From CX to PX

Fostering B2B Loyalty Through
Channel Partner Programs


Table of Contents

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    Amid economic challenges and tightening corporate budgets, B2B marketing and building channel partnerships have emerged as a crucial driver of growth and improved financial performance for businesses. HubSpot's 2022 survey underscores this growing reliance, with nearly half of the organizations attributing at least 26% of their revenue to partners, and 12.6% deriving over half of their revenue from partner relationships. B2B partnerships can take various forms, such as channel partnerships, distributor and resale affiliations, and technology alliances.

    Regardless of the chosen model, a well-designed B2B marketing strategy can help brands foster and incentivize partnerships, enabling them to access new markets, broaden customer reach, streamline operations, and share valuable data and expertise otherwise difficult to obtain independently. As we move through 2023 and beyond, managing such initiatives will become a crucial aspect of the B2B marketing landscape. To aid brands in navigating this evolving domain, we've compiled a guide on B2B partner programs and outlined key growth strategies, including innovative B2B incentives, to ensure businesses can fully capitalize on these vital relationships – and keep them loyal.

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    Evolving B2B: From Channel Partnerships to Entire Ecosystems


    More Partners, More Touchpoints

    In a B2B marketing landscape dominated by increasingly millennial, channel-agnostic buyers, partners have become invaluable ‘introduction networks’ for an increasingly virtual and peer-review-based buyer’s journey. Just like in the B2C world, strong-arm direct sales techniques are increasingly a turn-off to millennial buyers -- 83% of whom, according to Gartner, prefer self-discovery options for their ultimate brand selections. Partners can play a crucial role in expanding a brand's market scope by serving as the initial point of contact with new clients in ways that feel more organic and trustworthy. And with B2B buyers using as many touchpoints as in B2C, marketers are prioritizing partnerships along the entire B2B value chain to ensure they don't miss out on valuable opportunities to expand their reach.

    PayFit B2B program

    Payfit, a payroll and HR management software company, initiated an account-mapping partnership to explore the possibility of boosting their overall lead quality by sharing lead data with partners. The company noticed that the quality of its prospects improved substantially if the prospects were clients of its partner, enabling it to obtain higher-quality leads. Payfit has since continued to use account mapping with other partners in its ecosystem, and by doing so has doubled its conversion rate!


    More Partners, More Data

    For B2B marketers, the ability to acquire and use customer data is changing dramatically due to increased privacy regulations, and, according to a recent survey by BCG and LinkedIn, 39% say that they are already feeling the impact. In response, BCG suggests that “in a world without cookies, B2B companies should focus on creating mutually beneficial relationships with partners to accelerate data capture”. As businesses become increasingly dependent on first and second-party customer data, partnering with other organizations can be key to collecting this valuable information. By sharing data and insights, partners can gain a deeper understanding of their target consumers, leading to more effective marketing and sales strategies.

    Salesforce & Alibaba B2B partner program

    Salesforce, the cloud-based CRM software provider, joined forces with Alibaba, the e-commerce giant from China, providing both companies the opportunity to exchange customer data and insights and capitalize on each other's technological platforms. This B2B partner marketing strategy resulted in growth for both organizations. Since its inception in 2019, this partnership has resulted in a suite of combined services, most recently with the 2022 launch of a ‘headless commerce’ product designed and developed in China to "unify data across local channels."


    More Partners, More Multidimensional Growth -- via Ecosystems

    B2B partnerships are evolving into Partner Ecosystems to leverage network effects, enhance revenue, and strengthen resilience during economic downturns. According to Accenture, “90% of C-suite executives consider building an ecosystem business model important for their company as they attempt to navigate the disruption caused by the pandemic and seek new avenues for future growth”. These diverse ecosystems consist of partnerships that extend across various industries and partnership categories, enabling companies to access a wider customer base, while also fostering collaboration among partners within or even beyond conventional industry borders – paving the way for the development of unique business ventures.

    As McKinsey reports, B2B services are among 12 sectors that are giving rise to expansive ecosystems, which have the potential to contribute to an astounding $60 trillion integrated network economy by 2025.

    Zoom B2B Partner Program

    For Zoom, channel partners within its B2B Partner Program contributed to 40% of its business in Japan and over 70% of its business with the U.S. Federal Government in 2021. Through channel partnerships with value-added resellers (VARs), service providers, carriers, and independent software vendors (ISVs), Zoom’s ecosystem helped drive the adoption of the Zoom platform, while expanding partners’ businesses.

