With incentive conferences at the heart of its marketing plan, London Pacific Life burst on the scene 11 years ago and has raced up the annuities sales charts.

As life insurers go, London Pacific is on the youthful side. Formed in 1989 by a seven-person team, the Sacramento, Calif.-based company remains "lean and mean," with barely 100 employees today, says Charlotte Stott, chief marketing officer and one of the original seven. Despite its relative youth and modest size, she notes, London Pacific ranked 26th in sales of annuities by independent agents in 1999 and was on track to bring that ranking up to 17th for 2000.

The reasons for the company's runaway success? Competitive products, good producer compensation packages, a high level of service, and serious investment in incentive meetings.

"We wanted to offer a different convention experience, something to make producers sell for an unknown company," Stott explains. "So we came out of the box in 1989 with the idea that we would do only international locations. The annual convention was an integral part of the marketing philosophy."

It still is. Stott points out that London Pacific "competes in a market where the product is a commodity. So if all things are equal, producers need a reason to put their business with us." In the past, some of those reasons have been New Zealand, Monte Carlo, Hong Kong, Bangkok, South Africa, and Bali. The company won Crystal Awards from the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives for its programs in 1996 and in 1999. "We do something mainstream, then we take them out on the edge. We go out as far as we can within the bounds of safety," Stott says.

"An exotic destination provides great marketing potential, but it's also a challenge because they may be a little bit afraid," adds Angela Romero, director of corporate communications. "So our promotional campaigns are based on educating them - on the food, the people, the language - so they feel at ease."

A Foundation of Trust Of course, with London Pacific's name attached to the conference, a certain level of trust and confidence is already established in the mind of the producer. Stott recounts the story of a producer who qualified for three trips to Australia in one year: "His wife went on only one of them - ours. She said she knew it would be the best."

London Pacific's convention generally has about 300 attendees - a size that allows relative intimacy among the participants. "People really get to know each other over the years and look forward to seeing each other," Romero points out. "We can do things on a more personal level. The service level that qualifiers get as agents carries over into the trip - they're treated like kings and queens."

Above and Beyond With a reputation for top-notch trips, London Pacific motivates a lot of producers to come right out of the gate each year aiming to qualify. However, the company began to face a drop-off in sales once agents did qualify. So Stott came up with a couple of ways to keep the motivational fires burning.

First, she added a top tier with no qualification limit. At the end of the qualification period, the 30 overall top-selling agents earn a three-night incentive trip extension. For example, after this year's trip to Bali, the top tier spent three nights at the legendary Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Stott is able to plan these extensions relatively inexpensively by booking them at destinations through which qualifiers would have to fly anyway, thereby saving big on airfare. "For minimal dollars, we get a tremendous amount of additional premium," Stott says. "We had one guy walk in with $300,000 in premium on the last day."

Another sales booster is the cash bonus program that kicks in during the last three months of the qualification period. A producer who has already qualified earns cash on site at the conference based on whatever additional premium he or she is able to bring in.

In the end, the proof is in the revenue. In 1999, London Pacific's incentive program in Cannes increased overall sales by $270 million, a 23 percent increase over the previous year. (Cannes also attracted 60 new qualifiers - the most first-timers ever.) And last year, the Top Thirty qualifiers, who represented 37 percent of total premium, increased their sales by 51 percent over the previous year.