by Leo Jakobson | October 09, 2017
Under its new leader, Maritz Motivation Solutions is doubling down on its strongly held belief that the relatively new science of how people think and why they act the way they do can help build better engagement and incentive programs. 

Maritz Motivation Solutions is one of the largest companies in the incentive business, and can make a strong case for being the oldest -- James Maritz saved the family jewelry business during the Great Depression by coming up with the idea of selling gold watches to companies as employee service awards -- but one of the ways it has differentiated itself in recent years is by its focus on and investment in the emerging fields of behavioral and decision science.

What the company hasn't done as well as it could have is communicating the value of that expertise to clients and potential clients, says Drew Carter, who took over as president of St. Louis-based Maritz Motivation Solutions late this summer.

"That is my No. 1 goal -- to make that connection more clear," Carter told Incentive. "In some cases, we've gotten a little over-focused on the program itself, and haven't done as good a job as we could have in communicating the value that our programs deliver." 

Doing that has, to some extent, caused clients to undervalue the firm's thought leadership, he says, adding, "the silver lining is that we do have this brilliant thought-leadership around things like loyalty programs, sales effectiveness programs, and engagement programs. I believe -- and we're working on quantifying -- that every dollar spent with Maritz on incentive programs, on rewards programs, on engagement programs, is a more productive dollar than they can spend with any other partner." 

Carter's background is in applying decision science to corporate settings -- his previous position was running AlixPartners' digital division, working with established companies to transform decision-making processes in order to help them avoid becoming Blockbuster in the face of the next emerging Netflix. 

Decision science, Carter explains, boils down to getting people to make decisions based on the analysis of data, using tools like machine learning and artificial intelligence, as opposed to making them "based on the idea, 'I have many years of experience, I know this business.'" 

At Maritz, he says, "I feel pretty confident in saying we have world-class behavioral sciences. So, when you combine our domain experience in incentives and rewards and engagement with great decision sciences and behavioral sciences, and our ability to execute programs and campaigns -- that's where the two worlds of my old company and this one come together."

He gives the example of helping an auto maker that is a Maritz Motivation Solutions client predict which buyers are the most likely to buy its cars. 

"If you know the people who are really likely to buy your brand, great," he says. "They will go and buy. Cut them out of the pool. And then take out the people who would never buy your brand. What you are left with are the people who might buy -- those are the ones you want to focus on. And that's where we transition from decision sciences into behavioral sciences. We use our behavioral sciences to say, 'If you know who might buy, these are the levers you might use to get them to buy.'"

Of course, saying this works is easy, proving it is not. That's why another of Carter's goals is to do a better job of showing how Maritz Motivation Solutions' expertise can bring a better return on investment. 

Companies are not running employee engagement programs simply to have more engaged workers, he notes by way of example. "You're running it because driving up engagement has a clear connection to driving up customer satisfaction, which has a clear connection to driving up revenue and profit," he says. But the key is to actually dig into the data to find the hard numbers that show not only that the link exists, but how much profit that engagement program is driving."

One tool Carter has is Maritz CX, a sister company focused on customer experience. When contracts allow Maritz Motivation Solutions and Maritz CX to share data, he says, "we're observing all the sales and transactions that are happening. We're able to see, 'when we did this, this is the result we saw in your customer satisfaction.'"

Linking that information lets Maritz Motivation Solutions see more than just whether the program works or not, Carter says. It lets he firm see on which customers that program works -- which is, of course, exactly what a client like that auto maker Carter described wants to know.

He adds, "We're seeing those metrics come to life, which is really exciting."