    Uber B2B partner Program  + Uber Eats B2B Partner program

    Uber tapped into an ecosystem model with Uber Eats during the pandemic, providing its core ride-sharing business some much-needed resilience during a time when earnings went down by $2.9bn. Uber Eats took off as the company pivoted to food delivery, attracting partner restaurants and outlets within a whole new delivery ecosystem, a move successful enough to lead towards grocery deliveries as well. This ecosystem-led pivot resulted in revenues more than doubling to $7 billion, providing a much need buttress to the company’s overall bottom line.

    HubSpot B2B partner Program

    HubSpot’s App Marketplace has become a wildly successful B2B partner ecosystem, offering a customer-centric platform for companies to easily find and connect with the integrations they need to run and grow their business. The platform has over 1,000 integrations available now, and the partner ecosystem it supports is expected to reach $12.5 billion in revenue by 2024.

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    Nurturing B2B: Creating an Effective B2B Partner Program

    As Partnerships and Ecosystems multiply, Partner Experience (PX) has become a critical factor for success in this new universe. A positive PX can lead to increased loyalty, higher sales, and stronger relationships between brands and their partners. On the other hand, a poor PX can lead to frustration, disengagement, and even a loss of partners. According to Accenture, “77% of partners say they have more choices of providers than they had three years ago, and 69% of partners agreed or strongly agreed that the power has shifted from vendors selecting partners, to partners selecting vendors”. Given the importance of partnerships, brands need to prioritize their PX initiatives as part of a robust and effective B2B partner program strategy, one in which everyone emerges better off for collaboration. See also our blog on 5 Keys to Winning B2B Loyalty Programs.


    Establish A Cohesive, Transparent Framework

    The success of a partnership can be built or broken based on the design of the B2B partner program in place – whether it’s woven into the fabric of business processes or siloed; whether it’s opaque or fosters an environment of transparency; and whether it has a clear leadership structure or not.

    Ensure Top-Down Internal Alignment:

    B2B Partner programs can offer a crucial structure for businesses to engage with partners on a large scale, particularly for organizations with numerous active partners -- truly successful programs depend on seamless data exchange between various departmental systems, such as marketing, sales, and customer service, which in turn requires comprehensive alignment from top to bottom for their effectiveness. Recently, Microsoft appointed an ecosystem leader to steer its B2B partner program, and companies like AWS, Google, and IBM have adopted similar strategies due to an understanding of the need for clear management of such initiatives.

    Segment and Continually Profile Partners:

    Create, segment, and continually update partner profiles and personas to grasp diverse partners' objectives and priorities, addressing key questions of how best to connect and communicate with these partners, how to evaluate their individual performances, and how to allocate resources they would need. Engage with partners through surveys or phone calls to understand their 'personality’ and keep a close eye on their satisfaction and engagement levels for continued success.



    Use Tech Platforms To Improve Ease of Doing Business

    Considering that ease of doing business is a critical element influencing a partner's choice to collaborate with a provider, vendor brands should ensure that partners can access a user-friendly platform to communicate, check the status of any deals, manage channel partner incentives, and find contacts across the partner network. Manual processes and static portals are as much a turn-off in the B2B world as they are in B2C, so partner platforms should have an attractive, intuitive UI.

    Partnership and ecosystem management technologies are seeing a boom in response to this growing need, and offer up expanded functionalities that include the following:

    • The ability to share data between partners and collaborate.
    • Remote access so users can access their deals through the cloud, from any device.
    • Analytics and performance monitoring against transactional and non-transactional metrics.
    • Learning management components for partners to pursue training and certifications.
    • Integrated channel incentives platform for digitally-redeemable channel partner rewards

    Adopt An Ecosystem Mindset to Encourage Partner Growth

    “83% of partners said the future of their business depends on a provider-partner ecosystem that fosters innovation”. A partnership ecosystem in its best form unites various B2B partner types, such as affiliate, referral, reseller, technology, and strategic partners, within cooperative communities. The aim is to foster an environment where they can collaborate and co-innovate, facilitating both vendor-partner and partner-partner relationships. While constructing an ecosystem, ensure that such mutually advantageous relationships are also established and nurtured.

