Our annual Outlook and actionable To-Do’s might not draw as much interest as election forecasts, fashion trends, and love predictions for Taylor Swift + Travis Kelce – but they are nonetheless Brightspot’s #1 attended webinars. We’ve once again gathered a brainstorming team of our brightest minds to bring you insights from 70 clients, dozens of industries, and 200+ programs.
Brightspot aligned with the Incentive Research Foundation think tank this year and sponsored The IRF 2024 Trends Report. Not surprisingly, many predictions align, and our list here is split across segments of corporate meetings, incentive travel, channel incentives, and sales contests.
After inflation of 7% in 2021, 6% in 2022, and 5% in 2023, meeting costs have risen by at least 20% – and even more in popular Tier 1 cities where meetings rebounded quicker. Fortunately, Northstar Meetings Group reports that meeting budgets are expected to rise overall – significantly, for some. 67% of respondents to the Amex Global Business Travel forecast projected a budget increase for the coming year, and of those, 13% expect the bump to exceed 10%.
To-Do: use this research to request more budget
To manage company meeting costs within budgets, many hosts will be forced to rethink which departments, geographies, and teams get invited to the meeting. A software client opted to include field salespeople in their sales kickoff but excluded internal BDRs (business development reps who are more junior and do more prospecting than actual selling).
To-Do: prepare for hard decisions on invitees
More Small Meetings
Perhaps it’s a paradox, with costs rising and budgets tight, that Northstar Meetings Group research says planners expect a rise in small- and medium-sized gatherings. We think these are small businesses (which comprise the biggest segment of the economy) and private mid-market companies, but it also reflects more team meetings with larger enterprises. A smaller, more specialized meeting also allows you to segment your messaging to reach the proper ears.
To-Do: gather small teams to drive key initiatives
Bleisure Pleases Millennials
Please indulge my random ramblings for a moment. Millennials are the largest segment in the workplace, so they get a lot of executive attention (unrelated to their youth participation medals). For any generation, the first business trip to a new city adds excitement. “Ombre” travel is a new term, which is familiar to young females (of which Brightspot has many), but ombre required explanation to me (a middle-aged man, or perhaps more accurately, an older man). Ombre is blending one color hue with another shade, usually with hair coloring. Bleisure or ombre; tomayto or tomahto. All studies say mixing business travel with a few days of leisure vacation is a popular perk.
To-Do: pick meeting cities with ombre appeal
Flex the Format
Death by PowerPoint is a serious affliction. Adult learning is out-of-shape compared to youth, and even school children get a recess break and end their day at 3:00. Asking adults to listen from 8:30 – 5:00 for three days straight is pretty illogical, even though the business world keeps doing it. 2024 is an excellent year to explore new formats beyond traditional conferences, such as unconferences, workshops, and experiential events. Flexibility in scheduling and content delivery will be necessary. Brightspot recommends building more time for brainstorming, networking, interactive workshops, audience collaboration, and Q&A to empower attendee-driven content.
To-Do: accelerate general session, expand breakout workshops
Hotel Spaces Sells Fast
Most business people want to be proactive. Event agencies recommend starting the search for hotel venues early, but honestly, do not start early unless the company is prepared to sign the contract. Availability changes rapidly, and meeting space will not be held in this active market. Too many times, hotels are located and negotiated, but while the decision-makers ponder, the space is sold to another party with pen and checkbook. Then, the work must be repeated a second or third time.
To-Do: start when ready to sign
Short-Term Bookings Increase
A related phenomenon tied to the last paragraph is a rise in short-term bookings. Public companies live on a quarter-to-quarter hamster wheel. Hectic executives can focus only on the current list of hot projects.
To-Do: be flexible; first choice might be unavailable
Decide About Sustainability
Sustainability is a passionate topic for meeting planners, CEOs, and Millennial attendees. But if sustainability increases costs or alters the banquet menu, many companies back off and do what can be done sustainably without additional charges.
To-Do: go green without spending green
Decide About Wellness Too
Wellness is the other hot topic. Or, a newer phrase is well-being, which encompasses mental health too. Wellness is primarily a lifestyle, but companies can encourage employees to jump-start their wellness with fun runs, sunrise yoga, fitness breaks, juices and smoothies, healthy foods instead of sugary snacks, lower sodium options, and mocktails. A recent meeting incorporated a come-and-go wellness lounge that included 15-minute treatments like lymphatic massage, facial treatments, and relaxation techniques so participants could indulge between meetings. To relieve mental stress from inboxes stacking up, some planners add 1-2 hour breaks to catch up on email, phone, and quick projects. Or, starting a little later to allow pre-meeting email time and avoid attendees multi-tasking in the general session (a fancy term for not listening).
To-Do: include wellness to affirm lifestyle
Avoid Pattern of Zooming
WFH drives F2F SKOs. Meaning: WFH (work from home) is driving execs and workers to desire (F2F) face-to-face meetings, such as SKOs (sales kickoffs). Some companies adversely affected by high interest rates (like mortgage companies or pre-IPO tech companies that cannot raise additional capital) have temporarily pulled back on their annual meetings. It’s a logical short-term tactic, but don’t swing back to all-day Zooming. People are over Zoom meetings longer than one hour.
