Have Sales Reps, Will Travel

By Malcolm Fleschner

The typical sales manager’s resume rarely includes a stint working as a travel agent. That’s too bad, seeing as how nowadays many sales directors, VPs of sales and other senior-level sales executives find themselves responsible for developing incentive travel programs designed to motivate a diverse team of frontline sales professionals.

Rather than face this imposing task alone, sales managers increasingly are choosing to partner with outside agencies that specialize in creating customized travel incentives. Problem solved, right? Sure, but first you have to find a capable agency with talented people who will work to craft a program ideally suited to meet your organization’s needs. For tips on finding just such a partner, Selling Power spoke with Brooke Bryand, senior events manager for The Castle Group (www.thecastlegrp.com), a Boston-based incentive solutions company. She suggests a variety of strategies for finding the right travel incentive match.

“Word of mouth is of course strong advertising, so asking colleagues in or outside of your industry is a great start,” she says. “In addition, a local convention and visitors bureau can point you in the right direction and provide a list of potential companies. Finally, you can look to event industry organizations such as Meeting Planners International for a listing of local members. Regardless of which way you find your future partner, it is imperative to get multiple references and talk to customers who have used that company in the past to get their take on the experience.”

When speaking with past clients be sure to ask for specific examples of how the agency used their creativity, how they managed the program’s budget and whether they were readily accessible, Bryand says. More capable agencies will do everything possible to help a sales organization move toward its goals and objectives while also overseeing the logistics of hotel and airline reservations, room gifts, awards, activities and evening galas, she adds.

An agency can’t be expected to do all the work, however. Before your new partner can create the perfect program to match your specific needs you’ll have to figure out just what those needs are. Bryand suggests beginning by determining the program’s goals.

“This might include a percentage increase in sales, an increase in the customer base, such as a referral program, or a more abstract goal of bettering the company through creative ideas, even in nonsales departments,” she suggests. “You also should determine the budget you would like to spend and let your incentive partner help you determine how to divide the budget, such as between promotions and trip logistic costs. Knowing how many people you would like to bring is helpful when determining what type of destination and resort you can afford. For example, if it is more important to have as many winners as possible a lower-budget, all-inclusive option that would control on-site costs such as food and beverage might be best. If you are looking for an intimate luxury program for fewer winners that gives them a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience a private dinner in the Eiffel Tower or a private tour through the Vatican museum might be the way to go.”

Follow these simple instructions and you should be well on your way to a highly motivational, profitable and problem-free travel incentive program. As a word to the wise, Bryand offers a set of red flags to help identify a less reputable or potentially inept agency.

“One red flag would be if an agency does not fully disclose how they are charging the organization for their services,” she says. “Common methods are charging a percentage of the overall budget, charging a flat fee regardless of the budget climbing or decreasing or charging a general markup on all items with no separate line item appearing in the budget for agency services. An incentive agency needs to be flexible to adjust the payment method to what works for the sales organization. Another red flag would be if the testimonial says the agency was difficult to reach or had an extremely slow turnaround time. The events management industry is a service industry and it is important to remember that. Incentive programs are the product, but ultimately it is the service that makes a program exceptional.”