Stay Ahead of the Changing Channel Loyalty Landscape

By: Ellen Linkenhoker
Channel marketer looking at his phone
Customer trust is the new customer loyalty. “Loyalty is about the future—trust is about the present,” says Lynda Gratton, a workplace expert. People do business with those they trust. And trust isn’t built overnight—it’s built day-by-day by providing top-notch customer service with the right product or service at the right time at a reasonable price. Your partners ARE your customers! It’s time to give them as much focus as you do your direct customers.

More importantly, your goal should be to create brand advocates by engaging your partners in new and unique ways.

Develop Lasting Relationships

You know what your partners need. But do you know what they want? Partners expect consistent experiences, yes; but what about giving them something above and beyond that can reap huge benefits? Things like in-person events, advanced training and certification, personalized goals, and exciting incentives. When done correctly, engaging experiences will build a relationship within your channel that will lead to trust. In short, always be selling, but connect, communicate, and engage too.
Build a lasting relationship with your partners by giving them valuable, relevant content that fits their customer lifecycle and industry. This is a more personalized approach to engaging your channel that requires a deeper understanding of your channel segments. To earn the trust of today’s customers, you must “get” them on a personal level.
The good news? Once you make an emotional connection with your partners, you get much more than traditional loyalty—you get passionate, engaged advocates of your business. Connecting with partners and customers this way offers three times the return of just satisfying them.

What Drives Loyalty?

The changing channel loyalty landscape means future-forward companies will embrace customer-obsessed marketing that demonstrates channel understanding and customer experience. According to a recent report from Forrester, loyalty should be measured using both behavioral and emotional drivers.
Behavioral or transactional drivers typically include financial and sales metrics, customer service scores, retention tallies, etc. Emotional or attitudinal factors (across all industries) include the level to which your partners feel confident, happy, respected and valued in their relationship with your people and brand. Weaving a combination of metrics associated with internal and external motivators is a holistic strategy towards understanding how trust and connection in your channel impacts your business.

For example, Xerox wanted to understand how attitudinal factors affected performance among their 1,000+ resellers. They discovered “a high correlation (75%) between channel satisfaction (defined as the degree of trust, commitment, conflict and co-operation) and the reseller’s willingness to develop sales.” The study also noted that reseller satisfaction was “significantly dependent” upon how they felt about their relationship with Xerox. The products, delivering on their promise and support, was less important.

Who Drives Loyalty?

The loyalty landscape has been changing drastically over the years for organizations who work with partners. It’s becoming increasingly painful to find and recruit new partners who are in front of the customer. This is because the new partner is one the customer already trusts; the CPA firm, or technicians, the referrals of other customers, and more. There is a new breed of partner growing, one that is ready to be brought into the fold through a program and possibly incentives. Learn more about these alternative audiences and read how companies have put them to work.

Channel Your Focus

Not all partners are the same, especially if you’re broadening your program to include alternative audiences. Channel partners occupy a critical position in the brand value chain and relationship management is far more complex than traditional loyalty programs. Do the research. Interact. Ask questions of your partners. Take time to understand the unique drivers of the people in your channel segments.
Nurturing strong relationships takes a focused and concerted effort to develop trust and brand advocacy. It begins at the person-to-person level. “Trust is built and maintained by many small actions over time,” says Lolly Daskal, President and CEO, Lead From Within.
Channel customers who trust their partners have less price sensitivity and offer more recommendations to others for their partners’ products and services. In addition, B2B brand advocacy leaders grow 4-8% above their market’s growth. Everyone wins.
The channel loyalty landscape is changing. Start building trust now and brand advocacy will follow. Find actionable ideas to foster engagement between your brand and your partners with 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.