    Support Scaling through Personalized Guidance:

    According to Accenture, bigger brands support their partners’ channel marketing strategies through AI tools, resulting in improved channel growth of 2-8%. AI tools can also provide personalized guidance to partners on how to grow their business, from suggesting certifications or training, to alerting partners to channel incentives that they are eligible for within the B2B partner program. Vendor brands that offer such information and assets become especially valuable to their partners.

    Dell B2B Partner Program

    Dell Technologies B2B Partner Program strengthens collaboration and streamlines the partner experience with persona-based training to help partners ramp up their growth faster. Three tracks have launched: Foundation, for those new in their career; Develop, for those who are new to Dell Technologies; Technical, for those looking to develop their skills. This streamlined Partner Program structure was introduced in 2022 and allows partners to personalize the best route to market for their business and customers.

    Share Marketing Assets and Automation Tools: 

    Although partners gather a wealth of data, many struggle to utilize it effectively in their channel marketing strategy. Vendors can support their partners by providing access to marketing automation tools, which enable the creation of customized and personalized assets to target end customers. This includes co-branded video libraries that equip partners with easily adaptable and shareable video content.

    IBM B2B portal

    IBM's B2B Partner Portal offers access to IBM My Digital Marketing, a B2B partner marketing automation platform equipped with ready-to-use assets, enabling partners to plan, tailor, implement, and evaluate marketing campaigns. Additionally, partners can utilize customizable marketing kits crafted by IBM experts, designed to assist in digital prospecting and event execution. These partner-ready campaigns include the partner's logo and contact information that direct users to a partner-branded landing page

    Provide Ongoing Support To Eliminate Pain Points: 

    Boosting partner growth calls for a long-term approach that not only identifies but also helps partners tackle their challenges, enabling them to skillfully market products and services to customers. This can be done by introducing dynamic programs that progressively advance partners' capabilities over time. From onboarding initiatives to product and sales training, the entire sales and marketing process should be supported within a thriving B2B partner program. Regularly keeping tabs on partner pipelines and reporting the results can also further incentivize and inspire growth through these channel partnerships.

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    Rewarding B2B: Channel Incentives for Partnership Growth

    Channel partner incentives are becoming increasingly old-hat within any B2B partner program aiming to nurture its partner network. As these networks gain complexity, B2B incentives will similarly need to evolve in their structure and management to keep their partners on board. According to a 2022 Incentive Research Foundation study, one-quarter of companies surveyed say they have ‘significantly increased’ incentive spending with at least half saying they have increased spending ‘significantly’ or ‘somewhat’. In order to foster partner loyalty through an effective B2B channel incentive program, consider the following six best practices:


    Choose Tiers or Points, But Always Opt for Clarity

    B2B incentive programs have traditionally used tier structures, but such systems make for uneven groupings among larger numbers of diverse partners. They also make it hard for smaller partners to reach the highest tier level, and make it easy to overlook partners who may not generate sales and revenue directly. Points-based incentive models are increasingly being used as they make it easier to reward a wider range of partner contributions and are easier to scale up as needed. But no matter the structure chosen, a B2B incentive program must be clearly defined in order to work.

    Make Sure the Incentive Structure is Easy to Follow:

    Any incentive structure that is overly complicated or unpredictable is unlikely to be successful. To ensure maximum ROI, it’s best to maintain a predictable structure where targets, key performance indicators (KPIs), and channel partner reward offerings are clear and transparent. With partners often having access to many kinds of ecosystems these days, programs that require them to spend too much time understanding the benefits or how to participate can result in disengagement and un-involvement.

    Clearly Communicate Objectives, Benefits, and Progress:

    The rules, terms, and conditions of the overall channel partner incentive structure should be readily available, ideally through a partner portal for easy click-and-viewing. From the outset, vendors should record their partners’ agreed-upon targets, and keep them current on their standing via interactive dashboards, and monthly statements.



    Align Channel Incentives With Every Stage of The Partner’s Journey

    Partners can play a vastly expanded role in the new B2B buying journey – they influence prospects, refer leads, co-build solutions, provide support during a sale, and service shared customers to boost retention. As a reflection of this, partners need to be recognized and rewarded for every step of their journey, not just for the dollar value of sales transactions.

