Fire, of all the five Chinese elements or wu xing, is perhaps the most evocative. The five elements have historically formed the metaphysical basis for Chinese medicine, philosophy and astrology – and are even used to describe human characteristics. And where fire is concerned, those characteristics include desire, self-expression, dynamism and emotional empathy.
For event managers, a spark of flame and fire can energise sales conferences and incentives, particularly where the objective is to build team spirit and ignite enthusiasm for better sales results in future.
The benefits of firing up sales employee commitment aren’t just based on astrology; they are coded in hard business data. A report by consultancy Watson Wyatt, called Building an Engaged Sales Force: What Matters to Asia-Based Employees?, argues that “highly engaged employees are five times as likely to believe passionately in what their organisation stands for, and more readily identify with the company’s products and customers”. It adds that “sales employees are not exclusively money-motivated”, and that smart companies focus on sales team engagement. “Companies with highly engaged employees have a 50 percent higher market premium.”
As competition in Asia-Pacific consumer markets intensifies – and sales staff are heavily in demand and routinely poached by competitors – red-hot incentive events help boost brand and product awareness, and engender commitment to the commercial cause. “Getting sales teams together regionally or globally for a combination of training and leisure time has emerged as one of the main trends in motivating and retaining salespeople,” says Carly Lewis, business director of CiEvents Hong Kong.
“In Asian markets trips are still very popular, especially to beach, golfing and gambling destinations,” says Lewis. “However, there is also an increasing demand for ongoing local incentive programmes that are more than just a fancy dinner. Some of what CiEvents are doing in this area includes a group chocolate-making class, a cigar and cognac tasting or an outdoor team-based challenge.”
Challenging sales staff, mentally and physically, is a key component to developing a strong team ethic, and adds passion and intensity to an incentive event. “Putting people in situations that are challenging and outside their comfort zone, and encouraging them to work in teams competing for an outcome, are great ways to encourage team performance,” adds Lewis.
“Most sales conferences and incentive events will include a teambuilding element in the programme,” says Emmeline Yuen, managing director of Shanghai-based Pivot Marketing. “Having a variation breaks the monotony of meetings and seminars. The teambuilding activity creates more participation from the staff and, if activities are fun, they will enjoy and remember the event.”
“Fun” is a word frequently used by incentive planners in Asia-Pacific. Consequently, creativity in the teambuilding content is important for clients to deliver key messages and motivate their staff. Pivot Marketing conceptualised and produced a full-day event for the China sales team of Sanofi-Aventis to inform them about a new improved drug formula and encourage the team to increase sales.
“The sales staff were split into teams and activities included an ice-breaker name game, a drug formula memory game and a negotiation and sales technique game,” says Yuen. The teams were also challenged to create their own advertising campaign, with participants given limited materials to conceive either a print or video ad. “The fastest team to complete all the tasks received a trophy at the evening gala dinner.”
Yuen says that companies in Asia are not afraid of thinking big when seeking to fire up sales performance. “Clients with budgets tend to select exotic venues and include enjoyable activities like spa sessions, Cirque du Soilel performances, visits to high-end casinos such as The Venetian Macao, and sightseeing-based entertainment. We recently hired 200 camels in the Dunhuang desert for one event.”
Hiring motivational speakers is another popular tactic, particularly if the speakers hail from overseas and deliver a fresh perspective on topics relevant to the programme and client messaging. “The use of internal speakers and having staff put on a performance often works well, too,” says Yuen. “This provides a platform for delegates to get to know each other and work together, especially if the sales staff are located across a country or region.”
Developing this theme, a troupe of entertaining executives kick-started a 350-person sales conference for Asia-based employees of Viasystems, a multinational high-tech company, on Australia’s Gold Coast. The opening night event, produced by Sydney-based Encore Business Tourism, saw the client’s senior executives dress up as famous Australian celebrities and perform a specially written song that mentioned all the names of the performing alter egos. “This really set the tone for having fun. Everyone was laughing right from the start,” says Deborah Saunders, operations director and of Encore Business Tourism.
