Reward the right behavior

A 13-year-old sports fan is taking his time looking through every single poster in the store. This little store, The Sports Page, was about a mile and a half from his house and he would ride his bike or scooter there anytime he had at least $7 in his pocket. He would go after church on Sundays if he couldn't make it on Saturdays because of basketball, soccer, baseball, wrestling, track or tennis activities. This kid was really into sports. 

The boy didn't have an allowance, so coming up with $7 for a new Michael Jordan poster for his bedroom was a big deal. A few bucks tucked inside birthday cards could mean a new poster, but what if it could become many posters, he wondered. Those birthday dollars became the seed money he needed to start his poster-buying enterprise. 

On the way to school -- on his bike every day -- he would stop at the grocery store and get some bubblegum. A pack of Bubblicious or Hubba Bubba cost 30 cents and had 5 pieces. 

Grape was the most fragrant of the flavors. One good, big bubble early in the day at school would sell out his supply by lunch time. 

"Hey - you got any more gum?" a kid would inquire. Fish on.

"Got a quarter?" the boy countered. 

Each 30-cent pack would turn into a dollar through this pattern repeated most days. He had regular customers and grew his business by giving a piece each to a couple of the popular girls. They thought he was just being nice.

Throughout the day, kids would seek him out: "Kelly and Teresa said you have gum!" If Kelly and Teresa sent him business, they would get free gum tomorrow. If not, he would give Megan and Heather a shot. 

Over and over, he would turn 30 cents into a dollar, a 233% return. He would make $10 to $15 in a good week.

On this particular Sunday, he had a good week. With $15 to spend, he spent nearly an hour pouring over every inch of the Jordan posters. He narrowed it down to 3 favorites and finally picked 2. 

The store owner recognized the boy as someone who had cleaned him out of Cincinnati Reds memorabilia over the summer. The owner asked the boy why he spent so much time looking at the posters to only end up with 2. The boy explained that he only had $15, so he picked an eight-dollar poster and was trying to decide which seven-dollar poster to buy. 

"Why don't you go back over there and bring me that third poster so I can see it," the owner said. The boy fetches the poster while the owner prints a receipt. 

The owner unrolls the poster to look it over, gives it a nod of approval, rolls it up and puts it in the boys bag with the other posters. The boy is elated.

"You're one of my best customers, and I want to give you this as my thanks for spending your hard-earned money here." 

The Sports Page owner was rewarding the boy for his behavior in the same way that the boy rewarded referrals. The difference is that the store attracted the boy through proximity while the boy's method of growth was to try different sources. 

Rewards -- or a lack of them -- teach people how to treat you. If your key employee is late for the fifth time this month and gets to keep her job, she's being rewarded for bad behavior. When a customer brings you more business and it goes un-noticed, you're teaching him to not do it again. 

Rewarding the right behaviors will align your business resources around your goals. 

// Kyle Sexton is an award winning marketing strategist, speaker and author of two books. He speaks about marketing and alignment of leadership in business operations. He has introduced two new programs for 2015, including Follow You Anywhere and America's Pitch Tank with Kevin Harrington.