If we don't motivate our dealers to do business with us, we lose." That's the word from Brian Martenis, sales incentives manager at Bayard Sales Corp., where incentive travel has been an important part of the sales strategy for the past 35 years (that's when the Philadelphia, Penn.-based floor covering distributor held its first incentive program). "We do these trips not just to do business, but also to give people something they wouldn't necessarily buy on their own," he says. "And we get the opportunity to schmooze with them and show them a good time.That's important, because my job is to think up new reasons for people to do business with Bayard."
Martenis is much like the 71 other readers who responded to an informal end-of-'98 survey regarding their incentive programs. Most held the same number of trips in 1998 as they had in 1997 (54 percent), and the number of programs they're planning for 1999 is either up (26 percent), like at Bayard, or holding steady (65 percent). They're also spending the same in '99: 42 percent will have the same incentive budget as they did last year.
Tried and true If there's one message that comes across loud and clear when we speak with readers about their incentive programs, it's how ingrained they've become in companies' sales programs. Says Don Duck, manager of pricing incentives for John Deere's Commercial and Consumer Equipment Division, Raleigh, N.C., where the Circle of Excellence program has been in place for 14 years: "In all that time, it really hasn't changed that much."
The same with Cheryl Moritz, manager of major events, Motorola Semiconductor Product Center, Phoenix, Ariz., who says the budget for her trip, overall and per person, hasn't changed--"and neither have the details, for about the past eight years."
The changes we are seeing with these incentive travel programs are more along the lines of a tune-up, rather than a major overhaul: a change in an event or activity here, a little more free time for participants there. For example, at MFA Oil Co. in Columbia, Mo., Director of Communications Diane Searcy reports that at least 20 percent of her company's incentive trip is now unstructured, "where in the 70s, we organized--and paid for--everything."
What else has changed? First, how far out readers plan their programs: 55 percent say they make their plans less than a year in advance. Second, who's handling the logistics as companies continue to cut back their meeting/incentive planning staffs: Often, it's you. Forty percent of the readers we spoke with, most of whom held the title of president or vice president of sales/, are involved in the hands-on decision making and planning. The third most significant change: A growing number of the readers we spoke with (29 percent) outsource their planning to travel agencies, rather than incentive firms--a practice that was far less common a few years ago.
Another important trend is toward using incentives for employees other than internal salespeople (46 percent of readers said they do). Allan Lunsford, president of the Lunsford Group in Newport Beach, Calif., holds what he calls "educational incentives" for staff at every level, bringing in speakers such as Steve Jobs or Tom Peters. A 1999 trip to Atlanta will include meetings and networking with top executives from local high-tech companies; a recent trip took employees behind the scenes at Disney corporate headquarters to learn about the company's customer service strategies. The purpose of the trips is not only to reward employees, but "to inculcate to employees that they're supposed to be constant learners," says Lunsford. "They don't only want money, or a trip; they want meaning in their lives."
Trip trends Just as the length of the average American family vacation has shortened, so has the average incentive trip. Among the readers we spoke with, 60 percent now keep their trips under four days. Even international trips are shorter. Says Martenis: "Nine years ago, a European trip was eight nights. We found that was too long--the destination becomes a little boring.
At MFA Oil, the decision was made to forego an incentive trip for the internal salespeople altogether in '99 to use a more exotic destination in 2000 (possibly Hawaii or Jamaica). "Everything is so expensive," says Searcy. "We decided that if we're going to continue to do it, let's do it right."
At First Supply Group, La Crosse, Wis., Vice President of Sales Elliot Collier reports that his company for the first time combined the incentive programs of its 14 wholesalers into one company-wide program last year, taking a total of 1,900 qualifiers and guests on three separate programs to Munich, Acapulco, and Las Vegas. The program, held in honor of the company's 100th anniversary, was so successful that they will do a company-wide trip again in 1999, this time taking top customers to England and Paris.
Like First Supply Group, a vast majority of readers we spoke with are true believers in the effectiveness of travel as an incentive. Of the 53 percent who use tiered incentive programs, combining travel with cash and merchandise awards, 72 percent say travel is the most effective motivator. Says Jack Dutton, Executive Vice President at Hydraserve, Indianapolis, Ind. (which has been holding travel incentives on and off for the past 28 years), "People use cash to pay bills or to buy Christmas gifts. A trip forces them to get out of their routine, to get away. They appreciate it more."
Other findings Other highlights from this year's survey:
* 65 percent of respondents include meetings on their incentive trips.
* 38 percent use team incentives.
* 51 percent use individual incentive trips.
* 70 percent take their incentive programs out of the country, primarily to Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Europe, but also to such far-flung destinations as Singapore and Fiji.
* 49 percent have used a cruise for an incentive program, primarily to the Caribbean.