I’m often asked why I don’t advocate using incentives to influence clients and prospects to give referrals. My reasoning is two fold: first, if your referral generation process is effective and you execute it correctly, you don’t need to give incentives; and second, if done correctly, incentives can be very effective—but most salespeople find giving effective incentives to be cumbersome and time consuming.
Let me explain.
I coach and train clients who use incentives very effectively. They are a key part of their referral generation process. They follow the PWWR Referral Generation System™ to the letter—with the exception of their explanation of why it is in the client’s best interest to give them referrals. Instead of explaining to the client how their being referral-based is an asset to the client and why giving referrals insures the client receives the purchasing experience they want, these salespeople prefer giving incentives.
The difference between the incentives they give and those most salespeople give is the secret to why their incentive program is so successful—and why it is so cumbersome.
Typically, salespeople will make one of three mistakes when giving incentives:
- The incentive is not an incentive, it’s a bribe—a sizable chunk of money, at least in relation to the cost/value of their product or service, in the hopes of getting referrals.
- The incentive is not an incentive, it’s a come-on—it is nothing more than a discount for their own products or services which many clients see as nothing more than another way for the salesperson to get more business from the client.
- The incentive has limited appeal. For instance, they’ll give a $10 gift card to Starbucks or coupon for a car wash. That is, an incentive given to everyone but with limited appeal.
Incentives need to be just that—an incentive, something that encourages people to give referrals, not a reward, not a bounty.
What does an effective and reasonable incentive look like?
Let me give an example from one of my clients.
I have a small IT client who uses incentives very effectively. As a matter of fact, prior to working with me, they gave cash incentives believing money would motivate clients. Although they initially resisted changing their incentive program, since changing they’ve increased their referrals by over 1,700%. Much of that change is due to implementing the PWWR Referral Generation System, but the incentive they provide is their reason referrals are in their client’s best interest to give. Not only have they saved a small fortune by not giving large cash incentives, the incentive itself is far more effective.
They focus mainly on installation and service work for small to mid-size companies. They, of course, are constantly looking for other small to mid-size companies that don’t have an IT department that they can help with both their installation and performance issues.
They use incentives as their reason that it is in their client’s best interest to give referrals. But their incentive isn’t a discount nor is it dollars. Rather, they get to know their clients very, very well. They get to know their clients so well that they can focus their incentive to meet that individual client’s personality and interests.
For instance, one of their clients is a small publishing company. The company publishes cookbooks. The owner of the company collects antique and rare cookbooks. Although her collection is quite large, she is still constantly looking to add to her collection. Every time she refers someone to her IT service company, they go to a used and rare bookstore and purchase her—you guessed it, an antique cookbook.
They never spend more than 25 or 35 dollars. The incentive is small—nothing compared to what she will spend with them over the course of the year—or what they would have given her in the past. But she will kill to find new referrals that she can make because she appreciates the attention they give her. Obviously, they aren’t giving every client who refers someone to them a cookbook. They go out of their way to show their appreciation to her by doing something unique just for her.
Another of their clients is a minor league baseball team. This team has been around since the 50’s. Over the years, they’ve had hundreds of players come through their team and eventually go on to the majors, some for only a few days, others have become stars. What do they do for this client? Every time the team gives them a referral they find and purchase a baseball artifact associated with one of the players that had played for the team who eventually went on to the majors. The team has started a “museum” (read trophy case) based on the artifacts they’ve received from their referrals. Again, they only spend a few dollars on each item. The dollars they spend isn’t what gets the client’s attention—it’s the attention to detail and the uniquely personal nature of the incentive. Like the publisher above, the baseball team is always looking for referrals to give—and new artifacts to include in their display.
Obviously, this incentive system requires getting to know the client well. That’s actually the easy part. The tough part is finding the incentive item. The IT company above may spend weeks looking for the appropriate incentive gift for their minor league client. Instead of investing money in the client’s incentive, they invest their time, their effort, and their creativity. Most importantly, they invest their attention and their sincere interest in the client.
Using incentives can be very effective and need not be costly if done correctly. Avoid costly bribes. Don’t give money; give personal attention. Certainly, don’t give a discount coupon or any other “incentive” to spend more money with you. And avoid blanket incentives that are easy to give and have little impact.
The key to an effective incentive program isn’t the dollar value—it’s the personal value.