A Checklist for Your Next Incentive Program

Incentive programs succeed when planned strategically

Incentive programs often require a planner to wear many different hats: motivator, negotiator, event designer, risk manager, travel expert, tour guide and more. And these numerous responsibilities mean an often complicated list of to-dos when designing and implementing a program.

Susan Adams of Next Level Performance
Susan Adams

"It's easy to forget that an incentive program is not just about the unforgettable travel experience or the highly prized merchandise reward," says Susan Adams, vice president of engagement, Next Level Performance. "The program begins much earlier, often as much as 18 months in advance, with the planning and communications that inspire employees and channel partners to reach a little higher every day throughout the qualification period."

Incentive asked Adams as well as Valerie Bihet, owner of VIBE agency, to offer up their personal checklists for running a successful incentive program. Here, Adams offers a few of her best practices to ensure that the program has the greatest chance of success every step along the way.

• Be Clear About the Goal.
What is the organization trying to achieve with the program? Channel or customer loyalty? An increase in sales of a specific product or service? Overall sales? Improved performance by other metrics? These are all possibilities, but all require slightly different approaches. If you are clear about the intended result, you'll be able to reflect that in the program design for an effective outcome. For corporate program owners, this is the time to get baseline measurements to be sure that you can track the results.

• Make It Simple.

Program rules must be easy to understand, and individual goals should be challenging but achievable. If what it takes to win seems convoluted or unattainable, the entire audience can be lost with this first key communication.

• Communicate.
It's essential to keep the program front of mind throughout the entire qualification period. Communicating frequently and with engaging deliveries or images will help eligible participants stay on track. Choosing a mix of media will also ensure that you're reaching people wherever they are, in a way that they are best able to receive your message. Among others, Next Level Performance uses websites, mobile apps, GIFs, videos, electronic and print communications to appeal to the broadest possible audience with exciting visuals and copy that let everyone see themselves as potential winners, encouraging them to stretch for their goals.

• Celebrate.
Mid-program celebrations not only shine a light on top performers, but they also provide examples of how to succeed to the entire field. Celebrations can take the form of profiles on the program website, rewards for milestones along the way, or even live events in the office. They can be special events or experiences on-site at travel programs for early winners.

• Live Up to the Hype
After the program has been promoted all year, it is critical to live up to the program hype. The experience must be worthy of the effort to achieve it. After all, program participants have imagined what it would be like to win throughout the entire program. The real-life win needs to feel at least as good as the imagined one. This means flawless delivery and personalized service, whether on site or online, is necessary. The experience of the reward will make the difference on engagement with the company, and on results on your next program. Be sure to leave them wowed and you'll have their attention next time.


Valerie Bihet of VIBE
Valerie Bihet

Valerie Bihet, owner of VIBE -- an agency that specializes in corporate event planning and destination management services -- offered some of her own best practices for managing incentive programs.

• Give Yourself Ample Time to Plan.
An incentive trip requires at least six months to one year of preparation. The company must plan the details of the incentive program in-house to determine who qualifies and when it should be held, before consulting specialized agencies and choosing one that will finalize the operation. In turn, the selected agency will need time to book air tickets or hotel rooms well in advance to allow for the most negotiating opportunity on group pricing. Everything must be anticipated, leaving no room for the unexpected. From the moment employees fly to their destination and the exact time of their return, everything must be thought out, planned and organized. No hitch should disrupt the program's fluidity.

• Provide the Agency With Key Details.
Objectives, dates, type of entertainment, budget, who the participants are, what they like and what they eat should all be included.

• Determine How to Measure ROI.
What are the areas you, and the agency, should be evaluating to determine whether the trip is a success or not?

• Review Budget.
By not giving a price up front problems can occur as there are too many possible options.  

• Choose the Appropriate Destination.
The choice of the destination is one of the most important parts of the incentive trip.

• Review Destination Accessibility.

Accessibility from the origin location to the destination makes a big impact on the budget, timeline and even the mood your guests are in when they arrive. Longer travel means you need more upbeat and luxurious welcoming experiences.

• Review Security.
A zero-risk policy is imperative. Political crises, security risks and natural disasters must be anticipated and planned for.

• Create Engaging Content.
Whatever the destination, it's the originality and the content that count the most. You have to give the attendee a trip that he/she would not do on their own.

• Add in Aha Moments.  
Little extras punctuate a stay.

• Expect the Unexpected.
Even with the best planning, the unexpected will occur. Be prepared with a plan B.