    Reward All Activities That Contribute to Growth:

    Channel partner rewards should be earned against a mix of transacting and non-transacting behaviors, such as meeting or exceeding monthly sales goals as well as completing training modules or even posting on social media. With partners often serving as the first node of contact for buyers, it's more important than ever that they upskill their knowledge of vendor products – training-based rewards can be useful in this regard.

    IBM B2B portal

    Know Your IBM (KYI) is IBM’s primary B2B loyalty program, targeting resellers globally with rewards for completing product educational activities and selling eligible IBM solutions. Participants are rewarded with points for completing year-round online learning modules, and for selling certain IBM products/services, with points exchanged for gifts from participating merchants. Partner engagement is driven by fusing innovative gamification techniques with e-learning to drive participation.

    Make Room for Non-Transacting Partners:

    Partners in large networks and ecosystems tend to be market enablers, not market makers. A growing priority in B2B partner programs, therefore, is the incentivization of such diverse, non-transacting, ‘influencers’, including those who refer qualified leads or deliver incremental services post-sales. In the 2022 B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report, over 73% of marketers reported an increased interest in influencer marketing over the past year, with 80% saying they expect interest will continue to grow in 2023. B2B incentives need to adapt to this emerging reality.



    Offer Channel Sales Incentives That Encourage Partner Growth

    The most commonly used B2B incentives are sales-based, and reward efforts that partners – and their individual sales reps -- make to support overall revenue growth. In offering channel sales incentives, having a mix of incentives that appeal to the long-range perspective of the partner company as well as the immediate-term goals of individual reps is important. For example, partner companies appreciate discounts, rebates, and Market Development Funds (MDFs), as they go towards their bottom lines and also facilitate their future marketing efforts. Sales reps are motivated by direct performance-based incentives like Sales Performance Incentive Funds (SPIFs) which make them excited about selling a vendor’s product.

    Having a robust mix of offerings will include:

    • Discounts: At a business level, discounts are popular because they contribute directly to overall profitability –particularly during a period of economic uncertainty.
    • Rebates: These promotions give partners a percentage of the sale as a reward and motivate partners to boost their sales volume. Rebates are typically volume-based, meaning that partners need to hit a certain sales threshold before receiving their incentive.

    Outdoor living products manufacturer The AZEK Company wanted to streamline their Homebuilder rebate program and gather more actionable data. AZEK leveraged Snipp’s turn-key rebate solution and receipt validation technology to allow Contractors to upload invoices via desktop and mobile quickly and efficiently. Snipp provided custom reports to AZEK to save time and staffing efforts to produce rebate checks. Through the initiative, AZEK was able to gather product-level sales data to help improve its operations.

    Pool manufacturer Hayward wanted to run a sales incentive program to encourage installers to actively seek out and install Hayward products in their daily repairs and upgrades. Snipp created a digital rebate platform for Hayward where installers could submit a before photo of the previous product and an after photo of the newly installed Hayward product online to get a rebate. All installers with valid submissions could choose a $50 digital gift card from several retailers through a digital reward platform.

    Sales Performance Incentive Funds (SPIFs):

    These incentives go directly to the partners’ sales rep and can be a powerful tool to boost performance during slow times or off-seasons. Some popular SPIF rewards include gift cards, entertainment tickets, tech gadgets, a weekend getaway, or even lunch with executives!

    Hatch B2B program

    Texting platform Hatch conducted an experiment using Sales Performance Incentive Funds (SPIFs) to motivate partners' Account Managers (AMs) to enhance referred leads and assist in closing sales. AMs were informed they would receive $50 if one of their clients participated in a Hatch demo, and an additional $250 if the deal was finalized. Consequently, partners became more inclined to provide leads with a greater chance of closing. Hatch's sales representatives now boast a 70% close rate (up from 46%), and the program extended SPIFs to even more AMs.

    Market Development Funds (MDFs)/Innovation Funds:

    Through Market Development Funds (MDFs) and innovation funds, channel partners can access benefits -- financial or knowledge-based -- that help them expand their businesses. These may include enhanced partner support for addressing growth challenges, exclusive data insights for gaining a competitive edge, or technical assistance with solution development. Additionally, partners may receive support for launching various marketing initiatives such as hosting webinars, organizing marketing events, or joining trade shows. MDFs are highly effective for partner companies, as these kinds of B2B marketing investments generate a 'waterfall effect' on their own sales performance.

