B2B relationships between brands and their channel partners are no longer as clear-cut as in the past. With the evolution of digital and online mediums, new breeds of channel partners have emerged, with roles to play beyond mere sales. Social media, for example, has made marketing behemoths out of ‘influencers’ who now have tremendous sway over the purchasing habits of their followers.
Brands that want to bring their products and services to the forefront need to cultivate relationships with these new kinds of channel partners, who play increasingly vital roles in winning over discerning consumers. The B2B marketing goal is now to turn channel partners into brand advocates, for which they need to be courted, incentivized, trained, and compensated. In order to help our brand and agency clients navigate the ins and outs of this new landscape, we’ve put together a 2018 guide to making B2B better.
- B2B relationships are as personal as B2C – if not more so: On average, B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers.
- A brand’s business value has a 21.4% impact on perceived benefits, while personal value has a 42.6% impact
- 9 out of 10 B2B and consumer audiences agree that brand experiences that deliver stronger personal interactions offer more compelling brand engagements
- The B2B buyer is younger, and more digitally savvy: According to Google, the growth in B2B buyers in the 18 – 34 age demographic grew 70% from 2012 to 2014. B2B relationships are therefore subject to the same expectations of mobile-first, personalized service as any millennial customer.
- Channel Partners have greater power to differentiate a brand to consumers: According to HBR, consumers can get lost in the overwhelming variety of purchase options. But a proactive, prescriptive sales approach increases purchases by 86%. Prescriptive suppliers give a clear recommendation for action backed by a specific rationale – channel partners need to be incentivized to advocate for that rationale.
- Incentive programs are proven to improve channel partners’ performance and more fully engage them in the selling process. In fact, some studies show that properly implemented incentives can increase performance by up to 22%!
MAKING CHANNEL PARTNERS YOUR BRAND ADVOCATES
Getting through to today’s consumer requires more than traditional advertising or incentives. They can effectively block pop-up ads, tune out branded information, and navigate competing discounts and deals like seasoned pros. With all the tools available to influence a consumer’s buying decisions, the one that matters most – still – is a recommendation. According to a Nielsen survey, most people (77%) say “word-of-mouth advice… is the most persuasive source of new product information.” For brands who are a step removed from their end customer, an enthusiastic recommendation can be a key differentiator. Channel partners wield a lot of influence in being able to provide that enthusiastic thumbs up – and cultivating a strong connection with them can lead to their being vital marketing advocates. So how do brands go about fostering the kind of loyalty that would lead a channel partner to become an advocate?
For B2B programs, fostering loyalty might start with financial incentives and immediate discounts, similar to B2C programs. But lasting loyalty comes from uncovering the consumer inside your B2B accounts. Much like B2C efforts, this involves enhancing the relationship by using data to understand channel partner motivations, and offering personalized and customized interactions, training, rewards and recognition.
Provide Influencers with Value-Added Incentives: If your brand relies on influencers (celebrity or not!) as channel partners to expand engagement and reach, then make sure your incentives are tailored to attract and maintain their interest.
- Attract participation via Contests or Sweepstakes. Easily, the most common motivation-driving method is to host a contest or sweepstakes and use participation in an advocacy marketing program as the method of entry. So many brands use this form of incentive for one simple reason: it works! Data captured through these initial efforts will go a long way towards future personalized interactions.
- Provide influencer-advocates with Access to Exclusive Content Incentivize advocates by providing them access to exclusive content or early access to content before it airs. This could include private resources, blog posts, videos, or even samples of new products that they can tout on their social media. Create and foster a sense of exclusivity that communicates that their participation in your brand’s advocacy program sets them apart from other brand fans.
- Provide Exclusive Discounts and Product Offerings – Family Style: Make unique discounts or product offerings available only to brand advocates. Additionally, allowing advocates to share this discount with their friends and family allows them to increase their own social status within their community — which can be a key motivator to continue advocating!
- Offer Membership into a Like minded Community. Another personal motivation for many people – especially influencers within a particular industry — is belonging to a community of like-minded people. Membership in such a group, where each can exchange information for mutual benefit is a powerful incentive. When the community is crafted to be exclusive, the allure is even greater. In such cases, consider some form of agreement or contract as a requirement for membership or continued participation in the group. That may be a deal that requires the advocates to produce x-amount of content, share y-amount of community posts or just provide the community with ongoing and regular feedback (E.g., surveys, forums).
- Offer Brand Association Or Status. Often, selected influencers are seeking some form of authority or credibility in a field; incentivize this group with official badges added to their sites or social media profiles, such as “Official Product Tester” or authorized blogger. Alternatively, you can add their profile to your brand’s website or social media channels as guest bloggers. Adding their profile to a select group associated with your business plays to their egos and adds credibility to their personas as influencers, bloggers, or product/industry experts. That, in turn, provides each with greater access to future opportunities and revenue.
