by Leo Jakobson | March 02, 2018

When Global Furniture Group first tried running an incentive travel program for the channel dealers that sell its office furniture in the early '90s, it left them, "deeply disappointed," says Jeff Broudy, president of Philadelphia-based United Incentives. "They just used a giant travel company that didn't really know what they were doing" when it came to incentive travel.

As a result, says Broudy, whose firm runs the Global Grand Getaway program, "they put it on hiatus for almost 20 years." Then six years ago, Global decided to give it another try. The result is a very popular and successful incentive program with a strong influence on the people who sell its workplace, education, and healthcare furniture, particularly the frontline salespeople. It is also the winner of Incentive's 2017 Grand Motivation Master Award.

"When we decided to embark upon the travel programs, the goal was really to create a program that distinguishes us as offering the best incentive trips in the industry, because they have lots of choices," says Alan Breslow, the company's executive vice president of sales and marketing. "There are a lot of different travel programs out there in our industry. The goal was really to create a program that will help enhance our brand, build loyalty. We want our guests to leave saying, 'That was the best trip that I've ever had.' I think we have done a very good job distinguishing ourselves."

And they didn't do it by spending more money than everyone else. While Global's competitors offer incentive travel to "more exotic destinations," Breslow adds, Global has stuck to warm-weather destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean, often using all-inclusive properties and booking brand-new resorts -- sometimes before they have opened -- to keep costs in line.

This year, Global took the 415 program winners to the new Secrets Akumal Riviera Maya resort in Mexico, an adults-only, all-inclusive luxury property that is part of AMResorts

"While the destination is very important, the takeaway and what we do for our guests is the most important part," Breslow believes. "We choose and use very nice destinations, but we don't just take people to a destination. Equally important is what we do when we're together."

The results speak for themselves. As much as 9 percent of Global's annual sales are attributed to the incentive travel program. Salespeople from new customers -- with zero previous sales -- represented 11 percent of program qualifiers. And 90 percent of the Global Grand Getaway's attendees say it is one of, if not the, best loyalty programs in the industry.

Frontline Focus

The program is unusual in that not only is it focused on the frontline salespeople, the managers and owners of the companies whose employees participate in the Global Grand Getaway (GGG) rely on floor salespeople, continuing to rack up points after qualifying to get them their own invitations. 

"A lot of travel incentives are focused at ownership and management of customers," Breslow says. "We actually focus our program on the sellers."

Specifically, once the frontline salespeople reach their goal and qualify for the trip, any additional sales they make go into a separate pool that benefits both them and their bosses, explains Michael Fishman, director of marketing and design for Global. 

"If they hit another (higher) qualifier mark, these points combine to earn extra trips for that firm, and they can assign that to a principal or a sales manager or someone who would benefit from being on the trip," he says. The sellers earning those points also benefit, with the points qualifying them for five additional award levels. 

"Those could be excursions, room upgrades, suites, spa treatments, private transfers, private dining, you name it," Fishman says. "We come up with 50 different things worth all different values. It could even be a Visa gift card for $250 that they could spend on the trip. Last year we had 69 additional incentive winners. People do get engaged." And that engagement helps move the end-user customer in turn.

Beyond that, Breslow says, the GGG program does include some dealership owners and senior managers who are invited, generally from dealerships with which Global is in the process of developing a relationship.

"We do have a VIP evening that we will host a smaller group -- typically owners and managers or a really high leader from a sales standpoint," he notes.

The Moment of Impression

It is important to remember how channel incentive programs actually work, Broudy says. The sale to the person actually taking the sponsoring company's product home (or to the office) is not the sale that wins points for an incentive trip.

"In channel distribution, you're really rewarding [the distributor's] purchase of your product from the sponsor -- because they've actually found a [retail] customer that they will sell it to," Broudy says. "Everybody who comes into a retail environment already vaguely knows what they want, but the product is sold, not bought. At that moment of impression, that first look, the people on the ground -- these salespeople -- are the ones who are really going to determine whether that [retail customer] is going to buy this product or that product."

He adds: "The great opportunity missed by many companies is the moment of impression at the point of sale with a customer."

United Incentives' decades of experience in the channel sales incentive business has taught Broudy that to distributors in general, that moment of impression is vital, because the product is sold based on how people feel the moment they see it.

"You talk about ROI? They have MOI -- Moment of Impression -- and the retail salespeople are able to move the needle in a way that their managers can't, and the owners can't," Broudy says. "The owner will get benefits. But the owners are approached by many, many suppliers, so from a competitive environment, the salespeople are less likely to have all that noise in their channel, because all the rewards go to their bosses."

