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The Psychological Power of Unexpected Sales Incentives

There are two types of rewards in any incentive program. One is expected rewards, given out for achieving sales goals or completing projects. The other is unexpected rewards, given spontaneously for on-the-spot accomplishments. Both types have their place in any healthy sales incentive program, but unexpected rewards are often pushed to the wayside by program leadership that either forgets all about them, or isn’t sure how or when to distribute them. This is a shame, because unexpected rewards can have hugely underestimated effects on the success of your sales incentive program—here’s how!

Why Surprise Sales Incentives Are Important for Your Sales Team

In 1973, psychologists seeking to understand the effects of rewards on activity performance asked a question: how does the expectation of a reward affect productivity? Gathering together children between 3 and 5 years old, the scientists stipulated only that the children must enjoy drawing for fun. They divided the children into three groups: those who were promised a reward on the condition that they draw a picture, those who received the same reward for the same action but weren’t told before taking part, and a control group who received nothing whether they drew or not.

After the initial experiment, the children’s drawing habits continued to be monitored. What the psychologists observed was surprising: the children who had grown to expect rewards lost interest in drawing and spent less time doing it overall. The children who had received rewards unexpectedly, on the other hand, notably increased their time on drawing.

Although it was conducted decades ago, this study can still frame how we think about sales incentive programs. When people know that they will receive a reward as compensation for a completed task—even if it’s something they enjoy doing—they become significantly less likely to do it without the continued reward. Spontaneous, non-repetitive rewards, on the other hand, serve as positive reinforcement for desirable behaviors.

There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to unexpected sales incentives—take a look at our slideshare below for more about the effects of surprise rewards and how to implement them into your incentive rewards program.

The Psychological Power of Unexpected Sales Incentives from Incentive Solutions