To-Do: prioritize F2F ASAP
Technology has always played a crucial role in enhancing meetings. Mobile apps, virtual reality, and other tech solutions are being used to streamline communication, offer real-time updates, and provide interactive experiences.
To-Do: keep pushing new tech
Popular Motivator of Today’s Workforce
The #1 point in The IRF 2024 Outlook Study is the motivational view of incentive travel in the C-suite with 48% of senior leaders calling it an “essential strategic differentiator.” The IRF/SITE Incentive Travel Index research reinforced that incentive travel is an executive priority, spending is up, and soft benefits (such as retention, engagement, and culture) drive ROI. Additionally, “friend of sales” nominations include non-sellers in the motivation.
To-Do: invite CEO to president club trip
Farther in 24 and 25
After staying nearer due to pandemic caution, incentive trips are going farther to Europe, Hawaii, and other transcontinental stops in 2024 and 2025. With many sales teams disbursed around the globe, Brightspot recommends a 3-year rotation of Hawaii, the Caribbean or Mexico, and Europe. Or, a 4-year rotation that mixes in Asia, Africa, or Oceania. See the Top 20 Incentive Travel Destinations for 2024.
To-Do: go farther to a bucket-list destination
After general inflation of 7% in 2021, 6% in 2022, and 5% in 2023 – and a strong rebound in leisure travel and group incentive travel, costs have risen by at least 20%. The IRF/SITE Incentive Travel Index research says 76% of executives indicate rising costs are a significant challenge.
“Budgets are often increased to maintain a program and do not indicate incentive program growth.” – regardless of inflation, budgets should be rising.
(Incentive Research Foundation)
To-Do: get more money (+20% at a minimum)
Smaller or Shorter
If “get more money” is not an option, Sales VPs will be forced to shrink the size or length of their P-Club trip. In past years, staying nearer was a savings option, but not now with trips going farther.
To-Do: pitch the CFO the first 3 trends (or go straight to the CEO)
Companies wish to experience new destinations they have never visited (71%, according to the Incentive Travel Index). Participants desire more variety in trip destinations, too. A SITE research study said 67% of sales reps would be more motivated to visit a new destination. If you revisit a past destination, try a boutique hotel brand offering a new experience, such as Auberge, Belmond, Kimpton, Montage, Rosewood, or LHW (the Leading Hotels of the World).
To-Do: try a new location
Immersive & Authentic Experiences
Incentive travel is becoming more experiential, aiming to create memorable and immersive experiences for attendees. Research shows that culture is memorable, so attendees’ experiences stay with them long after they return home. These authentic experiences create buzz and motivate performance across the company.
To-Do: seek out local, unique activities
Ample Free Time
The IRF study on Attendee Preferences for Incentive Travel asked trip winners to rank the most important qualities of an incentive trip. The #1 ranking for the second straight year was “ample time to relax,” voted by 81% of respondents. Good news: free time is free for the budget too! Sales reps have been stretched thin professionally and personally. Downtime at a 5-star resort is a win-win.
To-Do: avoid over-programming, add free time, save money, and please winners!
Participants wish to personalize their incentive experience, but how is that done within a group? Choice of activities rather than a lone group activity. Room-drop gifts of the same bag for everyone are being replaced with gifting experiences that allow freedom of choice (such as sunglass fittings, electronics, watches, footwear, apparel, or localized merchandise). A few extra questions on the registration website can capture special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries), sweet or savory preferences for room amenities, or preferred beverages. New laser-cutting technology can carve personal nameplates from wood (or other materials) for dinner place cards; these low-cost solutions can have a great impact.
To-Do: shift thinking to groups of 1
Tension between Planners and Suppliers Continues
Pricing is higher, but hotel staffing and service levels are lower in a post-pandemic era with low unemployment. Planners and clients were understanding initially, but now they are frustrated, especially when paying more! 96% of incentive travel planners indicated that staffing and service levels are a top concern in destination selection, according to the Incentive Travel Index.
To-Do: ask hotels about staffing levels; clearly articulate expectations
Many companies tax 10-20% of their top sellers on their President Club trip, and they wish to reward the 2nd tier of top sellers to “move the middle” with extra recognition beyond commissions. An IRF study of What Top Performing Companies Do Differently with Incentives and Rewards found that the programs with higher ROI were widening their “reach” (more people at multiple tiers) instead of focusing on “exclusivity” (the top 10-20%). Sometimes, A performers have the most experience or best territories. New B performers can be discouraged if they don’t feel they can achieve the trip. Adding a 2nd-tier recognition, along with a merchandise prize or high-end gift card, can pull those B performers to B+ and eventually to A.
To-Do: move the middle with 2nd-tier prizes
Channel Incentives & Sales Contests
Refocus On New Goals
After external distractions and the internal hecticness of Corporate America, 2024 is the perfect time for a fresh look to ensure all channel incentives and internal sales contests are focused on the new business reality and GTM (go-to-market) goals.
