The big reward

The big reward – sales-incentive productions

Michael Warshaw

For Sales Superstars Only: the Event Of a Lifetime

Sure, you’re a top producer, paid well for your efforts. Yet pay alone does not make up for the long days, the thousands of phone calls, the late nights drafting proposals, the early mornings spent closing deals. You don’t become a sales superstar for money alone.

Recognition is part of the payback. Pebble Beach in the spring, far from the gray New England weather. The company is throwing this party just for you, the cream of the sales crop, men and women who understand what it really means to dedicate their lives to the job.

As you crest a hill, you see it, just below, at the edge of the ocean. A huge chessboard, with tall lifeguard chairs on either side and pieces the size of people. Wait: They are people. It’s a living chess set, and you will play, just like a king. This is going to be a day you’ll never forget.

Companies invest big bucks in annual sales incentive meetings because “salespeople are critical to the bottom line,” says event producer John H. Schwartz, founder of JHS Entertainment Ltd. of New York City. “These events are a celebration, a salute to these people.”

Schwartz put together the Great Gatsby party with the living chess set for 300 qualifiers from State Mutual Life Assurance Companies of Worcester, Mass. “Although I don’t think meetings like this are the reason why these top salespeople come to State Mutual, I think it’s one of the reasons why we’re able to keep them here,” says company assistant vice president Richard T. Granger.

“Salespeople like the recognition and the reward,” agrees Ernest J. Tsouros, vice president at Chubb LifeAmerican of Concord, N.H. “We use these events to motivate our existing sales force and we also use them to recruit. I hate to admit it, but there are other companies out there with good products, good services, and good compensation. The incentive element may just make the difference.”

State Mutual and Chubb, along with major companies such as Lehman Brothers Inc., rely on Schwartz to put together brilliant, memorable events, from Western rodeos to Renaissance feasts. The budgets run from $30,000 to as much as $150,000. “What my attendees like is to be dazzled, to experience something for the first time, something that they can remember and take with them when they go home,” explains Granger.

He believes first and last impressions are the most important and advises beginning with an opening night party. “Then in the middle of the week, do the company propaganda and corporate stuff,” he says, and wrap it up with a mind-bending, last-day blowout that has a signature, a unique creative touch, such as the living chess set.

That’s the real challenge, since many of the same sales stars show up year after year. “I want people who have been going to these for 10 or 15 years to say, ‘In Orlando, we did this, in Phoenix we did that,'” Granger says. “Dealing with the John Schwartzes of the world has helped make my meetings more creative, more innovative.”

To plan a winning event, Schwartz says, “Have a budget in mind, know what has and hasn’t worked for your company, and most importantly, be open to new ideas. Then make sure the theme you choose reflects the culture of the audience.” The Gatsby party was custom designed for the mature State Mutual sales producers. Another insurer, Connecticut Mutual, brings in a younger crowd, so Schwartz is producing a rave party in Boston, building a high-tech, laser-lit dance space in an industrial atmosphere.

Some companies hire big stars to entertain attendees. For Heublein Inc., Schwartz produced a Cotton Club party featuring Gregory Hines. For the Wine & Spirits Wholesaler Association, he’s bringing in Bill Cosby. “How many times in your life will you have Bill Cosby there to entertain just you and your group, without a bad seat in the house?” asks Schwartz. “It creates excitement. It creates a one-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The more exciting, the better, says Chubb’s Tsouros. After a fairly good year, the company’s top salespeople and their families are going to Disney World. “The first night, we’ll have a swamp party, kind of a carnival, with live alligators,” he says. “The second evening, we’re going to have exclusive use of the Disney/MGM park for an Aladdin theme party.” A 1970s retrospective dance party, with disco band Kool and the Gang, will wrap it up.

“This is the event of a lifetime, exclusive to the attendees,” says Tsouros. “Our people are independent contractors who can decide who to represent. This is an investment for us and we feel we get a definite return.”

“The impact can’t be measured,” says Schwartz. “You’re giving these people the best food a facility can provide, the best decor, the perfect setting, and the whole show geared to the audience. What could be more exciting than that?”

COPYRIGHT 1993 Success Holdings Company, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group