Q&A: Beyond the Basics of Sales Incentive and Partner Programs

20 August 2020 | Partner Enablement and Loyalty, Sales Incentives

5 Questions: With Annika Buntzoll, Sales Director at Aximpro. She shares her views on the drivers of successful sales incentive and partner programs, the aspects channel leaders often underestimate and why automation and digitalization are increasingly important.

1. You have hands-on experience in managing very broad and successful sales incentive programs. What are the cornerstones of an effective sales incentive program?

To really drive an effective and successful sales incentive program, there are three cornerstones. First, you need interesting and relevant incentives that are not too complicated or complex to understand and are well explained on your program’s portal. Second, you should have content like trainings and sales material on the portal to help partners sell the incentivized products or product groups. Third, you need to include gamification elements to keep partners active, interested and informed about the latest incentives and available material. Of course, these cornerstones can only be used once the program has started and has an existing user base. A new portal would need to be well communicated first, listing all its advantages and benefits to give partners a reason to join.

2. What do channel leaders often underestimate in how they approach sales incentive and partner programs?

There are various aspects that are usually underestimated when launching an incentive partner program for the first time. This already starts with the choice of incentives that will be offered. It is easy to focus on one incentive scheme first, for example incentives to drive loyalty, and then keeping to only that. With that approach, the vast range of other possibilities often fade into the background and become completely forgotten. When the focus is on one approach first, it’s important to include other possibilities, such as cross-sell incentives or incentives for first or frequent purchases. Incentive schemes should be diversified to serve different goals.

Another aspect that is often underestimated, is all the elements needed to keep the program interesting for partners. Partners need to be kept active and engaged through, for example, quarterly content and incentive updates or monthly specials. At Aximpro, for example, we have driven partner activity and engagement for clients through this approach by planning, creating and executing suitable and relevant communication. We have also provided a complete team to develop and execute content and incentive updates for clients who did not want to do it in-house.

Another aspect that should always be considered, is the user’s view and experience of the program. With many incentives running and different functionalities, it is important to keep the program as easy as possible to navigate by providing good usability. Nevertheless, there will always be questions, no matter how good the portal actually is. These questions are often underestimated and can be easily solved through a good and frequently updated FAQ section, explanatory webinars and a solid support team.

The final aspect that is often underestimated, is the value of data and the useful insights it can provide while a program is active. Data can answer the following types of questions: Which products are not selling and why? Are sales increasing when offering a higher bonus or when sales material and trainings are provided regularly? In what regions are incentives performing really well and where are they underperforming? Data insights provide a wide range of answers that can help with the development of the program and future decision-making.

3. When announcing Forrester’s Channel Software Tech Stack 2020, Principal Analyst Jay McBain wrote that with the rapidly shifting partner landscape, channel leaders and B2B marketers can no longer succeed with manual, human-centric processes to manage partner programs. What is your view on automation and utilizing various technologies for channel success?

Automation makes it much easier to handle very complex and very big partner programs, with hundreds or even thousands of users. One of my favorite aspects of automation is the personalization, making it is easy to cluster and approach only certain groups, markets or regions out of your partner base. Without huge effort, communication can be systematically focused and, therefore, is more relevant for the respective partners and can have a greater impact. It is even possible to implement aspects such as individual training suggestions for users on their start page.

4. In addition to automation and technology, why is localization also important?

Localization is needed in order to fulfill all the needs and special characteristics of a certain market, as markets can differ vastly. Good incentive programs have the possibility to drive specialized incentives for these markets and fit them to all peculiarities.

5. Final thoughts: What will future sales incentive and partner programs look like? How has the impact of the coronavirus shifted the way in which programs need to operate moving forward?

Digital solutions and platforms have become even more important. This is not only due to the coronavirus pandemic, but also as a general trend that we currently experience with sales incentive and partner programs. To have a close relationship from vendor to partner is even more important in times where face-to-face contact is not possible or the norm anymore. Partner portals can, therefore, be used exactly for that purpose: To create one place to inform, train and incentivize partners and develop a close relationship.

Annika Buntzoll, Sales Director at Aximpro

About the Expert: Annika Buntzoll is Sales Director at Aximpro, a multinational software development, as well as omnichannel marketing and consulting company with long-lasting expertise in the channel business. She has hands-on experience in successfully managing multinational and highly complex partner programs. Annika is excited about all the possibilities that sales incentive and partner programs hold and is always eager to go beyond the current standard.

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