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Let's Make a Deal

Incentives should be as individual as the people you sell to. Find out what your client values the most, and then give it to them. You'll be making an offer they can’t refuse.

What’s the first word you think of when I say “incentive”?

If it’s “discount”, you’re not alone. Many salespeople believe that reducing their price is the only way to get the customer to bite. While discounts certainly occupy a place of honor in the Incentive Hall of Fame, they’re far from the best (or only) way to prompt a customer to action.

Incentives are used to seal the deal, accelerate the buying timeline, gauge the seriousness of a buyer, win over stubborn executives, throw your contact a bone and beat the competition. With so many possible applications, it’s naive to think that discounting is the answer to everything.

The best incentives are specific to each customer and address their most prominent need or concern. Offer them something that they value, and you’ll win the deal every time.

Designing a compelling incentive begins with you knowledge of the customer, and what’s most important to them. If

you’re at the point where you’re trying to close a deal, chances are you’ve had plenty of interactions with the client. You should know what they value, and this becomes the cornerstone of your offer.

For example, I was pitching a client who was taking forever to make a decision. My contact was delaying because he feared that his people wouldn’t be adequately trained to use my software platform. I offered him three days of free training if he signed the contract immediately, and he took the deal.

Another client wanted to be recognized as an industry leader in their space. We negotiated a co-marketing program that included webinars, press releases and even a roadshow. Even though my proposal was the most expensive, I won the business.

As you can see from these examples, discounting wouldn't have addressed either client's highest priority. Instead, I offered them something they wanted, and in turn got something I wanted. This is how you design winning incentives.

If you’re unsure how to motivate your client, ask them. Test the waters and offer suggestions to see what the client responds to. Show them that you're committed to finding a solution and working together. As one corporate buyer told me, “In nine cases out of ten, I end up buying from the vendor who meets my needs and is easy to work with.”

I have offered every single one of these incentives to clients to help me make a deal:

  • Favorable or delayed payment terms

  • Extended contract terms (13-month term instead of 12-months, for example)

  • Shared risk (“skin in the game”)

  • Guarantees

  • Free upgrades

  • Supplemental or add-on products

  • Complimentary training

  • Access to power (executives)

  • Consulting

  • Publicity, press release or case study

  • Co-marketing activities

  • Participation in a webinar

  • Inclusion in certain groups (beta testers)

  • Speaking opportunities

  • Onsite visits or tours with customers

  • Discounts

Incentives are most effective when they’re offered to the right client at the right time. I follow the “50% Rule”, which states that I only take action when I believe the client has a 50% or higher chance of buying from me. Don’t throw then around like candy from a Mardi Gras float; clients have no motivation to buy now when they know that the same offer will still be good in six months. When you’re ready, get on the phone to the client:

“Hi Lisa, we’ve been talking for a few months now about my new product and how valuable it would be for your business. I’ve racked my brain for a way to make this work given your current constraints, and I have some ideas I’d like to share. Let’s connect as soon as possible and I’ll walk you through the specifics…"

Everyone appreciates a salesperson who brings good new ideas to the table. Lisa may not bite on my offer, but perhaps she’ll tell me what would compel her to buy. She and I can work together to structure a deal that helps everyone to win. Plus, by sharing ownership in this process, she becomes an advocate. This will be helpful when we need to find money and sell her executive.

Think of incentives as small concessions that lead to far greater rewards. The key is understanding what the customer really wants, and then giving it to them. You’ll sign more deals, create happier customers and add a dose of creativity to your sales process.

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