The only offsite activity during the conference was created to combine team-based challenges that bring together attendees who hailed from across Asia. The guests were transported by boat to McLaren’s Landing on South Stradbrooke Island, where the afternoon activity and an evening event – featuring Aboriginal dancers and fireworks – were to be held. Before leaving, the group was separated into teams, with each one assigned the name of a shark found in the waters off Australia. Each team wore coloured caps and T-shirts bearing their shark’s image.
“On the boat, the teams got their brief, which was based on superheroes, such as Batman, Superman and Astro Boy,” says Saunders. “When the teams arrived on the island they had to find a box of props, then build in the sand a representation of their assigned superhero. We ended up with several guests buried in the sand wearing props to make them look like a superhero. It was obvious how much fun everyone was having.” After the team challenge, attendees were rewarded with an afternoon of water sports to wind down.
Behind the fun was some careful planning. “The main aim was for guests to enjoy interacting with their colleagues from across the region,” says Saunders. “But because of the different languages spoken, we steered clear of having anything that involved writing and reading, such as a scavenger hunt, as some people might have felt excluded from the language used.”
Choosing a hot, year-round location can incentivise team members to showcase their own personalities in an exotic and unconfined environment. “[Australia’s] Gold Coast personifies energy, spirit and dynamism, hence it is an appropriate destination for an incentive trip,” says Tan Suee Chieh, chief executive of Singapore-based finance company NTUC Income, which recently rewarded 250 sales employees with a five-day sunshine trip. The programme included competitive challenges like beach cricket, plus leisurely shopping at a high-end retail plaza in Surfers Paradise. NTUC Income’s 48 leading sales performers received trophies to reward their achievements on the final evening at Warner Bros Movie World.
Also utilising the heat and hospitality of the Gold Coast was US-based personal care and nutritional supplements company Nu Skin, which sent 1,000 distributors in two groups (700 and 300 people respectively) from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia. “[The aim was that] after the trip, they would feel rewarded for their accomplishments and go back energised and motivated to become even more successful,” says Melisa Tantoco Quijano, president of Southeast Asia Nu Skin Enterprises. “Normally, we would take our top distributors [to a destination in] Southeast Asia; however, as it was our 25th anniversary we wanted to celebrate our accomplishments in a special way.”
This statement aligns with a trend noticed by incentives destinations like Australia that attract sales groups from across the Asia-Pacific region. “The Asian incentive market will continue to grow for Australia in the coming years,” says Philippa Cocks, business events stakeholder manager for Tourism Australia. With growth comes demand for ever hotter incentives options.
“Asian clients are increasingly moving away from off-the-shelf tours to more sophisticated incentive packages, crafted to meet their business needs,” she says.
Jacqui Taylor, Gold Coast Convention Bureau director, agrees. “Companies are continually asking for new, fun and unique experiences that their employees will remember.” There’s also one frequent rider used to stoke the passions of Asian incentives groups. “It is a given that shopping will always be included in each and every programme,” says Taylor.
And therein lies a critical appraisal of fire-inducing incentives. In Chinese medicine, fire relates to the heart and circulatory system, and is an element to be treated with respect. Overusing fire can catalyse instability, so the structure and balance of a sales incentive event should facilitate both heat-inducing activities and sufficient chilling out to optimise its elemental impact – and its commercial objective.
5 Steps to Evoking Fire
In Chinese astrology, the Fire element is associated with extrovert, sociable people. So the five key characteristics to evoke in sales incentives events are:
• Enthusiasm and commitment to meet individual and group performance targets
• Dynamism and positivity towards problem solving
• Intuition and originality in strategy planning
• Energy and resilience to overcome barriers and hindrances
• Patience and understanding in teamwork situations.
5 Images of Fire
To help create the right environment for impassioning incentives delegates, certain decorative imageries and practical tips can help:
• Red is the colour of intensity and a desire to achieve goals and targets
• Fire energy is at its strongest around midday, so consider this when scheduling the programme
• June and midsummer are associated with optimum fire energy, so consider using summery backdrops
• The Vermillion Bird is strongly connected to the mythology of summer
• Scent-infused candles add an aura of calmness and compassion should team energies become overheated.