Incentive Meetings Ensuring Co.'s Motivation

Penn Mutual won't cancel the trips that have proven valuable for generations.

While other companies, cowed by negative publicity about incentive meetings at five-star resorts, are canceling meetings that might seem too lavish, Penn Mutual believes in the way it has motivated its top producers for more than a generation.

In March 2008, the top-selling agents went to Hawaii, where they stayed at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa. This year, they’ll be at Lake Las Vegas, and in 2010 they’ll head to Cancun. Amid the promised relaxation, they also expect to have two days of meetings as well as plenty of time to share a golf cart or a chat with a Penn Mutual executive. “It’s an important investment in our producers and in the ongoing success of Penn Mutual,” said Leanne Acton, assistant vice president of conference planning and travel services for Penn Mutual, based in Horsham, Pa. Producers conferences are incentive travel with a strong educational component. They also are motivational in that the people who sell Penn Mutual products have a goal they must meet or exceed, and the conference provides recognition for that.

Penn Mutual is a private company, essentially owned by its policyholders. The somewhat old-fashioned structure of Penn Mutual, founded in 1847 and the second-oldest mutual insurance company in the nation, means its top managers are able to think long-term, instead of focusing on the current quarter, as stockholders would demand.

The Penn Mutual Leaders Conference is the incentive conference that sellers of its insurance products vie to attend. It is “part of the culture that we live in,” said Acton. This year, the top producers and spouses will number somewhere around 500. Last year, in Hawaii, they totaled over 600, but 2008’s conference was a little different. For the first time, the National Sales Leadership Conference, attended by field leaders, managing partners and regional directors who manage Penn Mutual’s sales offices, was held in conjunction with the top producers conference. The first two days were dedicated to them, and then executives stayed to host the producers and their families for four nights and three days.

Chris Gaia, vice president of marketing for Maritz Travel in St. Louis, which partners with Acton to produce seven conferences each year, said, “We’ve done some research, and there’s a real meaningful role for senior leadership being at those meetings in terms of creating the whole experience.” Gaia said the research shows the opportunity to network with executives is “a very important part of how the salespeople view the whole experience. That’s where a lot of connections are made.”

Penn Mutual’s conferences also deliver training on such topics as annuity sales and building an insurance practice. They also are an important link in the company’s distribution chain. “We believe in the face-to-face value of relationship-building with our producers,” Acton said.

Acton relies on Maritz to help her find viable locations that are safe and can handle a large group. Maritz also prescreens destination management companies. “We’ve been working with Maritz for 13 years,” she said. “They have taken on the detail work, so I can really focus on the strategy.”

In addition to rewarding substantial sales, Acton works to make the conferences memorable bonding and educational experiences. “We rely on our conferences to do so much, which is to educate, reward and motivate,” she said. “It’s not just that we network with top producers, we educate them. It’s not only recognizing them for what they’ve done in the past, but it’s preparing them for the future.”

Originally published May 25, 2009