If you’re thinking of rewarding your top producers with a two- or three-day trip to rest and recharge at an exotic location, choose well.

Without adequate planning, the best of intentions can go awry, placing long-standing relationships with these valued agents and advisors at risk.

This cautionary note was sounded at a Wednesday workshop at the National Association of Life Brokerage Agencies‘ annual meeting, taking place in Dallas, Nov. 17-19. The session’s mother-and-son co-presenters, Michelle and Dylan DeClerck, outlined during an interactive one-hour session on recognition and reward strategies for retaining the best life insurance producers — and for keeping the competition’s marketing reps at bay.

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Paying top dollar

A frequent element of special event programs for producers is content that inspires: keynote presentations by motivational speakers. These people often come with a hefty price tag through speaker’s bureaus. Unfortunately, they often also don’t deliver value for the money, noted Michelle DeClerck, who is president and founder of Conference Event Management.

“People think that if they spend more dollars they’re going to get a better experience,” said DeClerck. “That’s not always the case. Don’t try to do what everyone else is doing; do what’s right for your agency.”

That includes allotting quality time to meet with producers. Tapping outside speakers to talk about industry trends, sales techniques or a living of a significance is all well and good. But agents and advisors in the field also want to hear from, and rub shoulders with, top brokerage execs and managers.

These high-level interactions, said DeClerck, have both educational and relationship value. Seniors staffers can use meetings and events to impart information about the organizations evolving market focus, as well as new techniques, services and tools to help producers increase sales and better serve clients. Quality face time also aids in reinforcing relationships with producers and keeping them loyal to the company.

Related: Top tips for recruiting younger agents

Might offering cash and bonuses also have a role in an agency rewards and retention strategy? The DeClercks think not.

“When agents use a cash bonus to buy, say, a tech gadget, they’re not necessarily going to associate the purchase with your agency’s brand,” said Dylan DeClerck, a consultant. “There’s isn’t the same connection as when you buy something for them. Also, studies show that cash is a poor motivator because it has no long-term effect.”

Michelle DeClerck echoed the point, noting that a vacation getaway, in contrast to cash, create memorable experiences and “have a longer shelf-life.”

Though perhaps it will a bit shorter for some than others. That’s because the effectiveness of the rewards strategy will hinge in part on the ages of the producers who stand to benefit.

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Studies show that cash is a poor motivator because it has no long-term effect, says Dylan DeClerck. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Catering to millennials

She noted that millennials generally need to be recognized and rewarded more frequently — as often as every two weeks — than GenX and boomer-age producers. The sooner that happens after recruitment the better: Just 6 in 10 millennial stay with a job for 3 years or more.

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“Millennials prize job flexibility and autonomy; they’re not necessarily looking for a long-term relationship with an agency,” said Michelle DeClerck. “They also want customized content. It’s a different mentality from that of older producers when they started out in life insurance sales.”

As millennials also tend to be more tech-savvy (or tech-dependent) than older peers, meetings will engage them more successfully if they’re given opportunities to participate in online surveys related to a meeting topic. Meeting planners might also avail them of social media pages where they can “brag” about a session they participated in.

Irrespective of age, producers also expect a well-crafted, professionally organized gathering. That starts with advance promotions that properly set the tone, expectations and enthusiasm level for the event.

“You need to let people know what they’re going to experience, and then deliver,” said Michelle DeClerck.  It’s really about good communication.”

Related: 30 motivational quotes to inspire sales success

Vacation photos

There are some 50 destinations in the United States and abroad that are in demand among insurance and financial services companies. (Photo: iStock)

Setting the right tone

Michelle DeClerck added, however, that pre-event planning should not be overly ambitious.

Yes, attendees want quality content and opportunities to hobnob with the power-that-be. But they also want personal time to rest, recoup and enjoy themselves — not least because they worked hard all year to earn the company-paid getaway. A program without downtime will disappoint.

And so, too, is a location doesn’t lift the spirit. Dylan DeClerck said there are some 50 destinations in the United States and abroad in demand among insurance and financial services companies . When picking one, he cautioned, select locations that competitor brokerage companies have not also chosen for their agents (or, at least, have not done so in the same month or year, or for the same top producers).

Especially popular trips are discounted “budget” packages that benefit both the company and attendees. Among them: Vacation spots in Mexico offering all-inclusive pricing, and river cruises with set pricing.

Still other popular destinations are Ireland, continental Europe, Aruba and South Africa (thanks, depending on the locale, to preferential discounts and/or favorable exchange rates). In the United States, Nashville, Austin, Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas draw big groups, the last because of the many entertainment options.

Among the destinations that financial groups should avoid: Belize, Cuba and Brazil. These countries, noted Michelle DeClerck, lack the infrastructure need to support large professional gatherings.

To be shunned, too, are new properties that don’t have a track record. Signing a contract with a hotel that hasn’t previously served a professional group is like “buying dirt.”

“If you’re talking to a hotel property that doesn’t have nine months under its belt — that has demonstrated that it can wow producers — then you’re putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation,” said Michelle DeClerck. “It can take a long time for hotel staff to deliver on the experience producers are looking for.”

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