    IBM B2B portal

    IBM’s Growth Marketing Program

    In 2023, IBM unveiled a new growth marketing program that provides incremental marketing funding rewards to IBM B2B Partner Plus Gold and Platinum tier partners to accelerate their growth. Additionally, investment allocations would increase alongside a partner's growth rates.

    Co-Op Funds:

    Accumulated over time, these funds are closely tied to sales, ensuring payouts occur only when a partner's customers make purchases from the brand, creating a lasting sales incentive for partners. Although conventional Co-Op funding is typically provided as account credits, Co-Op funds can also be incorporated into a B2B loyalty or rewards program.

    Deal Registration/Referral Incentives:

    These incentives reward partners for identifying and referring customers – if they eventually convert to sales. B2B referral programs are a great way to kindle partner loyalty and make them advocates for a brand.

    BlackBaud B2B partner program

    Software company Blackbaud offers an incredible B2B referral program that incentivizes current customers to become product advocates or Blackbaud Champions. Champions are encouraged to share their insights about how Blackbaud solutions helped them advance their mission, and, by providing feedback and sharing content on social media, Champions earn Reward Points that can be redeemed for discounts, complimentary passes, gift cards, and VIP experiences, and more.

    American_Express B2B Partner Program

    American Express Partners Plus is a B2B referral program between an organization and American Express Global Corporate Payments. American Express awards organizations with a wide range of rewards if they successfully refer one of their business contacts for the Global Corporate Payments program.


    Keep it Fun With Gamification

    Gamification can be easily integrated into the best B2B channel incentive programs and can effectively serve to reward certain behaviors and engage low points earners.

    Contest and Prize Programs: 

    Contests, including Instant Wins or Sweepstakes, serve as powerful tools to launch new products, stimulate sales of select SKUs, and bolster partner engagement. These events encourage participation and can be strategically implemented as either standalone channel incentives or seamlessly integrated into larger contests, amplifying the excitement and fostering a connection with vendor brands.

    Breed Healthy Competitiveness With Leadership Boards:

    Tapping into the innate human desire for success and the instinct to avoid lagging behind, a leaderboard showcasing real-time data can work wonders in driving partner motivation. By displaying the achievements of others, dynamic scoreboards can ignite a spark within those lagging behind, inspiring them to step up their game and secure their spot among the top

    Oakley B2B Partner Program

    Eyewear brand Oakley wanted to create a dynamic channel rewards program to incentivize sales representatives in a fun, gamified way, and create a database of sales representatives in the process. In partnership with their agency, Snipp built a robust mobile-optimized experience, where sales representatives registered and submitted a receipt or POS printout showing a qualifying purchase. Each receipt was validated for its unique transaction ID and retailer name, with a real-time leaderboard showing sales representatives. The program offered tiered rewards with prizes for the Top 25 Reps, a grand prize winner, and Individual Rewards for reaching sales goals.

    Würth B2B Partner Program

    German subsidiary Würth Denmark caters to the needs of builders and contractors by supplying tools, safety equipment, fasteners, and more. To engage their partners, they create targeted and always-on gamification campaigns like pop-ups that run for longer periods and shorter product-tied games. Through their efforts, they’ve gathered hundreds of email marketing permissions in exchange for product samples and 25% of website visitors who interacted with a pop-up built on their platform made an online purchase.


    Offer Robust Rewards That are Easy to Access & Redeem

    Channel rewards play a pivotal role in motivating performance, and to be truly effective they should straddle the line between being enticing enough to inspire partners and challenging enough to transform their actions. Most importantly, it should be easy for partners to access and redeem points and rewards as needed.

    Include Non-Cash Incentives And Rewards:

    Non-cash incentives are increasingly popular in B2B incentive programs for their impact on recipients. Large companies (with revenues of at least $5M or more) have almost universally adopted non-cash incentives as part of their culture, according to 2022 data from the Incentive Research Foundation, to which they attribute a 32% increase in total revenue and a 30% increase in market share. Why? These incentives are particularly successful because they produce emotional reactions when awarded, that elevate their perceived value beyond their monetary value. People like to be recognized for their hard work, and non cash rewards tend to be highly visible as well as socially lauded. Non-cash rewards can include debit or gift cards, one-of-a-kind experiential rewards like travel packages and plane tickets, and even awards.

