I had this saved in my “write about someday” folder:

The author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry on motivating others:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast endless sea.”

Everyone’s Baby is Beautiful


However, in my opinion, most newborns look a bit like a NYC cab driver from central casting (including my own!). But, when you look down on that newly minted human’s face, it is the most beautiful thing in the world, and no one can tell you differently. That face is so beautiful you will spend the next 18-60 years guiding, molding, nudging, rewarding, punishing, etc. And almost without regard, they will still be beautiful after all that time and after all that effort.

Even when (not if ) they don’t meet expectations… they will still be beautiful.

Why do you think that is?

I Don’t Make Garbage

It’s because every child you create and invest in (or adopt – it’s about the overall effort, not the DNA contribution that matters here), is a piece of you. They are a representation of your values, beliefs, practices, habits, and character. They are, using a business term, your work product. And your work is top-notch! I use the “beautiful baby” allegory for this post but it would apply to artwork you’ve made, a sculpture you gave your Mom when you were in 3rd grade, or that meatloaf no one would eat. 

When you pour your heart and soul into something it becomes much more important to you. In many instances, you become so attached to your “creation” you reject changes, updates or interference from anyone else. Have you tried to parent someone else’s child? Not a good look.

But why is this important – and why is your marketing initiative ugly? 

Because you’re think you know what’s best.

Program Design is Your Baby (and if you’re smart, theirs too…)

I’ve worked with 100s of companies on their sales incentives and channel incentives.

I’ve only had 2 who asked me to include their target audience in the discussion around the building of, and ongoing operation of, their marketing/incentive programs. I ALWAYS recommend this step, but most companies believe they know what they want and need and decline to invest the time and money.

Unfortunately, designing a program unilaterally, from inside the machine, won’t get you optimal results. You need your audience to be part of the design and update process.

Asking your target audience to provide input (and then using it!!!) will almost guarantee a more successful campaign than doing the “design/launch/wait” strategy. It will be more successful because, from your audience’s point of view, it is their baby. And their baby is the best!

Engagement Begins at the Beginning

Most clients ultimately want long-term engagement from their audience (sales or channel). They want their audience to pay attention, provide feedback, give them insights and clues to how to best support their efforts and buy their products. Yet, in the one place where they could really help – program design – we seem to want to shy away from getting their feedback.

If you don’t engage with the design, what does that say about your overall commitment to “engagement” in the channel – or with your employees for that matter.

Not asking for input is the same as saying “your input doesn’t matter.”

Not the best way to start a relationship.

How to Design With Input

How do I do it?

Simple. For every client program design engagement I survey the target audience at the start. Asking:

  • What are the pros/cons of their current program if there is a current program.
  • Is there a program that they were in that was a great program? What made it great.
  • What program were they in that was horrible – ask for examples of why they were horrible.
  • How they want to be recognized and rewarded.
  • Their communication preferences.

Only after I get that information, I move to create an initial program design.

Then – as part of the recommendation I include ongoing surveys, input mechanism, engagement ideas – that get the audience to help me continue to create programs THEY find valuable.

In other words – to riff off of a quote attributed to Ben Franklin: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

As I said at the beginning of the post – motivation is about getting people to WANT to do something. Making them the co-architects of the outcome is one sure way to make it personal and important.

Therefore, I’d add this to the Antoine de Saint-Exupery quote:

“Once you instill the desire for the sea – involve them in how to go about making it happen.”

Do you really know what your channel wants, desires, likes, hates?

If you can’t answer that with data don’t bother answering.

And expect mediocre results.

I’ve seen it.

PS: And my kids are still beautiful!