by William Keenan Jr.
Sales forces can get a little jaded when it comes to incentive programs. So when a company is looking to create a little excitement around a program to motivate and engage its salespeople, it needs to look carefully at the design and execution of the program to ensure that it meets its performance goals. And that’s just what pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk did when it created an incentive program to launch its type two diabetes medication Victoza this past February.
The company turned to Performance Plus Marketing (PPM) of Roswell, GA, to put together a program to engage its largely twenty-something sales force. Key goals: educating salespeople and motivating them to sell the drug to the company’s healthcare customer base – a significant challenge, according to Jamie Jones, Novo Nordisk Sales Director for the Victoza Commercialization Team.
“The average age of our frontline sales force is about 28, and the average manager is in his mid-30s,” says Jones. “It’s a totally different environment from when I sold back in the 1990s, so we wanted to pay attention to those Generation X and Generation Y salespeople to make sure we had a program that encouraged behavior and offered rewards consistent with how those people think.”
Novo Nordisk’s goals for the program in terms of behavior improvement were similar to those for any sales program – with a few twists. “A lot of it centers around sales behavior and creating a passion behind the brand,” Jones explains. “And of course because we’re pharmaceutical company and we call our salespeople Diabetes Care Specialists, we wanted to be sure we had the clinical information down pat. So we wanted to build excitement for training and continuous learning into the program, as well as the performance factor. But the number one goal overall was to make sure that our 2,100-plus salespeople were prepared and ready to launch Victoza.”
Performance Plus Marketing accepted the challenge and came up with a unique launch and 18-month performance program that it calls “Club V.”
“Our experience has shown that an effective sales incentive program has to be exciting enough to draw the participant in with an element of fun so they can quickly begin the engagement process,” says Wendy Wagner, PPM’s VP of Client Service. “So we looked at the young demographic – mostly Gen X and Gen Y – and asked, ‘What motivates them? What gets them excited?’”
PPM came up with a nightclub-themed program it dubbed Club V, incorporating the checkmark “V” from the Victoza logo into the graphics for the program. Reflecting the program’s young demographic – tech savvy, striving to balance work and life, focused on results, fun and efficiency – Club V seemed like a perfect match.
According to Wagner, “Club V brought a little of the non-work life into the mix. It was a current, on top of trends, cutting-edge concept that was actualized both in virtual terms on the website that supported the program and as a physical presence during an evening event that capped off Novo Nordisk’s 5-day national sales meeting.”
During the course of the week-long sales meeting, salespeople were introduced to Victoza and were scored on different knowledge-based activities. In particular, they went through role-plays and different certification exercises in order to be certified to sell the drug. There were even daily quizzes to ensure that salespeople were getting up to speed on Victoza.
“During the course of the week we had room drops with Club V-themed messages to tease salespeople with the message that ‘You want to do well, because there is a big payoff coming at the end,’” Wagner says.
The major Club V event came at the end of the week. “It was basically our product launch meeting, and the launch of our Club V performance reward program as well,” says Jones. “The evening had a Vegas feel and recreated a very hot, very fresh club scene.” The idea was to make everyone feel they were coming in on a red carpet – to feel like they were part of an exclusive group and experience the environment that Club V was promoting.
To build another level of motivation into the launch, the Club V event also included an elite dimension called The Vault. “The Vault was positioned as an exclusive club, similar to a nightclub with a VIP-only guest list,” says Wagner. Only top performers – those whose scores ranked in the top 10% in the daily quizzes, team-building events and workshops during the week – were admitted into the Vault. These VIPs were treated to special entertainment, upgraded food and drink, a swag bag and other prizes.
“The Vault area was sectioned off from the rest of the event and had a physical vault door – and only VIPs could get in there,” says Wagner. “Top performers had their name on a list that gave them access. We had bouncers. And you couldn’t see behind the vault door or the screened-off area, so obviously everyone wanted to get in.”
The results from the launch event were exceptional, according to Jones. “We had 100% sales force participation in the event – they all were there,” he says. “And over 95% of the salespeople participated in the daily quizzes for the opportunity to earn prizes and get into the Vault area during the Club V event.”
Jones notes that the feedback from salespeople reflected that same excitement. “You only get to launch a drug so many times in your sales career, so we wanted to make sure that it was an unforgettable event for all who took part, and we think Club V helped to accomplish that.”
The launch was only the beginning of the sales incentive program. “That success continued after the drug was launched and turned into a very robust performance reward program, which continues through the end of this year,” says Jones, adding that salespeople can keep on earning points for sales performance, behaviors and participation in ongoing learning activities – “well over 90% of our salespeople have earned points that they can redeem in an awards mall,” he notes.
PPM helps keep the excitement going via a website that also uses the Club V theme, as well as through a variety of communications and media. “We’ve done some direct mail pieces that we sent to [salespeople’s] homes to keep the program top-of-mind and to let spouses or significant others know that there’s something significant at stake and prizes to be won,” explains Wagner. “At the website, they can check their points, participate in quizzes online and get ongoing information about the program and how they’re doing. We also do emails, redemption initiatives and other things like that to keep participants engaged.”
Wagner adds that the products available in the awards mall have also been selected to appeal to the young demographic of the group. “We communicate with them in ways that they want to be communicated with, in ways that are meaningful to them,” he says, “and sometimes that means having several different communications vehicles and changing your message and medium to address your demographic – email, text, blog, Twitter, whatever.”
Novo Nordisk has also made an effort to use feedback from its salespeople to make improvement to the program along the way. “We constantly ask for the sales force’s input and feedback to tweak things as we go,” Jones says. “Things like: Do we need to have different types of awards? Do we need to communicate more? Do we need to communicate less? How do you want us to communicate about the program?”
The results speak for themselves. “One of the biggest challenges we always have in this type of program is encouraging that continuous learning effort – keeping it in an adult learning environment and making it fun and passionate for salespeople,” says Jones. “We think we accomplished that through the Club V program.”
Sales performance has also been exceptional. “The program isn’t over yet, but we know that sales have been way ahead of target, and Novo Nordisk attributes a lot of that success to people being excited and engaged with the program,” Wagner says.
Adds Jones: “It has been an extremely successful launch for us. The program has provided us with much better performance than even we thought possible.”