Consider Sales Incentive/Loyalty Programs for Resellers: If your brand depends on distributors, dealers, agents and resellers to bring your products to market, a channel sales incentive or loyalty program (sometimes called dealer reward programs, reseller programs, distributor incentive programs or agent reward programs) can help you engage your many channel partners to stimulate sales. Incentive programs build brand loyalty. With the advent of an incentive program, channel partners learn more about your product and are better able to explain its benefits to their end customers. A properly constructed incentive program will train hundreds of sales channel partners into brand advocates, encouraging their customers recommend your brand to others.
- Consider Gamified Rewards for Sales and Continued Training: Gamification is an increasingly popular way brands are encouraging engagement with their resellers and channel partners, as well as promoting product learning by earning awards, points, and badges. For example, participants would have an opportunity to earn rewards based on sales targets, or completion of training levels, or for providing answers and tips to common questions. Instantly receiving reward points for participating creates a strong personal incentive for partners to further their brand interaction – along with professional incentive.
- Automobile giant Ford wanted to improve the effectiveness of its sales and service reps across 450 dealerships. To do so, they integrated gamification into their employee Learning Management System, which led to a whopping 471% increase in site usage. Sales and service reps could work toward individual and team goals, compete with other dealerships and receive real-time feedback. The company found a positive correlation between engagement and KPI metrics, including revenue and customer satisfaction.
- SAP’s community network has over 2.5 million users including SAP employees and representatives from its vast corporate customer base. Members share information and answer questions about SAP products, repost key questions, and even help update and edit FAQs for different topics. To gamify the community, and increase engagement, SAP reviews how effectively users are helping other users: As a reward, SAP designates certain active users as “expert” in different areas, who enjoy a special status in the online community.
- Oakley wanted to put in place a nationwide program to incentivize retailers/individual sales reps to sell its products. Snipp created a gamification-based solution using leaderboards to highlight the leading sales people and retailers to foster friendly competition. “Flash rewards” were offered regularly to drive product sales, with individuals and store teams rewarded separately
- Provide Loyalty Points & Rewards for Referrals: Loyal customers that are satisfied with a brand or product are much more likely to refer a friend to your company. This is as true for B2B interactions as it is for their B2C counterparts. Approximately 85% of B2B decision makers start the buying process after a referral from a friend or colleague. While excellent products and strong customer service will elicit referrals, consumers are much more likely to make the effort of mentioning your business to a friend or colleague if they are also receiving some sort of benefit.
- Provide non-Material Reward Options:
- Host Special Events as Professional Incentives: Companies of all types can lean on event-driven incentives to reward reselling channel partners and incentivize engagement. For partners in your industry, facilitating an opportunity to meet-and-greet with key leadership figures, stakeholders can be a huge professional draw.
- Offer Rewards that Support Personal Charity Preferences. Not all advocates are motivated by personal gain. As a brand, consider making cash or in-kind contributions on behalf of your advocates based on their performance within the program. Work with your advocates to select a non-profit or charity organization that they believe in. Not only can donations and other non-profit contributions help to motivate your advocates to share more content on their social channels, it can also help to improve the public image of your brand.
- Add Personalized Touches to Surprise And Delight Your Biggest Advocates. This is where a B2B business with a great loyalty program and great customer service will really shine. Make your customers feel valued for every positive interaction with your company, whether it’s for promoting your business in their company news, or because they’ve just purchased an add-on product. Let them know they’re appreciated by surprising and delighting them with an unexpected perk or reward. Some brands could send personalized cakes, others might send small swag items, others, simply a note of thanks.
Define Business Objectives and Strategy First: The strategy, goals and objectives of an incentive program must be well-defined up front and clearly communicated. Program goals should be data-driven, measurable and reasonably challenging. Like any marketing effort, incentive programs are most effective when targeted. Rather than enroll every one of your channel partners, focus on those that represent the most value to your organization, and those with the greatest potential upside. Knowing who you want to influence and then structuring a program that directly address their needs will generate the best response.
Understand Your Data Requirements: There are a several possible target participant groups among your channel partners – dealers, dealer sales reps, dealer customers. Once you have decided which of these participant groups are most influential, you need to identify the data associated with their activities – and how to obtain it. Understanding this step is critical to the design of the program award rules and measurement. The more data you gather from different sources in the sales process, the better you can assess the value of your incentive program. Get order data on products from your internal departments. Gather data from channel partners. If possible, structure the program so that it enables you to identify and capture purchase data from end users.
