What a Standards & Compliance Program Is (& Why You Need One)

ITA Group
ITA Group

example of scores for standards program

Successful channel leaders might not know of standards programs by name, but they probably know they need one.

A standards and compliance program incents channel partners to consistently meet key performance indicators (KPIs) across various operational efficiencies.

Perhaps, as a channel leader, you’ve been searching for a way to increase partner profitability, enhance customer experience and create brand consistency across all channel partners. Maybe you need a way to measure how well partners have implemented new initiatives. Or corporate leadership wants to motivate a particular behavior in partner employees.

There’s a need to improve the brand’s standards in the channel in some way, but you don’t know how to gain that uniformity.

A standards program might be just the ticket to create consistency, push partners to achieve scorecard metrics and measure progress against KPIs.  

How Standards Programs Help Channels

Top-level brands need consistency and flawless customer service to build brand loyalty. If a customer faces options in a highly competitive market, having a strong brand reputation is a differentiator.

You don’t want to risk alienating customers because they happen to go to a location or work with a partner that doesn’t live up to your brand’s customer experience expectations.

It's tempting to dismiss standards programs as unnecessary because companies include brand standards in contracts and guidelines. And yet, channels are complex.

It can be hard to reach partners in the middle or further down the chain, and sometimes rules and guidelines are not enforced uniformly. Incenting desired behaviors helps maintain standards and motivate lesser performing partners to step up their game. Positive reinforcement is a more powerful motivator than punishment.

Some common reasons channel leaders implement standards programs include:

  • Tracking compliance to brand guidelines and marketing representation
  • Motivating partners to take part in a particular initiative or promotion
  • Encouraging partners to reach a particular KPI
  • Improving service levels to increase satisfaction rates
  • Implementing enhanced customer experience practices in sales, marketing or operations

When Is a Standards Program Ideal?

Standards programs incent particular behaviors, such as reinforcing best brand practices, and can measure levels of conformity among partners on KPIs. They are ideal for addressing behaviors tied to brand standards instead of sales goals (although improved sales often result from improving standards).

Consider creating a program for addressing standards regarding:

  • Customer experience
  • Service levels
  • Franchise requirements
  • Ideal employee behaviors
  • Independent location quality and consistency
  • Knowledge/certification requirements

For example, a leading automotive parts retailer wanted to motivate its partners to be consistent across locations to boost customer satisfaction. They implemented a standards program focused on five key areas of profitability: Sales Growth, Store Presentation, Education/Training, Wholesale Marketing and Bonus. Locations earn points in each area to achieve a ranking which qualifies partners to earn rewards. The program has proven to be incredibly effective beyond just sales—impacting how customers connect with the brand and its partners.

example of standards program platform

How to Get Started

Start with the audience you want to reach and use existing ideal profiles or scorecards to determine what specific KPIs or best practices you should emphasize. If you don’t have existing ideal profiles, look into a research study or audience profiling project to identify best measures for your brand.

Then, consider how partners can reach these metrics via incentives and how you will measure success. Build the program around the metrics and incentives.

It’s possible the program might cover audiences whose roles interact with brand standards in different ways. Using segmentation allows a program to be flexible enough to accommodate those different needs. Segmentation helps personalize a program to your unique brand and industry.

Related: Looking to find your ideal channel partners? Learn how program segmentation can help.

Standalone Standards Programs Versus Integrated Programs

There are two options for implementing standards programs: standalone or worked into existing incentive programs.

For programs hyper-focused on a specific audience, partner role type or non-sales measure, it might make more sense to have a standalone program to track, measure and reward achieving brand standards and compliance metrics.

For some brands, it might be easier (and more user friendly) to embed standards elements into an existing incentives program and platform so partners and their employees can access all ways to engage with the brand in one place.

When faced with the decision of whether to have a standalone or integrated program, one leading supplier of construction and industrial supplies chose to integrate their standards program into their existing incentive program. They added specific quarterly and annual standards measurements alongside the financial, profitability and growth incentives they already included in their ongoing partner program. A partner engagement hub was then used to track progress, eligibility and submissions—all in one spot.

standards of excellence program website on laptop

Update Programs to Maximize Results

Standards and compliance programs should change every year to maximize their benefits. As partners meet their goals, it can be tempting to call the program a success and wrap it up. However, this mindset tables opportunities to continue growing the brand.

When standards aren’t top of mind, it’s far too easy for partners to forget them as they go about their daily business—and customers notice the difference. There’s a strong correlation between service level, customer experience and satisfaction rate. It’s a good practice to keep standards programs going so all three remain high.

To analyze results, include surveys that look at program effectiveness and if the program gives partners the right tools and behaviors for how to operate. Use peer groups and feedback to evaluate the program and make any necessary adjustments.

Finally, analyze KPI success and look for next steps to keep growing success. As you meet goals, add new initiatives and update metrics. Ongoing analysis helps you pinpoint top-performing partners’ behaviors to include in the program for other partners to achieve.

Standards programs help your channel build a culture of achievement. Use them to create a consistent brand that customers stay loyal to, even in tricky times and competitive markets, and to reward partners for good work rather than punish for breaching a contract or agreement.

Channels frequently use standards programs to create a focus on learning. Set your channel up for success by integrating training and enablement opportunities into your program.