Find Little Risk in Company Rewards
THERE IS NO soon-to-be-dropped crystal ball hanging in Times Square. Washington is not setting up for a gigantic fireworks display (Congress not included), and Mr. and Mrs. Joe Q. Public aren’t ardently making New Year’s resolutions, but none of that means businesses and organizations aren’t getting ready for the new year—a time when corporate gifts and award programs usually reach a triumphant end or enlightened launch. Yes, distributors, it’s time to start thinking about the season of giving.
Get with the program
A 2008 survey by Scottsdale, Arizona-based WorldatWork, a nonprofit organization focused on knowledge leadership for human-resources diciplines, stated nearly 90 percent of organizations polled have a company-wide employee recognition or giving program in place. Further, the organization found only 8 percent of companies eliminated such programs, a figure down from a 2005 level of 11 percent. With its members being human-resources professionals, i.e., those likely to run corporate gift and incentive programs, it is good news for promotional product distributors who may face economy-related slowdowns.
Heather McCloskey, president and founder of McCloskey Partners, a full-service human-
resources firm located in Perkasie, Pa., sees such programs as vital pieces to a company’s overall management strategy. “Recognition programs of any kind are a great way for employers to retain employees,” said McCloskey. Plus, they communicate messages of both support and respect to staff members.
For distributors, the task is to couple these sentiments with a quality gift or award program that will back the goals of the company. McCloskey noted distributors are trained to sell products or services, but finds many times, a distributor will approach her (or one of her clients) without knowing what the company does or even what industry the company serves. She looks for distributors who have done his or her homework and can answer the question: “How will this gift-giving program motivate [an] executive staff all the way down to line employees?”
On the supplier side of the industry, Angela Wurst, marketing director for St. Paul, Minnesota-based Crystal D, shared the same opinion as McCloskey. Wurst explained, “The distributor who faces an end-buyer who is reluctant to start an award program can use facts to support the need for a recognition program.” It’s a matter of distributors not just pushing the latest crystal piece, but instead looking at the overall situation. Wurst believes distributor salespeople should be prepared with “facts that support the need for recognition programs [and] how recognition can improve morale, decrease turnover rates, and increase productivity levels. All of these factors have a positive effect on a company’s bottom line.”
Daniel Berkowitz, president of West Chester, Pennsylvania-based Picnic Plus by Spectrum also sees value in preparedness. Berkowitz advised a distributor to “set yourself apart from the plethora of everyday inexpensive and disposable products in the market. A distributor can present to their clients a marketing strategy of value and uniqueness not always found in this industry.”
Wurst also emphasized demonstrating an investment in a giving program’s worth. “Distributors must believe in the power of recognition. After the distributor believes in recognition, the sale is easy.” Quoting the 2008 WorldatWork survey, Wurst stated 64 percent of all companies have a recognition budget. “Distributors just need to ask for the business,” she noted.
Thoughts that count
Within any proposal, the distributor should include non-product-related messaging. “Everyone thinks the average person is motivated by ‘things,’” said McCloskey. “Actually,” she continued, “studies show this is not true. People have a need for a combination of the ‘warm and fuzzies’ and ‘things.’” As self-evident as it sounds, she couldn’t stress enough that distributors need to remember to bring sentiments of gratitude into their selling propositions, to work alongside the tangible rewards.
“Examples of non-monetary results are pats on the back for doing a job well done. Many people are motivated by just being recognized for their efforts,” McCloskey said. “I normally build in a program where employers recognize their staff through a handwritten card, e-mail, company bulletin board, newsletters, banners, signs at [the] reception area, staff meetings … the list can just go on.”
While there may be skepticism from some end-buyer companies, McCloskey said that is only to be expected. “When I first make this suggestion, many employers [protest], … ‘That is not the kind of recognition program we were thinking about. We want to build something where our staff can collect points and cash them in for things.’” But again, she pointed out a combination of the two
programs is key.
Wurst shared an experience from her company: In one case, “The end-user organization assigned performance goals to a group of employees. The top-performing employee received a trip as a grand prize.” Then, in terms of the promotional product involved, Wurst explained the recipient also was given a Crystal D Illumachrome Wedge award with a four-color photo of the destination in the background—the “final touch” according to Wurst. “The award was etched with the location and dates of the trip. In this case, the crystal award reminded the recipient of his or her achievement long after the vacation ended.”
For Berkowitz, the final touch is the relevance of the item to the end-user’s life. “Although
electronics and the newest gizmos and gadgets are popular at this time, our innovative Picnic Plus products are timeless and not a quick, disposable fad. Personal and family leisure time has and will always continue to be an important component of our culture
and our products complement these values,” he said.
McCloskey believes distributors should be prepared and even offer to help an employer survey its staff to gain insight into what type of incentive will help retention. She shared, “The answer is that not one gift will motivate every employee. Distributors need to know this and come in prepared to talk about the different ‘types’ of employees and how each employee is motivated differently.”
“Reward those employees with products that are useful and will enhance their lifestyle,” added Berkowitz, “rather than a decorative gift that may sit on a shelf, be left in a box or thrown away.”
According to McCloskey, distributors should never forget, “The main objective when recognition and corporate gift-giving programs are rolled out is to retain employees. This is the biggest positive that can come out of any of these types
And, since the bottom line will always be the bottom line, Wurst knows distributors should be well-aware that award products
usually come with higher margins and businesses traditionally keep program specifics in place for an average of three to five years.
So, while the new year may seem just beyond the horizon, and perhaps, beyond current goals, “Distributors have a great opportunity to sell awards by taking advantage of current clients, repeat business and higher margins,”