4 Channel Sales Incentives Best Practices You Shouldn’t Overlook

By: Ellen Linkenhoker
people strategizing channel sales incentives

A handheld screwdriver can do all the things an 8-amp power drill can—they’re both adept at putting screws into walls.

But the similarities end there. Putting together a deck with just a screwdriver would take an incredible amount of time and patience. Throw a power drill into the mix and you’ll get it done in an eighth of the time with much less effort (and wrist pain).

The old way of doing channel sales incentives—without a focus on data-driven, gradual optimization—is like that screwdriver. Sure, it works, but there are ways to amp up your program to maximize the desired impact.

Follow these channel sales incentive best practices to get the most out of your program.      

1. Clearly Defined Objectives

Without a destination in mind, it’s impossible to get where you’re headed. Your channel sales incentive program is the same. It’s not enough to say “sell more.” Ask yourself, “How much more?” “Of what?” “And to whom?”

Don’t begin in the middle. Understand what success looks like and clearly define it. And not just success for you—the overarching corporate goals you’re looking to achieve—but for your partners, the program participants and your own executive stakeholders.

Understand your organization’s goals and connect them to your program's tactics. For example, if the goal of your incentive is around specific markets or product lines, how can your initiative segment the message and rewards to align with those broader, corporate goals? Or, if you're launching training or certification initiatives, how can you leverage those as a qualifier for your traditional incentives or SPIFFs?  Knowing how your program objectives align with the organization’s goals will enable you to create a compelling reason for investments into your channel partner initiatives.      

2. Communication

Here’s a shocking fact: the number one reason channel incentive programs fail to meet objectives lies with cuts and reduction in communication.

How will anyone know what they are supposed to do if you don’t tell them about the program, the criteria to succeed, and the resources available to them to get there! This is one area where you shouldn’t pinch pennies.

Once your objectives are crystal clear, tell everyone in the appropriate audience about your incentive program (think bigger than just participants—should the partner owner know? Should your internal team know?). If you don’t articulate and promote your objectives in emotional, motivating communications that resonate with your partners, you won’t meet the objectives you outlined.

More than that, if your program pays out and your participants aren’t quite sure why, it's a waste of money.

Communications focus on the behavior needed of participants and what value they will get out of engaging. They should also generate the energy and excitement necessary to ask for your participants’ effort.

And don’t write off more than just digital (email) communication. We’ve seen great things happen when you include non-traditional formats like text messaging (especially if you have in-the-field audiences), direct mail, desk drops, etc.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t plug segmentation here. Make sure you’re saying the right thing to the right people at the right time. Make sure you’re also encouraging participation along the way as well, don’t just send out an announcement and call it good.

3. Collect Data

Similar to communication, data collection throughout your program helps promote its longevity. Because we all know that if you can’t prove your programs worth (if you’re not there yet, it’s coming!), you won’t have that program’s budget for much longer. Especially with all the eyes in the market moving towards channel programs.

To create a thriving incentive channel program, make certain the numbers you need to prove program impact are attainable. Depending on whether you’re selling products or services, there are a few critical pieces of information like sales and behaviors that will go a long way in deciphering success. These data points should also support your original objective you outlined in step 1. When your program’s quantifiable data is right at your fingertips and it’s aligned as best it can be to your objective, you can track important figures and prove program impact to stakeholders.

Related: Learn how to use your data to differentiate yourself and drive results by downloading our ebook.

4. Channel Partner Incentive Program Optimization

So now you have the 3 critical pieces to a channel partner sales incentive—the fourth piece is ongoing optimization. Getting a stellar program in place is always the goal, but it would be silly to think that we are going to come up with the best of the best incentive program out of the gate. We encourage our clients to continue to test and evolve their programs.

With the data you’ve collected and the ongoing communications you’re putting in place, the health of your incentive program will remain positive for the long haul, but don’t become complacent. Remember to think in terms of onboarding rather than just launch. Consider leaving a base, steady program throughout the course of a year and strategically sprinkling in spurts or bursts of communication, earnings and awards when you anticipate a slump.

The growth impact a well-communicated, data-focused channel sales incentive can have on a company’s profitability, year after year, is enormous. Take these best practices into consideration and generate the powerful, results-driven output you need.

Find out how to steer your channel engagement strategy towards bottom-line results in our ebook, Is Your Channel Strategy On Autopilot?

Ellen Linkenhoker
Ellen Linkenhoker

Ellen Linkenhoker is the Channel Partner Solutions Lead for ITA Group. She drives the insights, strategy and evolution of the organization’s channel solution while offering advisement for client engagement and incentive programs. She’s worked as a practitioner in technology, software and service companies as part of the channel and as a vendor. She is an award-winning marketer and navigates all things channel, marketing, incentives and engagement, including pioneering thought leadership on channel partner ecosystems and the partner experience.