We are often asked “What are the most motivational awards to offer?” and our answer is “it depends.” There is no silver bullet when it comes to selecting the perfect incentive trip.  There is no one-size-fits-all incentive trip.  Each program should be carefully designed with these back-to-the-fundamentals factors to discover the most motivational rewards for your audience:


The first step, the most important step, is defining your goals. The #1 mistake made by frantic companies is racing to implementation without clear, concise, written goals.

Your goals should support your overall company strategy. They should be tailored to reflect today’s realities of your market, your customers, and your target audience. Increasing sales is the most common incentive objective; however, we suggest being more specific. What product? What sales channel? New customers or selling more to existing?

We recommend keeping your goals S.M.A.R.T:


Choose just one or two focused goals so program participants can channel their efforts effectively. For example, instead of saying, “increase sales,” state your goal as, “increase sales by 12% in the healthcare vertical market between July 1 and December 31.”


Be sure your goals involve quantifiable activities that can be measured easily. For example, a salesperson’s success can be measured by tracking increases in units sold, orders or new customer contracts – in dollars or percentages.


It’s tempting to set the bar high, hoping to achieve dramatic improvement and excite everyone in the process. However, overly-ambitious goals can backfire if they seem unattainable to the participants in the program and could demoralize them.


To be meaningful and have a long-lasting impact, your goals must align with the company’s overall objectives. Is retaining key customers the priority? Or is the company investing resources in growing a new product line or market segment?


Consider any seasonal highs and lows that occur in your business during the period chosen for the incentive and then adjust the date range accordingly. Also, be sure to consider the sales cycle when setting a timeline as well.

RESIST trying to accomplish all of your goals in one program at once. Setting up a firm foundation lays the groundwork for future endeavors. Focus on the most important objectives. Start simple. Tackling too much will cripple your launch and confuse participants. Prioritize three goals or less.

Say to yourself:

I can increase sales….

Of ______________________________ (Product)

In _______________________________(Market)


During ____________________________(Timeframe)

By_______________________________($ or %)


Analyzing your audience and their desires are imperative to designing trips that will truly motivate. Spend some time considering answer these questions. 


Is your team entry-level or seasoned? Are there regional preferences from one office to the next? Keep in mind that some awards are going to fall flat with certain audiences. If your sales team is younger, the golfing getaway might not resonate.  The VP’s motivations are generally much different than the rep’s.


Even more important than demographics are the psychographics. Measuring the level of buy-in and initial engagement, whether they’re extrinsically or intrinsically motivated, and the general attitude or interests of your team will be the largest factor in designing a truly aspirational incentive. 

Two good questions:

  • Are you focusing on the top 20% of performers, the lowest 20% of performers, or the 60% in the middle? Remember, even a small improvement by the big group in the middle 60% can have the most significant incremental benefit.
  • Does your audience have expectations based on previous experience with other incentive programs that either your company or competitors have run?


You have likely already settled on the length of the sales incentive qualifying period.  Program length should always be considered when selecting the appropriate reward.

Research consistently suggests that programs too short in duration often fail to achieve buy-in because it takes people too long to learn about them before they’re expected to act. Alternatively, longer-term programs can suffer from “program burnout” because employees simply lose interest.

Also, make sure the prize value matches the length of time you have worked to motivate the audience. A 3-night weekend trip to Las Vegas might work well for a 3-month quarter contest, but for a full-year contest, a 6-night trip to Monaco would be better. 

Pros and Cons

There are pros and cons to each award type. While travel incentives can be time-consuming and expensive to plan and manage, a President’s Club trip will produce memorable experiences that last a lifetime.  Alternatively, a cash bonus might be easy to administer, but cash rewards can get confused with recurring compensation. 

As SITE readers know, that’s the beauty of incentive travel.  Prior SITE Foundation research identified several key reasons why non-cash awards are best for sales incentive programs:

1. Evaluability
2. Separability
3. Justifiability
4. Social Reinforcement
5. Memorable
6. Promotable

Mike May, CMP, CITP, IP, is President and owner of Brightspot Incentives & Events in Dallas, TX.  Incentive Magazine recognized Mike as one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in the Incentive Industry, and BizBash named him on its list of Top 500 in Events.  Mike is a strong industry supporter serving as the 2018-2019 Chairman of the Trustees of the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF), a past member of the Performance Improvement Council of the Incentive Marketing Association, and a frequent industry presenter. Brightspot has won multiple Motivation Masters Awards from Incentive Magazine, and Meetings & Conventions recognized it on their list of the “Best Places to Work in the Meetings Industry.”  He is also the author of 12.5 Steps to a Perfect Incentive Program, a comprehensive how-to guide filled with incentive tips, actionable advice, and industry research.