Two-Way Street

PR, social media, events and incentives – Collaboration & communication ideas for demanding businesses from The Castle Group's Mark O'Toole

Fargo = Fail

Posted by thecastlegroup on December 15, 2010

Castle co-founder Wendy Spivak has been building large-scale, successful incentive programs for companies and their sales forces for two decades. But she’s never planned an incentive to Fargo. Read below for her thoughts on a company that recently has traveled to Fargo — in December.

I just read an article about a sales incentive program that failed.  And I felt very conflicted—impressed by the publicity it garnered and by the way the sales team made the best of it, but on the other hand….IT FAILED TO ACHIEVE ITS GOALS.

Here’s what happened: a candy company created a sales incentive program to motivate its sales team to achieve certain goals.  If they achieved those goals, they would win a company-paid trip to Hawaii.  If not, they were going to Fargo, North Dakota.  Definitely clever.  BUT, they didn’t achieve, and they went to North Dakota.  The article includes images of the employees bundled up and freezing.  They made the best of it—wearing company-logo’d hats, they had a lot of winter team-building activities planned, and they handed out care packages of the company’s candy to the locals.

I LIKE the ingenuity, the opportunity to market and team-build, and create a memorable experience.

But again, THEY DID NOT MEET THEIR GOALS.  So while there was some goodwill and esprit de corps and even a little marketing, the incentive did not have the intended impact on the bottom line.

At Castle, we plan, manage and market sales incentive programs for many leading national and international organizations, across a number of industries.  And we always start with the GOAL in mind—not where do you want to go, what will make people happy, but “what numbers are you trying to achieve,” and then we figure out how to hit those numbers.  Maybe in the case of this candy company, there were some key elements overlooked.  Perhaps they didn’t fully market the program during its life span, to keep momentum and enthusiasm high, and ensure people’s eyes were on the prize (the good prize, not the consolation prize).  Maybe the numbers were unrealistic.  Maybe the program didn’t have time to “bake.”  But something went wrong.

So I remain conflicted.  As a professional in this industry, I appreciate the creativity involved, and as an employer, I appreciate the employee experience the company created.  But as a businessperson who takes my clients’ goals and ROI very seriously, I don’t think that’s enough to make this more than an interesting story about failure.

What do you think? Is a reward for a job kind of well done worthwhile? How do incentivize your teams?

2 Responses to “Fargo = Fail”

  1. Ryan Lucia said

    The point you missed was that this wasn’t just an “incentive program.” It was the location of their national sales meeting. If they hit their goal, the meeting would be held in an exotic location (ie. Hawaii), if they missed it their sales meeting would be held in Fargo. You’re right in the sense that the incentive failed, but in this case, the sales force was taking a trip regardless of whether they hit their goal or not.

  2. Thanks Ryan. Maybe the sales meeting is vital to Just Born’s structure, or maybe not. Would a virtual meeting have been message enough that the team needs to hit its goals? Or does Fargo serve as incentive to execute better in 2011? We think if the right programs, managed correctly, were in place throughout the year, the Just Born team would be in shorts and t-shirts.

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