From the August 2003 issue of Entrepreneur

Perks are a compelling way to encourage your staff to keep smiling and selling-a little way of saying "I appreciate your work" that goes beyond salary and benefits. "Pay and commissions are expected, but perks are special. Perks are tangible evidence the organization recognizes that an employee went above and beyond," says Lin Grensing-Pophal, author of Motivating Today's Employees (Self Counsel Press). Grensing-Pophal adds that perks "can help employees feel valued by their organizations, which, in turn, can lead to higher productivity, improved morale and loyalty." For smart, low-dough ways to show your sales force the love, keep these tips in mind:

  • One size does not fit all. When it comes to sales incentives, one person's perk may be another's pile o' junk. An ill-selected "perk"--for example, giving a steak-of-the-month subscription to a vegan--won't get the job done right. With a small sales force, there's really no excuse for not knowing the perks that will motivate your sales pros to keep moving. "One person might respond to fresh flowers, another to tickets to a sporting event, another to dinner with the boss," explains Grensing-Pophal. If you're clueless, poll your sales staff about what would really float their sales boat.
  • Let creativity flow. A sales rep may yawn over another pen or plaque but be thrilled by free movie tickets. "Allow your imagination to run wild," says John Naples, president and founder of sales training company Encore Consulting Group in Santee, California. "Avoid dull at all costs." Naples recommends offering monthly, quarterly and annual perks, starting with modest monthly perks and building up the "wow" factor in quarterly and annual perks.
  • Tie rewards to specific sales achievements. Salespeople respond to well-articulated goals, so they'll want to know exactly what it takes to get particular perks. To keep reps motivated to go for the gold, Ron Coxsom, president and founder of GME Consulting Inc., a sales training and consulting firm in Nashville, Tennessee, encourages managers to track achievements quarterly rather than annually. Coxsom believes more timely tracking keeps reps invested in the process and will make them more motivated for the big reward: "People need to be guided-you can keep staff motivated all year long when you tie perks to an annual accomplishment."
  • Simple gestures are meaningful. Don't be trapped into thinking all perks must have a monetary value attached. Some perks cost nothing. Says Grensing-Pophal, "A handwritten note from the boss, a key client or a well-respected colleague can be very effective."

Never miss an opportunity to praise your sales staff when kudos are well-deserved. Consider leaving an effusive voice mail or writing a laudatory e-mail. Additional low-cost perks include sponsoring a free Friday afternoon lunch, allowing a top rep to pick his or her own schedule for a month, or granting a worthy rep an extra "comp" day off.

  • Make a deal. One way to keep a rein on the costs of perks is to investigate bartering or trade relationships, which can make larger prizes a possibility. Consider a trade partnership with a travel agency, for example, if you'd like to offer your hardworking reps getaways as incentives. Another way to offer no-cost perks is to keep in mind the sales ego. You can make a salesperson's week by featuring him or her in your company newsletter or granting an especially cushy parking space for a month.

Kimberly L. McCall (aka Marketing Angel) is the president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. (www.marketingangel.com), a business communications firm in Durham, Maine.