Like many entrepreneurs, Lance McCollough, CEO of the web design firm ProSites, lavishes his top-performing salespeople with monetary rewards.
But he doesn't just fatten their paychecks at the end of the month. He uses crisp $100 notes fresh from the bank — "the good stuff," as he calls it — and makes a big production of doling them out in front of the entire team. It was an idea McCollough poached from the bestselling business book Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive by Harvey MacKay.
In a sales meeting, "we have the person stick out their hand right in front of everybody," says McCollough, who founded the Temecula, California firm that tailors websites to the needs of doctors and dentists. "We count off the bills, and kind of snap them into their hand. Everybody's laughing. It's a very visual thing, and people appreciate the recognition."
More importantly, it's part of a company culture designed to celebrate the act of making a sale, which, as he rightly points out, "pays everybody's salary at the end of the day." Among the ways ProSites applauds hard work: all-expense-paid retreats to exotic locales, tours of Southern California's finest wineries and limousine joyrides around Hollywood.
McCollough says the incentives have helped keep employee turnover to a minimum and motivated his staffers to boost sales by more than 200 percent over the past three years. (The company landed at No. 1,254 this year on the Inc. 5000.)
But even if you don't have the budget for such luxuries, you can create an environment that lauds your best salespeople while also building team morale. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Think beyond the cash incentive
"If your compensation plan is normal, your staffers will just think, 'It's my job, I've got to do this, I hope I get a bigger check,'" says McCollough, adding that staffers would likely spend the extra dough on bills and practical items and quickly forget about it. "You want to throw in an experience that is unique and memorable."
To supplement regular sales commissions and bonuses, ProSites offers rare opportunities to thrill and excite its workers. It sends staffers to Club 33, Disneyland's members-only restaurant in Anaheim, where American presidents, foreign dignitaries, and the Queen of England have dined. Chuck Street, Kiss FM's popular traffic reporter, once took two ProSites sales leaders on a helicopter tour of Los Angeles. And staffers have gained access to Hollywood's Magic Castle, the private clubhouse for the Academy of Magical Arts.
On a smaller scale, McCollough suggests offering gift certificates to spas and restaurants, free movie tickets, and other inexpensive but enjoyable activities. He changes up the offerings from time to time to keep things fresh. The idea is to offer your workers a treat, he says: "Instead of spending the money on bills, now you've forced them to go and enjoy themselves."
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2. Plan team-building events
Instead of always singling out a few workers, or even just the sales team, plan a company event and invite your entire staff.
ProSites orders lunch for its workers on the last few selling days of the month — when much of the firm's revenue comes in — and herds everyone together for a quick group meal. It boosts morale and gives employees in different departments a chance to interact with one another, says McCollough. It also keeps workers from taking off for long lunches during a key revenue-generating period, he adds.
"It's extremely important to incentivize teams and not just hotshot salespeople," says Lee Wochner, CEO of Counterintuity, a Burbank, California, marketing and design firm. "A lot of what we do is referral-based, so if everyone wasn't working hard to satisfy clients, we would never get referrals."
Among Counterintuity's group celebrations: a private séance at Magic Castle, and a trip to an upscale Los Angeles bowling alley where staffers mingled with a cohort of Playboy bunnies in the next lane. "It was pretty wild and a lot of fun," says Wochner.
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3. Get creative with themed events
ProSites takes its top sales performers on an annual retreat called "Summit Club." This year, staffers stayed at a resort in Santa Barbara and participated in military-themed activities. Salespeople even flew real planes at a civilian air combat school (along with a licensed fighter pilot), facing off in midair against their bosses.
Gift bags are always given out at the end of each Summit Club. In keeping with the military theme, they included waterproof, sand-proof Pentex cameras and Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses.
"It was such an adventure for them," says McCollough. "Themes are just another way to make it unique."
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4. Celebrate often
In McCollough's experience, monthly incentives are much more effective than a big end-of-year bonus or a few sporadic rewards throughout the year.
"You don't want it to be so far out that it's out of mind," he says. "Then the goal associated with that incentive will also be out of mind." Each time a ProSites staffer reaches a monthly sales goal, $5,000 is credited toward their annual sales goal that qualifies them for the Summit Club retreat.
For good measure, McCollough throws in $300 American Express gift cards, gift cards to Massage Envy, and other small perks. He suggests mixing it up each month to keep things interesting.
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5. Include a client in the festivities
What better way to celebrate success than with the client to whom you sold your services? Counterintuity's clients include major California real-estate developers, whose stylish buildings often serve as venues for celebratory lunches and other events, says Wochner.
"We're business-to-business, so when our work with clients succeeds, part of it was them and part of it was us," he says. "There is a partnership there that everyone should get to witness and be a part of."
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6. Celebrate your impact on the community
It's important to celebrate your company's social impact, in addition to its sales achievements, says Wochner.
When a big client won an award for its contributions to the local community, Wochner shut down Counterintuity's offices and took the entire staff to the client's celebratory luncheon. The client, the largest real estate developer in the San Fernando Valley, had made significant donations to local schools and social service programs.
"When we took everybody to that luncheon, what we heard was, 'Wow, we have a big impact on this community,'" Wochner said. "What we do is important. We can see it because we work with them and help them do what they do."
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