Over the past 12 years, if you were a top-performing agent for Life Investors Insurance Company of America, you could expect to be hitting the beach every March with 99 other top performers on the company's annual President's Trip. Last fall, Barbara Bahr, the Cedar Rapids, Iowa- based insurer's national marketing director, decided things ought to be more interesting.

"We had been doing the same thing for so long and presenting the qualifications the same way for so long, that you could basically tell by mid-year who would be going on the trip," Bahr explains. "We had been on maintenance mode year after year, so that you got the feeling the sales reps themselves felt the trip was an entitlement. We had to turn the heat up and make people want to do more."

Out of the Doldrums Bahr took over planning for the President's Trip just last summer. "This is the major incentive Life Investors offers its salespeople. We take our very best producers and managers to a top-notch location for a week's worth of relaxation in recognition of their efforts." Despite the importance of the meeting, it had been the same old event for a dozen years. So last fall, Bahr suggested to her boss, National Marketing Vice President Mike Kirby, that they take a new look at the old meeting. He agreed. Des Moines- based travel company ITA helped shape the final choice: The 1999 President's Trip attendees will board an Alaskan cruise in June.

The last three President's Trip destinations were the Bahamas, Kauai, and Puerto Vallarta. An Alaskan cruise is a more expensive option for the company, so that selection, in turn, led Life Investors to up the qualifications and to extend the qualifying period from 12 to 15 months. The combination of an exciting new destination and higher qualification levels has shaken the President's Trip out of its doldrums, making for a stronger incentive, says Bahr.

To motivate its field force even more, the company is offering extra incentives--exclusive shore excursions and cabin upgrades, for example--to those reps reaching beyond the initial qualification level.

"During the Bahamas trip last month, I chatted with a sales rep who usually writes the minimum qualifications to make the trip," Bahr says. "We talked about the 'do more, get more' philosophy, and by the end of the conversation he had committed himself to more than doubling his production!"

This is indicative of another important change in the way Life Investors thinks about incentive meetings--they're listening to what agents have to say.

The seven-day Alaska cruise will leave from Vancouver in June 1999. Response to the new destination, announced with much fanfare at the company's convention in January, has been tremendous, Bahr notes.

"While [previous locations] have been fabulous, it's tough to sell a destination you can see in the newspaper for $600 or $800 a person. You won't see Alaska in the paper discounted," she says. "Alaska is also unexplored territory, something unknown. It particularly appeals to the 50s age group, who said, 'Here's a trip for us.' And the younger generation likes it too, because it's perceived as something they couldn't do on their own nickel."

Based on the early response, Bahr is looking forward to next summer. "We're getting out of the box, we're off the beach, we're out of March. We're giving more when we get more," she says. "I'm confident we'll all be pleased with the results next June."