    Create a Digital Channel Rewards Platform:

    Considering the significant amount of time we spend on devices, whether at work or home, it’s more important than ever to make reward systems accessible online – and optimized for mobile. This can be achieved by collaborating with a corporate rewards provider or by creating an in-house platform. Regardless of the approach, partners will appreciate the convenience of monitoring their points, exploring channel reward ideas, and redeeming their choices in a streamlined manner.

    P&G B2B program

    Procter & Gamble recognizes top-performing partners within their B2B Partner Program through various recognition-based awards such as the External Business Partner of the Year award, which honors suppliers that have  demonstrated outstanding innovation, customer service, and cost-saving initiatives.


    Keep it Dynamic and Adaptable to Feedback

    A channel incentive program is a living entity within the overall B2B partner program and requires ongoing care and fine-tuning. It is important to keep checking in with partners about the efficacy of the program structure, the value of the rewards being offered, and the usefulness of the metrics being utilized. Listen to partner feedback, experiment with new initiatives, and make data-driven decisions on program changes if needed. Partners serve as a vital repository of knowledge, and when their insights are effectively leveraged, they can significantly enhance the channel incentive program – and with it, the overall B2B partner program.

    Microsoft B2B Partner Program

    Microsoft switched to a points-based B2B partner program in 2022, phasing out its earlier tiered system thereby allowing the company to adjust the program according to its evolving goals. This approach highlights the need for flexible partnership structures that can be updated as business requirements change.

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    As the B2B buyers' landscape continues to transform and diversify, partnerships are becoming increasingly essential. With digital channels supplanting traditional direct-sales methods, the significance of partners as influencers, agents, and advocates throughout the buyer's journey is undeniable. B2B partnerships not only expand market reach and enhance discoverability but also secure valuable data in a post-cookie era. Additionally, as economic challenges persist, a strong partner ecosystem can help businesses explore new growth and revenue opportunities beyond their historical boundaries, ultimately determining the market leaders in 2023 and beyond. In this partner-centric world, the Partner Experience (PX) has emerged as a vital component for fostering successful collaborations and nurturing growth within an ecosystem. By creating comprehensive B2B partner programs that align with partner goals and offer meaningful channel incentives and rewards, businesses can significantly improve the PX factor of their overall partner initiatives – and consistently generate a positive return on investment over time.

    Download the B2B Channel Loyalty PDF Here

    About Snipp

    Snipp provides promotions and loyalty programs designed to engage customers across the entire path to purchase - in-store, at home and online. Clients can run one-off promotions to evergreen loyalty programs that meet objectives at a brand, shopper, category, and portfolio level and customizable by region, language, channel, retailer and more.

    SnippCARE, our modular Customer Acquisition, Retention & Engagement platform, powered by our market-leading receipt processing platform for purchase and non=purchase validation, enables implementation of ROI-driven, omni-channel programs, globally. We capture zero-party data in real time and build proprietary data sets, driving engagement, personalization and brand loyalty and enabling intelligent decision-making. It’s tailor-made for brands to build deeper relationships with their customers.

    For over a decade, we have worked with the world’s leading organizations in both B2C and B2B spaces, across industry verticals including CPG, retail, pharma, utility, home and outdoor, alcohol, tobacco, lifestyle and more.

    Contact us to know more 

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    • https://www.itagroup.com/insights/channel-partner-engagement/trends-the-best-channel-partner-programs-are-adopting
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    • https://www.computerweekly.com/microscope/feature/What-makes-a-good-partner-incentive-programme
    • https://www.computerweekly.com/microscope/feature/What-makes-a-good-partner-incentive-programme
    • https://www.crossbeam.com/blog/hatch-closing-deals-faster-incentivizing-partners-account-managers/
    • https://www.computerweekly.com/microscope/feature/What-makes-a-good-partner-incentive-programme
    • https://channelmarketerreport.com/2023/01/enhanced-partner-portal-powers-ibms-new-channel-program/
    • https://referralrock.com/blog/channel-partner-incentive-program/
    • https://www.blackbaud.com/blackbaud-champions
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    • https://canalys.com/insights/How-to-successfully-build-channel-ecosystems-to-drive-subscription-and-consumption-models

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