted by the big boss for managers with the most improved card sales. These managers all had impressive salaries. Everything that could be said with money had already been put on the table. Giving them a chance to have dinner (read: access) with the boss and be recognized as valued components in the big scheme of things could be a huge incentive. Each “winner” would also receive a brand-name portfolio that offered tremendous “trophy value” in that it would remind them of this acknowledgement every time they used it. I accessed the portfolio through an incentive search engine that works sort of like SAGE or ESP. Understanding how to reach out to the right vendor to fill a need is a benefit of understanding how the incentive business works.
In this instance, my recognition solution did not include a huge merchandise order, but by positioning me as a solution provider who looked out for my client’s best interests, it opened the door for a lucrative employee recognition program for thousands of staff members. Oftentimes in the incentive business, it’s not the individual sale that matters as much as the long-term relationship.
The Bottom Line Is The Bottom Line
Positioning myself as a trusted advisor transformed me from a “nice extra” into a strategic asset as my client’s goals and programs became more complex. Anyone can decide that a headphone is a nice gift; being clever enough to relate the merchandise to the campaign goal is where you come in, such as providing a Bose Acoustic Wave headset as part of a solution to a customer service campaign focusing on “listening to your customer’s needs”. You can be a better solution than the generic online mall if you focus on the client’s goals and provide solutions. Whether that is improved safety, attendance or profitability, your long-term value as a trusted advisor will be established, sustained or lost by how it is reflected in the bottom line. Remember that the ability to evoke appreciation and gratitude is ultimately a profit maker, not an expense.