Revving up sales
By maggie rauch
February 1, 2004
For a racecar driver, finding the guts to floor the pedal and make a final push at the end of the race is simple. He can see the finish line and the competition closing in on it with him—the sight of that checkered flag is all the encouragement he needs. But most salespeople find it harder to create that kind of motivation at the end of the year.
Labor Ready, in Tacoma, Wash., combats the year-end doldrums with a contest to keep workers focused. Its 779 branches provide temporary labor for landscaping, construction, and other manual work.
"The last couple of months of the year are a great time for us to call on clients," says Tom Stonich, vice president for human resources and training at Labor Ready, which has offices in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. "It's extremely important to encourage our people to really get out in front of customers in November and December."
To accelerate its sales activity, Labor Ready created the "Pedal to the Metal" contest, giving employees the chance to win, among other prizes, a trip to the NASCAR Daytona 500.
For the contest, Labor Ready divided its branches by size—creating flyweight, middleweight, heavyweight and exempt (new branches) divisions—and put them in competition with one another.
The top supervisor at each branch tracked employees' billed hours for the dates between November 15 and December 26. Only time spent in front of clients was counted toward the total hours. Winners were those teams whose time logged on sales calls increased the most over the previous year. Year-old branches competed to see who could develop the most new accounts over the same time period.
"A lot of those sales calls won't generate any business until a few months down the road," Stonich acknowledges. "But by the time March and April come around, we'll be reaping what we sowed in December."
The manager of the top branch in each division won a trip for two to the Daytona 500. The first, second and third place winners in each division received points to be divided up among employees and redeemed for prizes through the company's "Spirit of Excellence" program.
To encourage Labor Ready's representatives to call on prospects and former customers, each branch was provided with a certain number of NASCAR wall and desk calendars to distribute.
"It helps to give them something they can put in a prospect's hand. NASCAR's a good fit for us," Stonich explains, adding that Labor Ready sponsors a race track company.
At the beginning of this year, a company-wide e-mail announced the winners of the contest, and the rankings of all the branches were posted on the Labor Ready's intranet. This was the second time Pedal to the Metal was implemented. The first round, at the end of 2002, propelled the company into a strong year, in which it increased production by 50 percent.
Recognize and retain
Labor Ready first adopted a company-wide incentive program about two-and-a- half years ago to help it develop a unified corporate identity and to improve retention rates.
"We did incentive programs, but managers mostly planned them on their own and financed them out of their own pockets," Stonich remembers. "We wanted something that would bring the company together and be more cost-effective." Stonich met with Chip Separk, president of CS Recognition Solutions in Raleigh, N.C., and Jim Bittner, an Avon, Co.-based representative for Hinda Incentives.
"One problem they had was turnover for their customer service representatives," says Separk. As is often the case with non-sales employees, these workers felt they were left out when others were recognized. The awards for which these employees could have qualified—ones recognizing years of service with the company—didn't kick in until the five-year mark, a milestone few ever reached.
Separk, Bittner and executives at Labor Ready designed the Spirit of Excellence program, which launched in October 2001. The company's quarterly newsletter notified all employees that they could receive awards for achievement in several categories: years of service with the company (starting after six months); outstanding performance as determined by their direct supervisors; referring new hires; hitting specific sales milestones; and retaining temporary workers.
Awards in the Spirit of Excellence program come in the form of points that employees can redeem from an online catalog for prizes ranging from travel to electronics to jewelry.
Winners of the years of service awards also receive tokens of appreciation such as key rings, desk accessories and plaques.
The bottom line
Laurie Irwin, a training branch manager in Clairemont Mesa, Calif., has benefited significantly from Labor Ready's program. Since October 2001, she's earned a total of 572,000 points—including 200,000 for referring a new manager, another 200,000 for training other employees and 125,000 for winning the Pedal to the Metal contest with her branch this year.
Like many other employees, Irwin redeemed her first points for electronics. Last May, she ordered herself a 24-inch flat-screen TV with DVD and VCR. And last month, she used most of the remaining points to take her family on a trip to New Zealand.
Labor Ready recognizes winners in its quarterly newsletter and at regular meetings and events. The public thank-yous go a long way.
"Letting their colleagues know what they've achieved is very important," Stonich says.
Spirit of Excellence and the offshoot programs that it has created (like Pedal to the Metal) have contributed to Labor Ready.
"Our entire corporate culture has shifted, and the incentive program is definitely a big part of that," Stonich says. "Our turnover rates for managers have gone down 50 percent, and for other employees, they have been reduced by 30 percent."
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