Have you ever taken salespeople on a trip? Companies do it all the time as a reward for winning sales contests. Contests step up the work and effort of salespeople, and experts say that travel is becoming an increasingly popular prize as a sales incentive. The website LoyalNation.com, which sells travel packages to employers, estimates that to achieve the motivational effect of a travel reward, “an employee's total base compensation would need to be increased by 8.5%.” Buzz and goodwill last well beyond the trip.

ACHIEVABLE & REALISTIC Erik Kent, owner of Archadeck of Charlotte, got the idea for a sales trip at the franchise's annual convention. He thought it would be a great way to take his business to the next level. “My wife looked at me like, Are you crazy?” he says. “Trips aren't cheap.”

Kent, who worked in corporate sales before buying the deck-builder franchise in 2007, knew that. He figured that a sales trip would do two things. It would lift sales at the company from $5.5 million to $6 million, a 10.5% increase. “That's achievable and realistic,” Kent says. “If you look at your gross profit, based on growth, it would more than pay for itself.” And it would help attain a bigger goal: it would get the sales-force working together as a group. “They were all in it for themselves,” Kent recalls. “I wanted to think of something we could do where everybody would be in it for each other.”

Sales trips typically set goals and then reward those who hit the goals with a trip. In other words, they set members of the sales staff competing with one another. Some companies divide their sales team into groups and have the groups compete. Kent says that kind of an approach would only have exacerbated the problem. He decided instead that if the company hit $6 million in 2011, all five members of the sales staff would go on a five-day Royal Caribbean cruise.

It took a month, working with a travel agent, to research and plan the trip. Kent says he knew there was a certain level of risk attached. “You could get them all excited, and then not hit the goal.” But, if they did hit the goal, the trip would more than pay for itself.

OVER THE TOP, & MORE All through the year at their weekly sales meetings, Archadeck of Charlotte's sales manager and salespeople tracked progress toward hitting the goal. By December the company had passed its target: 2011 sales were $6.4 million, up almost 20%, and every salesperson's numbers were up. The sales team left for the Bahamas that month on a cruise.

Kent says he knew things had changed when, onboard the boat, a salesperson approached him about holding an impromptu sales meeting, where someone asked what would need to happen for the company to sponsor the trip again next year. “I told them I'd start putting it together,” Kent says.