How to use channel partner survey feedback to improve your incentive program

By: Marcy Cooley

What you need to know

  • Voice of Partner (VoP) surveys are an important tool to affirm program design or uncover ways to improve the participant experience and achieve optimal engagement. 
  • Best practices in survey development, distribution and follow-up often involve the assistance of an objective and experienced third-party partner. 
  • Survey data should inform channel partner program evolution that demonstrates action on insights. 



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Soliciting channel partner feedback is an essential practice for designing an effective channel partner incentive program. Channel partner programs are an investment that helps partners expand their business with the goal of increasing exposure and market reach for your brand. As with any important investment, ongoing monitoring and evaluation are required to maximize business growth.

According to Hannibal Scipio, Principal Analyst of Channel Marketing at Forrester, knowing your partners is mission critical to improving their experience with your brand. Just as B2C organizations must understand their customers to ensure success, B2B organizations must know their channel partners to boost partners’ emotional connection to your brand and, ultimately, drive brand advocacy. 

Brands often make the mistake of assuming they know enough about the partner experience based on conversations with high-performing participants. Sure, knowing how top performers feel is important, but they’re already succeeding in the program. To grow engagement for all participants, you need to understand perspectives from your entire participant pool.  

Download White Paper: How to Get & Use Channel Partner Data

There are many ways to obtain information from program participants, but one of the most effective tools for building partner engagement—while encouraging all participants to be part of the process—is by using a Voice of Partner survey.

Audience perspectives change consistently, so a “one and done” approach isn’t advisable. Maintaining a steady pulse on the program is a best practice to understand the answers to the following questions:   

  • How do participants feel about the program’s current state?
  • Do participants understand the program’s qualification requirements to earn?
  • Are participants motivated and engaged? Or bored and checked out?
  • Do participants have the training/skills/knowledge to complete the requirements?
  • What information is most critical for participants to be successful? 
  • What rewards are most motivational to each segment?
  • How do participants prefer to receive program communications?

Without participant input, channel incentive programs risk becoming irrelevant, stagnant and boring. That translates to decreased partner engagement, which typically results in lowered revenue to your brand. Brands can proactively offset this risk by implementing a Voice of Partner survey strategy.

Developing a voice of partner survey strategy 

Capturing the voice of the partner is part of a continuous improvement strategy that will keep your channel program fresh, relevant and differentiated from the competition. 

Well-executed channel partner surveys can:

  • Inform improved participant segmentation
  • Increase personalization and relevancy
  • Reveal what is motivating to all partner levels 
  • Uncover program areas in need of improvement
  • Illuminate gaps in the program journey 

As a strategist, I have implemented program participant surveys alongside numerous Fortune 500 companies. I find the “a-ha” insights that always seem to surface fascinating, such as the following:

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Survey findings uncover need for training and communications

For a telecommunications client, we uncovered confusion about a new product that was negatively impacting sales. Through survey research, participants told us they lacked necessary information to understand the product and how to effectively sell it. Although product training had been implemented and training materials developed, program participants did not know how to access the resources. As a result, communications were developed to direct participants to training materials, and the brand’s reps were provided follow-up touchpoints. This simple fix showed participants that they were heard and put the sales potential of the brand’s new product back on track.

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Developing a comprehensive survey strategy can be daunting. That’s why many leading brands choose to work with an experienced third-party channel solutions partner. We often recommend implementing a variety of survey types, supplemental focus groups and analysis that help organization prioritize program enhancements. 

Do’s and don’ts of effective voice of partner survey design

A third-party channel solutions partner should walk brand leaders through each phase of survey design. I’ve outlined what should happen at each phase, and what mistakes to avoid. 

1. Survey development 

DO: Focus on program areas you want to better understand from the participant perspective. Develop “if/then” questions to make the survey as relevant as possible. 

DON’T: Forget to edit your questions for clarity and your survey for length. Your survey shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes to complete. 

Related: Ask the right questions at the right time using Voice of Partner surveys to get consistent partner feedback.

2. Survey distribution

DO: Send a time-bound survey to all program participants to obtain a representative sample across segments. Follow-up with a reminder.  

DON’T: Leave out the “why.” Help participants understand how the information will be used. Sending the survey on behalf of a senior leader vs. a generic address can also motivate a response. 

3. Survey analysis

DO: Append data like digital presence, go-to-market type, staff levels, organizational structures, etc. This will:

  • Help you add information to pre-created profiles around specialization and product strategies
  • Improve your digital presence (e.g., website, search engine marketing and optimization, domain authority, ecommerce, solution/product listings, etc.)

DON’T: Fail to compile and group the findings. Pay attention to incremental insights. 

  • What are most responders saying?
  • Are the responses from all participants? Or a specific group?
  • What areas are you surprised by/would like additional context to better understand?

4. Survey follow-up 

DO: Work to better understand the entire picture. Surveys cast a wide net; however, they can lack context. Use survey data to inform a second phase of small group sessions or 1:1s with participants from each tier.

DON’T: Rely on survey data alone, or risk getting a distorted view of the results. Survey results for a leading building supply distributor indicated participants were confident they fully understood the program. However, upon conducting individual interview sessions, we found fundamental program knowledge gaps. As the adage goes, sometimes “they don’t know what they don’t know.” Intentional follow-up sessions are great opportunities to investigate further to uncover potential gaps. 

5. Take action

DO: Identify areas that will yield the most value and align with the estimated cost investment to determine how to proceed. Start with the elements that are easiest to change without a large amount of effort or investment. Create a roadmap to address larger issues. 

DON’T: Take a “one and done” attitude. Establish a survey cadence to measure program optimization and ensure you’re elevating the participant experience. Sentiment surveys are typically longer and distributed less frequently. Short pulse surveys provide a quick check-in with participants and are usually distributed more often (e.g., quarterly) with an incentive program.

Here’s how a thoughtfully designed pulse survey can turn an existing touchpoint into an opportunity to collect valuable data and inform program design: 

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Pulse surveys increase participation

An auto manufacturer wanted to make their dealer programs more relevant for participants by understanding why and where participants were using existing programs. They worked with ITA Group to add a series of single-question surveys into their existing program. Participants were prompted to answer a question at each login, until they cycled through all the questions. 

This uncovered:

  • Clear demographic information
  • What motivated participants
  • Why they took part in a program 

The data collected was then used to tailor and optimize incentives, promotions and awards, resulting in increased engagement and participation from their dealer network.

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Great leaders understand success comes from listening more than talking. Listening uncovers opportunities to really improve and make a difference with your partner journey. Take time to solicit meaningful feedback from all channel partner levels and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what they’re going through and how they make their choices. Integrating partner feedback allows you to optimize and elevate your channel partner program for maximum return. 

Learn how to get and use all types of partner data in our guide to channel partner data.

Download Our White Paper: How to Get & Use Channel Partner Data
Marcy Cooley
Marcy Cooley

Marcy Cooley is a Senior Strategist in ITA Group’s Channel Partner Solutions, driving strategy for incentive programs that increase engagement. With more than 25 years of experience (12 of which have been at ITA Group), Marcy’s passion lies in helping her clients go from their current state to their future vision. Her expertise is varied, having worked with Fortune 500 brands in telecommunications, automotive, high-tech, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing industries. When not working on developing game-changing programs, Marcy enjoys wedding planning for her older son’s upcoming nuptials and cheering on her younger son on the basketball court.