With COVID-19 limiting our capacity for in-person events, many sales and group travel incentive programs - such as President’s Clubs - are being put on hold. But with these programs driving so much of the sales activity, revenue, and recognition efforts for organizations, completely canceling events simply isn’t a viable option. Now is the time to adapt sales and travel incentives in the time of COVID-19.
We had a chance to sit down with Nancy Woodfill, the Lead Event Planner at Jim Moran & Associates Inc. (JM&A Group), one of the largest independent providers of finance and insurance products in the automotive industry, to learn how they successfully pivoted their corporate travel incentive programs away from in-person events during the pandemic. We’re excited to share a recap of our conversation and her best practices for successfully pivoting in-person group travel incentives during COVID-19 below.
How JM&A Group approaches sales & travel incentives
The group travel incentive programs at JM&A Group play a critical role in their business. Not only are they foundational to strengthening relationships with their dealer partners, but they also drive sales activity and recognize the Finance Directors and Managers who are responsible for selling JM&A Group products.
One of JM&A Group’s most beloved incentive travel programs is its Cash Bash, which is held every October at the Wynn Las Vegas. To attend, dealer partners compete in a contest for the opportunity to participate. Around 1,200 dealer partners end up attending and have the chance to win up to $8 million at the event. There are also prizes for another 1,200 dealer partners who aren’t in attendance.
Unfortunately, with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 environment and knowing some dealer partners aren’t operating at 100%, the team at JM&A Group knew that group incentive travel and in-person events were no longer a valid option. So they decided to adapt and pivot their approach to the Cash Bash program for 2020, expanding their partnership with Blueboard to offer experiential rewards.
4 best practices to adapt your group incentive travel and in-person events during COVID-19
In the process of adapting their Cash Bash program this year, Nancy and the team at JM&A Group picked up several best practices when it comes to successfully pivoting in-person events and group incentive travel during the pandemic. We’re sharing their top learnings below:
1. Prioritize flexibility in sales incentives and rewards
JM&A Group has approximately 300 Field Associates working with over 3,800 dealerships. And they all have different priorities when it comes to incentives in this new virtual COVID-19 environment. Nancy recognized the need to provide their dealer partners with the flexibility to choose travel incentives or other rewards that are personalized to fit the needs of each dealership and have the ability to support a variety of comfort zones during COVID-19.
So instead of in-person events, JM&A Group decided to go with the next best option and shift to individualized reward options with Blueboard. Individual rewards remove the liability of a big in-person event but still deliver on the goal of creating memorable experiences - which delivered on their goal of forming authentic relationships across partners when compared to a cash payout.
With Blueboard, each winner can choose the award that aligns within their comfort zone - whether that’s incentive travel like taking a family trip to Disney, glamping at a campground close to home, or beginning a personal journey to a healthier lifestyle with a Peloton bike package. Also, because dealers get to choose a reward based on their interests, they can have an experience that’s truly meaningful to them and create memories that will always be associated with JM&A Group.
2. Get buy-in from key stakeholders
Because of the significant changes, Nancy had to get buy-in from key stakeholders - from the field team to the C-suite - to make the transition from a corporate group travel incentive program with in-person events to individual experiences as smooth as possible.
To secure buy-in across the board, Nancy hosted a focus group with their Field Sales, Field Support, Marketing, and Accounting teams to make sure that the process was solid. She also had conversations with dealer partners so they would understand and recognize the value of the new incentive program. Throughout the process, Nancy was mindful of looping in senior management so they clearly understood and were excited about the changes that were happening to the sales incentive program.
At the end of the day, your adapted programs will only be successful if your key stakeholders are bought into your vision. It’s important to be more intentional about how you design and deliver the programming content to ensure it’s seen and easily digested. Without strong buy-in, teams will easily get distracted with other priorities and you’ll lose the advocacy you need to drive adoption.
3. Invest in the launch process
Because they were introducing a brand-new sales and travel incentive program, JM&A Group had to make sure the launch was as impactful as possible. Since the team who designed the program was not the face of the launch, there was a lot of up-front investment in training and education.
The 300 field team members who would be driving the program participated in four training sessions that were broken up by division. These sessions included details around why the incentive travel program looks different this year, incentive inclusions, customization options, and clarity around the process for participation.
Additionally, the Blueboard Client Success team designed a suite of co-branded marketing collateral like educational landing pages and slide decks with inspiring sample reward options to house education in a one-stop-shop destination. By having Blueboard design the creative collateral, Nancy was able to gain much-needed time back to focus on internal evangelization and communications plans.
The ongoing training not only helped to educate teams en masse, but it also empowered Nancy and the team with continuous feedback from the field team - enabling them to make tweaks to the program mechanics and messaging along the way. These ongoing touchpoints also built trust with the field team by helping them co-create the program design - making them even more excited to roll the contest out to their partners.
4. Socialize your sales incentives program
The great part about experiential rewards is their power to create lasting memories that are worth documenting. Unlike cash or gift card rewards, experiences are exciting to share with friends and family - even more so in today’s world where we rely on social media for connection and updates.
As winners’ personal experience stories start to roll in this month, JM&A Group is planning to focus heavily on socialization efforts, which can be a powerful tool for encouraging participation. Crafting a socialization strategy is a critical part of a successful program, and it comes with many benefits, including:
- Building awareness around the program by sharing experience story content in community channels, intranets, and newsletters
- Enabling employees and partners to form meaningful workplace connections with each other by connecting through stories shared after their experience - and giving the Field Sales team an exciting reason to check in with their partners
- Lengthening the positive effects, or afterglow, of every experience to strengthen the relationship between JM&A Group and the reward recipients
- Creating lasting memories that are associated directly with JM&A Group
Because socialization is such a critical part of the rewards experience, Blueboard has built-in mechanisms to help clients spread the word about their programs. Before the launch of any program, our Client Success team works 1:1 with clients to craft a successful socialization strategy to create buzz and support these efforts with co-branded resources. And once rewards are redeemed, our Concierge team and platform will capture recognition story media and content to repurpose - whether that’s in the form of photos, videos, or written feedback.
Successfully pivoting from group incentive travel to experiential rewards
No one expected 2020 to look this way, and it can be exhausting to consider changing your plans. We want to make this transition as seamless and exciting as possible for you and your VIPs. If you’re having to rethink your sales programs or other group travel incentives and events this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, consider pivoting your approach to Blueboard rewards.
By shifting your business travel incentive program from in-person events to individual experiences and adopting the best practices shared by JM&A Group, you can still give your key stakeholders a truly memorable experience that delivers on core goals of creating excitement, celebration, and connection - despite the impact of the pandemic.
To learn more about our Choose Your Own President's Club or sales incentives offerings, connect with our team to discuss your program goals in a consultative discovery call online here. We make it incredibly easy to send rewards and look forward to helping you crush your revenue goals.