The point, he says, is that Global is speaking directly to the people on the ground at the point of sale, who can actually influence the purchase.

"We did that a lot with floor-covering industries throughout the 1990s, and it was amazing," Broudy recalls. "Remember Stainmaster [commercials] -- the babies spilling stuff all over the rug? What they were selling was stain-repellent." A huge ad campaign meant that everyone knew what DuPont Stainmaster was, and they would come into a carpet store and say, "We want that stain-repellent stuff," Broudy adds. At the time, United Incentives had a client that sold carpet with a similar stain repellant that competed with DuPont's Stainmaster brand. 

"So, DuPont spent all the money driving them into the store, but then we rewarded the salespeople, and we got the sales for another product," he says. "We said, 'Thank you very much for your contribution, and raising awareness about this vital product, because we could never do it.' But, we're going to put all our money at the point of sale. And that's pretty much what Global did. They put their money at their point of sale. And I think it's a very wise strategy, because you probably don't know that brand name."

The Secrets of Success

At Secrets Akumal, Breslow, Fishman and all of the Global employees start with the understanding that they are working, not playing like the attendees.

"We make it very clear to our people, this is not their vacation," Breslow explains. "This is our guests' vacations. We are hosts. We have a very, very structured agenda with our people. In advance of the travel and the trips, our people: they are there to take care of their customers' every need. Whether it is specifically their customer, or somebody else's customer, we are hosts."

The Global hosts even have color-coordinated team shirts to ensure guests know who they are, says Fishman, who oversees the incentive trip for Global Furniture Group. "Everything we do here is think, if you were a customer of ours, how would you want to be treated," says Fishman. "We even create a host manual and we spell out everything: You're supposed to smile on the elevators, you have to watch what you say on a balcony because voices travel."

Then there are the details, which are all about branding -- one reason why Global prefers buyouts when it can. "Every day, we provide towels for our guests that say 'Global' on them," Fishman says. "We will brand the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door, the TV guide in the room, the shampoos, the ribbons tying the washcloths -- it's all branded, all the way down to the little stickers on the toilet paper in the room that say 'Global.'" Room drops tend to be thematic, offering hints about the next day's activities like branded beach balls for a pool party. 

One result of this attitude is that the incentive trip's target audience is no longer just the salespeople who win the trip, he adds. "It's also their partner, their guest, their spouse that is pushing them to do this," Fishman notes. "That's something we learned a couple years ago. The guest would come up to us and say, 'It's already on my calendar for next year. I've told him, he's got to win this trip.' They look forward to it as their vacation, as meeting friends they've met along the way. So, they're the ones saying, 'I'm having a great time on this experience. We're doing this again, so you have to win this trip again. It's changed our thought process slightly from a marketing campaign perspective."

The main result, however, is that the trip "forms a social relationship that goes beyond a pure business relationship, where here before you have a business relationship," Breslow says. "In our industry, people do business with people they like to do business with."

Keep 'Em Guessing

Social media is also a growing part of both the marketing campaign and the event itself, he adds. That includes private Facebook pages for the event where attendees and those working to qualify can, "share memories, meet people, start a conversation," Fishman says. "We do announcements, promotions, and of course photos on site. People start posting photos and anecdotes even before the trip. On site, they're posting photos every day, and connecting with people they've met. At the end of the trip, it's where we post the photo galleries."

Facebook is also the place where qualifiers can get the most up-to-date information. That's important because Global likes to keep attendees guessing to build excitement -- starting with an agenda that's light on details. 

"We don't send out an agenda in advance that lists what you're doing minute to minute every single day," Fishman says. "We don't even tell you where you're eating, just where to show up and what to wear."

Attendees do have some ideas, as Fishman likes to provide hints to pique their interest, frequently in the form of room drops that offer clues about the next activity. This runs through the announcement of the next year's destination during the final night blow-out party. On the 2017 trip, the party fell on April Fool's Day, and so Global had fun sending out hints that suggested wildly different destinations: one event had French décor; room drops such as mouse-shaped cookies suggested Orlando; penguin cuts-outs throughout the venue hinted at a cold-weather destination, as did a giant inflatable snow globe at the day's April Pool's Day party. 

"Chatter was at an all-time high," Fishman says. "When we announced the real destination, it just went over fantastically."

While activities are voluntary, attendance is very high, Fishman says, noting that fun isn't enough. "I think if they're arduous and fun, people prefer the free time. If they're fun, engaging and entertaining, they want to be there. Typically, our events are full up."