To-Do: always start first with goals
Move the Middle
This strategy has existed for a while, but it’s been more of a talking point than a reality. To grow sales, new contests and rules should focus on pulling B performers up to A level. Tiered rewards structure can challenge reps to level-up to more exclusive and valuable rewards and provide a sense of progression and achievement. Studies show that moving the middle 60% a small amount will accomplish more than 20% can.
To-Do: add extra awards for exceeding past performance
Use (RE)porting, (J)udgment, and (I)nsights to (G)ain market share. The dictionary defines rejig as, “to rearrange, alter, or manipulate, sometimes in a slightly unscrupulous way.” Brightspot does not recommend manipulation or unscrupulous behavior(!), but we like the unique word to rearrange rules for 2024 GTM goals. Channel Incentives have a wealth of spectacular information. Dive deep and use insights to adjust channel engagement efforts. Perhaps a channel partner had high turnover, and new rep recruitment is needed. Or sales of a particular product line have softened, and double points make sense for Q1 and Q2. The IRF 2024 Outlook Study reports companies are leveraging data and analytical tools, like Artificial Intelligence, to understand participant behavior, preferences, and the impact of incentives on performance.1
To-Do: dive deep into data and make tweaks to rules
Consolidate but Keep Audience First
Channels are inherently very fragmented, and so are channel tech tools. The consulting firm Canalys published its Channel Ecosystems Landscape, using “islands” to appropriately describe the fragmentation among tech stack software. Canalys shows 11 islands, which would seem ripe for consolidation. However, channels have many different audiences, and each should be prioritized. Brightspot excels on the CIM island (channel incentives management), and our software platform and websites focus on channel reps. Other tools focus on the channel company, such as rebates, MDF (market development funds), or PRM (partner relationship management). And most tools assist the sponsoring manufacturer, hardware, or software company striving to sell through channels, such as ecosystem tools. Most of these software systems have created strong APIs to talk with other tools, such as Brightspot APIs to link to partner portals for SSO (single sign-on).
To-Do: focus on the target audience in selecting software
Enablement Still Crucial
It feels like enablement or behavioral incentives make the to-do list every year. But there is a good explanation. In recent years, the Great Resignation and the Great Reshuffle were catchphrases for the constant change in sales personnel, and extra training is needed to ramp up new reps. Products have grown more complex. Territories are redrawn. GTM marketing efforts are ever shifting. And the old adage still applies – sales reps sell what they understand. New training and techniques are required to sell complex products to new markets by new reps.
To-Do: invest 10% of all incentives in enablement
Another repeated theme, that shows little progress has been made in recent years, is refreshing communications. Add extra effort to the creative collateral and electronic communications. Refresh graphic designs, websites, and email templates. Artificial intelligence can assist with boilerplate copy and a first pass at personalization.
To-Do: quit neglecting communications
Increase Incentives for Inflation
Continuing the earlier refrain of inflation of 7% in 2021, 6% in 2022, and 5% in 2023, fixed-dollar incentives are worth 20% less than before.
To-Do: increase offers by 20%
Consider Global Reward Preferences
An earlier to-do suggested focusing on the audience first, which applies to rewards, too, especially in a global setting. In the US, prepaid Visa cards are popular in tech channels, but they disappear on utilitarian purchases of gas, groceries, and fast food. Gift card catalogs (that include (Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom, BestBuy, SpaFinder, Pottery Barn, etc.) encourage sales reps to splurge on memorable awards that create a positive association with the sponsor. However, across the world in other cultures, merchandise catalogs remain popular due to cultural norms and local tax laws. Lastly, a virtual or electronic award can be effective for immediate fulfillment and reaching locations with logistical delivery challenges. Avoid attributing your personal preferences to participants in other geographies or generations!
To-Do: think audience preference
FINAL TREND & TO-DO
AI is all the buzz. It’s in every business story. It drove the stock market up 25% in 2023. But most businesses are still trying to figure out where AI fits in their business. Initially, it is being used to automate lower-value functions that are highly repetitive or require sifting vast amounts of information. Powerful chatbots are replacing off-shored call centers. Marketing, prospecting, and BDR (business development rep) functions are being targeted, but at the same time, personalization is preached, and AI is only pretty good at first-level personalization. (Have you gotten a sales email that mentions your college or its mascot? Good effort, but shallow). Brightspot believes AI can be a “helper” for event and incentive professionals to prompt brainstorm ideas, suggest themes or event names, create first drafts of boilerplate copy, or generate drafts of forms or surveys.
To-Do: dig into ChatGPT; don’t be a dinosaur
Whether orchestrating impactful corporate meetings, tailoring unique incentive travel experiences, or optimizing channel incentive programs, we recognize the multifaceted components involved in running a successful company. We are dedicated to crafting seamless events and programs that leave a lasting impression on your team. At Brightspot, we’re here to guide you every step of the way, providing unparalleled consultation and staying attuned to industry trends to make your programs truly stand out. If you want to enhance your corporate events, incentive travel, or channel incentive strategies, streamline processes, and save time and effort, drop us a line!