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15 Minutes With...Chris Lund

By William Keenan

Chris Lund has pretty much grown up in this ever-evolving industry. He began working for World Travel and Incentives, a business travel company, in 1981. He was with MotivAction for about nine years, later joining Advantage Travel and Incentives, which uiltimately became Advantage Performance Network (APN). Lund also notes that his father worked for a predecessor of Carlson Marketing, “so I grew up handing out sun visors at a hospitality desk in Acapulco.”

The evolution continued in July of last year, when APN was purchased by travel management company ALTOUR and became ALTOUR Performance. “What they viewed in us was our capabilities and core competencies of groups, meetings and events,” says Lund, “as well as performance improvement, with our focus on employee engagement. Our proprietary award platform, To Your Advantage, fit in beautifully with their market.”

The benefits actually flow both ways. “They have numerous corporate travel accounts, and we can go after their groups & meetings and performance improvement business,” Lund adds. “It’s been a great marriage so far; it’s given us the financial support to keep growing our business, and we’re pretty excited about that.”

The Best of the Best

Evolution and change have also been spurred by economic and market conditions. “Everyone has been affected by this economy,” Lund says. “Companies have been beat up, budgets have been slashed, pay has been reduced and commissions have been reduced in dealer and distribution channels. But what’s left is the best of the best, whether it’s your employees or your channel partners, and now the question is: How do you establish a basis for reward and recognition for those who are left?”

Being ready to respond to changing customer needs is a key part of the equation. Lund explains that the To Your Advantage platform is a hosted, web-based solution that integrates rewards, communications, measurement and administrative tools to provide organizations with all the tools they need to run a first-rate program. It’s also customized, as much as possible, to the client’s needs. “We design the platform to align with the client’s corporate culture goals at the time,” he says. “We ask: What is your mission? What are your corporate goals and objectives for 2011? Are you rolling out any new sales or marketing campaigns? Everything can be tied into the platform.”

That sounds effective and practical, but buying behavior has also changed, and customers need a lot more reassurance these days about what they’re getting – and especially what they’re paying for it. “Everyone is cautious today about buying anything,” notes Lund, adding, “I can’t believe how many procurement agencies we’re working with. In many cases you don’t even get a chance to see, or have a conversation with, the stakeholder. The good news is that we’re seeing a lot more online RFPs. I have one in front of me from a national food company that’s 47-pages long. But how much personality can you put into an RFP?”

The Smarter the Better

Lund believes the old model of relationship selling isn’t dead yet, but he says it’s in danger of being qualified and quantified to death. “You’ve got to give them a lower price, as well as show them a return on investment,” he says. “Boards of Directors, Presidents, EVPs, CEOs – they’re all looking for that ROI. It’s got to make sense.”

And while trust is still a very important part of the process – understandable, considering the size of the spend involved for some clients – a much greater degree of transparency is also required. “Customers want to know how the money is being spent, financial concerns, the stability of your organization – it’s all put into question,” Lund notes. And he says the other side of the equation is just as ROI- and money-driven in these leaner, meaner economic times, “We’re working with hoteliers, merchandise companies and fulfillment companies that often want to see the money upfront before they’ll ship product.”

So Lund’s and ALTOUR Performance’s job comes down to blending all of those requirements into a model that’s going to deliver value to the award recipient without sacrificing too much along the way. Or as he puts it, “managing cash flow of everyone’s money and delivering a quality award in a timely fashion.”

The truth is, even though customers have become more discerning about the tools and solutions they use to accomplish their goals, Lund wouldn’t have it any other way. “They’re making smarter, better purchasing decisions these days,” he says. “Do we see that as a challenge? Yes. But I would rather work with a smarter customer than the alternative.”

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