The Importance of Incentive Programs in Today’s Channel

by: Jim Costello February 18, 2020

For manufacturers, incentive programs are more important than ever before. Today’s channel is more competitive and more fragmented. The partners and platforms manufacturers rely on to go to market have evolved.

Recently, we released Incentive Program Secrets for Manufacturers, a free e-book that explains the importance of incentive programs and how manufacturers can (and should!) incorporate incentives into their go-to-market strategy.

Doing so has key strategic benefits, which we’ll be discussing more in-depth:

  • Using incentive marketing to cut through the “noise” in today’s channel.
  • Leveraging group incentive travel to earn brand loyalty from thought leaders and influencers in your channel.
  • Having technology to quickly deploy strategic promotions, personalize engagement, and augment your value proposition to outpace the competition.

The Importance of Incentive Programs in the Battle for Mindshare

Channel partnerships today are more complex. Your customers have larger buying committees, longer buying cycles, and instant access to more information and options that influence their purchasing decisions. There’s a lot of “noise” in today’s channel. This “noise” includes your competitors, but also the rise of “non-transacting influencers,” such as industry publications and thought leaders. These influencers can have a tremendous effect on buying decision-makers. A timely Tweet or relevant blog can sway purchasing decisions across entire industries.

An incentive marketing platform empowers manufacturers to cut through the clutter to capture or maintain the attention of your channel partners. An incentive program provides an easily communicated value proposition and creates a space for engaging and communicating with channel partners. While mere reward fulfillment probably won’t earn you authentic brand loyalty (especially if your competitors offer similar programs), it opens the door for meaningful relationship-building down the line.

Later in this article, we’ll explore how to use modular incentive software platforms to capitalize on this initial engagement and to quickly and continuously augment the value proposition of your incentive program in order to earn authentic, emotionally-connected brand loyalty.

Using Group Incentive Travel to Earn Brand Loyalty from Industry Influencers

In addition to directly marketing to your more traditional channel partners, don’t neglect the importance of incentive programs in influencing non-traditional, non-transactional partners in your channel. However, you’ll have to adjust your strategy for this segment of your audience.

Have you ever noticed how certain publications consistently cover the same companies? Or how certain influencers mention the same brands over and over. Some of this coverage is paid-for, and some of it might be based on opinions on objective brand quality, but it’s naïve to think that there isn’t often an emotional component.

You can’t really offer a thought leader SPIFFs or rebates or invite them to enroll in a points program. They are typically non-transacting and don’t exist in the framework of a traditional channel partnership. However, you can invite a select group of industry influencers to an exclusive forum at an incentive travel destination. Group incentive travel creates opportunities for you to educate influencers on your brand and start building meaningful relationships that could pay dividends down the road. This small, targeted investment could have a major impact on your visibility and credibility in the channel.

Differentiating Your Program from Your Competitors'

Earlier I mentioned how simply offering an incentive program isn’t enough to build authentic brand-loyalty. In a lot of ways, it’s expected. Chances are, your competitors offer similar reward-earning opportunities.

Brand preference created from a reward promotion only really lasts the length of promotion. Incentive platforms create authentic, long-term brand loyalty when they:

  • Consistently offer compelling promotions.
  • Capitalize on opportunities to personalize engagement and enablement.
  • Continually augment their value proposition to outshine the competition.

The Importance of Incentive Technology

This is where incentive technology platforms are so important. Components of successful channel incentive technology platforms for today’s manufacturers include:

  • Integrated digital hubs where channel partners can easily connect with your incentive program and your brand.
  • Elements of gamification to engage channel partners and build mindshare in between reward-earning opportunities.
  • Communication tools to market to channel partners and communicate promotions across a variety of channels.
  • Enablement and training modules so that you can share relevant knowledge and selling points that make it easier for partners to sell your product to end-users.
  • The ability to segment your audience, offer tiered rewards, and structure multiple promotions.
  • Data collection tools and advanced reporting that you can integrate with your other business intelligence tools and use to inform your sales and marketing strategies.

Most importantly, you need to make sure that your incentive technology is fast, scalable, and adaptive. In today’s channel, you have to be able to consistently augment your program’s value proposition and be able to deploy lightning-quick responses to market opportunities or the tactics of the competition, without breaking the bank through additional IT costs.

Additional Best Practices for Incentive Programs for Manufacturers

Recently, the Incentive Research Foundation released a study entitled, “What Top Performing Manufacturing Companies Do Differently for Incentive and Rewards” Using a combination of their findings with our own industry experience, we created the following best practices to help manufacturers design (or refresh) effective channel incentive programs:

  • Get executive buy-in. Top-performing manufacturing companies are 2x more likely to have executive support for their channel incentive program and to view their program as a competitive advantage.
  • Create hierarchical program management. Top-performing manufacturers are over 2x more likely than average performers to have a centralized program with a hierarchical program management structure.
  • Align goals between department. Top performers report that they are 2x more likely to collaborate across departments on their incentive program design and management.
  • Provide clearly defined goals and qualifications for incentive rewards. Top-performers were 66% likely to reward channel partners based on pre-defined goals than average manufacturers, and almost 2x more likely to have clearly defined, measurable objectives for their channel partners.
  • Scale reward selection based on performance. Top-performing manufacturing companies are 3.5x more likely than average performers to offer a wide selection of rewards with different levels of attainability to match each level of performance.

You can find additional insights and best practices by downloading Incentive Program Secrets for Manufacturers.

Learn more about best channel incentive program best practices with this free e-book.

Download Now!


About Jim Costello

Jim Costello is Executive Vice President at Incentive Solutions. With 29 years of experience in the incentive industry, Jim Costello has been instrumental in shaping the evolution of incentive strategy and has designed successful incentive programs for some of the country’s most influential brands. He specializes in telecommunications and insurance distribution channels.