The popular saying “Never Make Assumptions” is being put into practice by several companies that are using Maritz Travel Inc.'s new Web-based research tool, Travel Insight. Introduced at last fall's Motivation Show, Travel Insight surveys employees — both qualifiers and those who did not qualify — about their award preferences, with the goal of giving incentive decision-makers insight into the types of trips that would motivate not only their top people, but their entire sales force.

One telecommunications company that has used the tool is contemplating significant changes to its annual sales incentive, according to Chris Gaia, Maritz Travel's vice president of marketing, based in St. Louis. The company, which has always done a large national program, found through a survey of its sales force that respondents preferred regional events. “They sent a very strong message that they preferred the intimacy of smaller programs,” says Gaia. So, even though contracts have been signed for the next two years, the company is adding regional elements to the next two trips, including networking events and awards ceremonies. After that, Gaia expects to break up the national program altogether.

The company also found that its salespeople, whom Gaia describes as “younger” in age, were willing to cut a night off the length of their program to travel to a sun-and-fun location. In addition, the survey questioned salespeople about their motivation to compete. Since the program has always been closed-ended, awarding trips to only the top 10 percent of the sales force, many respondents expressed frustration about “already knowing who was going to win, so why bother trying to compete,” says Gaia. “That has led to a lot of discussion and created a strong case for an open-ended program. As much as you try to make regions and territories fair, at the end of the day, there's always someone else who has more opportunity.”

Another company, a large insurance firm that spends more than $40 million on its travel incentive for agents, has just begun using Travel Insight “to see if this is the best they can do from that investment,” says Gaia. In this case, the company is surveying only those who have earned the trip in the past 10 years. But many of those winners have “dropped off,” as Gaia put it — and the company is trying to find out why. Among the issues being questioned: guest policies, whether children should be allowed, and whether the trip should be national or regional.

“These are questions that many companies ask themselves year after year,” says Gaia. “Everyone has opinions, but no one has facts. Now they have the research to prove it.”