- Remington wanted a way to drive channel sales and get retailers purchasing more from their wholesalers. Snipp created a special B2B retail sales allowance program that incentivized retailers to register themselves with the wholesalers they frequent – who then uploaded their monthly sales by retailer. Using this data, Snipp then calculates their promotion bonuses and sends the retailers their rebate.
Use effective and updated channel incentive technology: Most importantly: use the right kind of incentive technology. The dispersed nature of your sales channel mandates that you use an online rewards program that is mobile optimized or available through a mobile app. This is the easiest and most direct way to offer your channel partners compelling rewards. They instantly receive digital reward points for desired behaviors, and these points are immediately redeemable in an online rewards catalog with millions of merchandise, event ticket, and travel options. Speed, ease of use, and immediately apparent benefits will pique your partners’ interest in your channel incentives program. Then you move into the really fun part: using the program to improve channel marketing and brand loyalty.
Create a Value Proposition that Resonates with Your Partners: The program itself needs to communicate enough value to your channel partners to get their attention. If you decide to implement a point-based reward solution, the number of points awarded for an action or behavior must be perceived as fair for the effort being expended, and point awards need to accrue at rates fast enough to keep program participants excited about their progress toward the rewards they want.
Multi-tier targets: Experiment with tiered targets. The first-tier target can be set at a point that a majority of sales agents historically attain, the second-tier target at a point reached by a smaller percentage of the channel sales force, and a third-tier target at a point hit only by an elite few. A tiered structure can have a profound impact. Research shows that core performers striving to achieve triple-tier targets significantly outsell core performers given only two tiers. These results suggest that core performers exert more effort if given additional tiers. Stars are presumably unaffected by the extra stepping stones because they view the top tier as attainable regardless of the number of targets. And the inattentiveness that laggards show suggests that they typically aim for and are satisfied with achieving the first-tier target.
- Bacardi wanted to build long-term B2B loyalty by creating a loyalty ecosystem amongst their network of vendors, including bars and nightclubs. Specifically, Bacardi wanted to grow Bacardi share volume by 30% in all participating partner accounts. In this unique B2B loyalty program, called Bar Talk, Snipp established a platform that allowed participating businesses to earn rewards from four rewards packages. Simply partaking in the program earns one reward package, and subsequent rewards can be earned based on points thresholds every time a wholesaler invoice is uploaded to the program.
Clearly Define All Program Structures: Ensure that everyone involved in the program knows the “rules.” Be very explicit about the desired behaviors and activities being rewarded, and how rewards are earned.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Effective communications are crucial for getting a channel incentive program off the ground and rolling. Communications that mark the program launch build the brand and drive participant awareness, interest and enrollment. Ongoing communications promote product sales and encourage participant engagement, reflected in more point-earning and reward redemption behaviors. Communications can also be used to reposition the program, aligning it with evolving business objectives. Employ every available medium to increase visibility to your channel partners — and then leverage their engagement with the program to convey key marketing messages, strengthen your brand, increase product knowledge, education and more.
Track, Analyze and Adjust: Monitor and analyze your program data to get an understanding of how your program is driving business activity, and determine changes that will improve performance. Your program activity should be tracking the behaviors of your channel partners (and potentially end users) and could yield early warnings about market and competitive developments.
- SkinCeuticals, a premiere skincare product line by L’Oreal available only through approved dermatologists, relies on a B2B loyalty platform to reward its sales channel and incentivize dermatologists to purchase its products. The B2B rewards program site allows users to track their points balances, redeem a range of rewards, and engage with the brand on a tiered system based on sales thresholds. The system includes a full financial reporting and analytics suite for L’Oreal as well, for tracking program performance and results. In the first two years since the launch of the program, L’Oreal has seen 60% active engagement of qualifying physicians, with an average sales lift of 25% attributable to the loyalty program.
Capture data and personalize experiences Using data effectively allows B2B marketers to understand their accounts better and target them with more relevant and personalized communications and experiences. B2B companies are finding value in adopting data and analytics to drive marketing efforts and identify customer needs. Loyalty programs capture not only transactional, but engagement data and use it to serve customers with relevant content, communications, and product recommendations.
- Philip Morris (UK) created a B2B loyalty scheme in order to foster brand loyalty among resellers as well as to gather data on purchasing behavior patterns. Using Snipp’s integrated SnippCheck and SnippLoyalty platforms, the program allowed resellers to earn points by buying eligible products at participating wholesalers. By simply uploading photos of their receipts via an API integration on the clients’ site, resellers could redeem those points for cash value at retailers.