Channel distribution sales has a reputation for being impersonal—cold and unfeeling, like the equipment often sold through such channels. I’d like to challenge that, though. Successful channel sales strategies depend on solid, trust-based relationships between you, your channel partners, and your end-consumers. Improving channel partner performance means that your channel partners enjoy being your channel partners, and want to share in mutual success. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to turn their focus on the other suppliers or distributors they work with.
Online incentive programs can help you steadily improve the channel partnerships that are so important to your success. Here are three key examples:
The Strategic Use of Non-Cash Rewards
Channel partner performance is largely determined by the habits and and processes that govern your channel partners’ behaviors. If you can gain influence over those behaviors, you can create habits that increase sales and boost profit margin over time. If you simply make it mandatory, you might meet resistance from channel partners and they’re likely to drift toward your less-autocratic competition. There’s a better option that builds positive associations and offers value in exchange for extra effort: rewards.
I recommend using tangible rewards rather than cash. Cash may be easy to dole out, but channel partners tend to view and spend cash rewards no differently than salary or commission. Non-cash rewards are more effective and have a psychological trophy value that cash can’t match. Here are some examples of tangible rewards and when to use them:
Gift and Debit Card Rewards
Gift and debit card incentives are good for short-term sales promotions or SPIFFs. Gift and debit cards can be used just about everywhere, and come with a big perk: you can brand your debit cards to keep your company top of mind with channel partners.
Merchandise or points programs can reward diverse channel partner audiences over long periods. No matter what tier their performance is, every channel partner can find something that catches their eye in a reward catalog with millions of items. This makes points programs a good vehicle for moving your middle- and low-performers closer to the top tier.
Your top performers may be so successful that most rewards are no longer so shiny and new to them. For these guys, offer travel incentive trips. The buzz around the trip will last long before and after the event itself, and creates lasting memories between you and your MVP channel partners.
There’s no getting around it: if you want to improve channel partner performance, you have to facilitate channel partner training. Improved training strategies lead to—you guessed it—improved performance. Training incentive technology can help you increase the quality and quantity of your channel partners’ product knowledge. Here’s how:
- Using online reward points or debit e-card funds, you can instantly reinforce training and turn it into a more positive experience.
- The biggest challenge to channel partner training is the pesky human tendency to forget stuff.
- Channel partner training technology allows you to deliver regular and repetitive training that’s presented in a variety of ways to keep it fresh and engaging. You can offer extensive training courses with video, worksheets, images, and graphs for those big, important initiatives. Then you can regularly reinforce that information by rewarding channel partners for passing quizzes or correctly answering daily trivia questions.
- Gamification features are great “learning boosters” to add to your training technology. Pairing learning with gamification is proven to boost the gratification from learning and improve brain functions. Display real-time leaderboards recognizing your top brainiacs or host Channel Partner Jeopardy rounds in honor of the late great Alex Trebek. Get creative and have fun! Fun isn’t just a great way to bond and build corporate culture, it’s a good learning-enhancement tool.
Enhanced Sales Promotions
I’m sure you run sales promotions to increase sales of certain products, stimulate sales growth during lagging periods, or to spread awareness and interest in upgrades and new technology. You can use channel technology to make those sales promotions faster, better, and stronger! A couple of ideas:
- Facilitate the quick submission and verification of sales claims (warranty registrations, invoices, and receipts, for example). Your channel partners can use their smartphones to log into the program, snap pics of qualifying documentation, and upload the document files right from the field.
- Use incentive technology that allows you to segment channel partners by region, department, organization, or performance. You can then run multiple, simultaneous sales promotions whose goals and qualification rules are tailored to individual segments of your sales channel. Promote separate products or behaviors for dealers, distributors, and contractors, for example, and set up different reward pay-out structures for each. Taking a segmented approach to your sales promotions gives your channel partners a more engaging and personalized experience with your sales promotions and incentives, while you reap the benefits of more fine-tuned, strategic initiatives.
Improving channel partner performance is an ever-evolving challenge. Customer expectations change just as fast as buying experiences, channel technology, and industry trends do. But by using flexible software solutions, getting creative with your sales and promotions strategies, and keeping channel partner engagement at the forefront of your plans, you can stay ahead of the game and maintain and upward, incremental trend of sales revenue.