In an uncertain economic climate, B2B partnerships have emerged as the unsung heroes of business growth and corporate financial resilience. Shining a spotlight on their critical role, HubSpot's 2022 survey reveals some eye-opening facts: nearly half of organizations credit at least 26% of their revenue to partners, with 12.6% reporting that over half their earnings come from such relationships! Whether in the form of channel partnerships, distributor and resale affiliations, or technology alliances, B2B channel partnerships can help broaden your customer reach, streamline operations, and provide access to valuable data and expertise that would otherwise be tough to generate alone. The secret sauce to fostering and nurturing these partnerships? A well-crafted B2B partner incentives program.
The growing value of B2B channel partnerships --- and the recognition of their value -- has turned partnership development into a hotly contested field. Partner incentives, once seen as a 'nice-to-have', have now transformed into an essential backbone of any B2B partner program seeking to expand its network. And, as these networks grow more complex, partner incentives must also evolve in their structure and management to keep partners consistently engaged. A 2022 study by the Incentive Research Foundation confirms this, stating that a quarter of the companies surveyed had 'significantly ramped up' their channel partner incentive spending, with at least half reporting a 'significant' or 'somewhat' increase. So, how do we devise an effective B2B partner incentives strategy to build lasting partner loyalty? Let's explore six channel partner incentive best practices:
1. Choose Tiers or Points, But Always Opt for Clarity
In the context of B2B partner incentives programs, the choice between traditional tier structures and the more modern points-based models can make a significant difference. While tier systems often create uneven partner groupings and overlook those not directly driving sales and revenue, points-based models are gaining popularity for their ability to reward a more diverse set of partner contributions and scale up with ease. But irrespective of the model chosen, the golden rule is to ensure clarity and simplicity. Avoid complex or unpredictable structures which can lead to partner disengagement; instead, focus on keeping targets, KPIs, and rewards clear and transparent to maximize ROI. Ensure that the rules, terms, and conditions of your incentive structure are easily accessible, ideally through a partner portal with multiple touchpoints. Establish and record partners' targets from the start and keep them updated on their progress through interactive dashboards and monthly statements. This approach sets the stage for a successful B2B incentive program.
IBM's Know Your IBM (KYI) is a straightforward, points-based B2B loyalty program designed for global resellers. By engaging in educational activities and selling select IBM solutions, participants rack up points. These points can be easily exchanged for gifts from various merchants. The blend of e-learning, gamification, and the simplicity of earning and redeeming points keep partners actively participating all year round.
2. Align Channel Incentives With Every Stage of The Partner’s Journey
The new B2B buying journey sees partners taking on a wide range of roles, from influencing prospects and referring leads to co-creating solutions and boosting customer retention. Channel partner incentives need to be aligned with every stage of this journey, rewarding partners not only for sales transactions but also for a variety of both transactional and non-transactional behaviors. This includes exceeding sales goals, completing training modules, and engaging on social media. As the first point of contact for many buyers, partners must continually improve their product knowledge – which makes training-based rewards a valuable tool. And the important role of non-transacting partners should not be overlooked, since they act as ‘influencers’ by referring leads or providing post-sales services. The growing interest in influencer marketing, highlighted by the 2022 B2B Influencer Marketing Research Report, means B2B partner incentives programs must adapt to this changing reality.
Software company Blackbaud incentivizes current customers to become product influencers 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, VIP experiences, and more.
3. Offer Channel Sales Incentives That Encourage Partner Growth
Within B2B partner networks, a balanced mix of channel sales incentives is key to fueling partner growth. These incentives should not only cater to the broader vision of partner companies but also the immediate objectives of individual sales reps. For example, partner companies value discounts, rebates, and Market Development Funds (MDFs) as incentives, as they boost their bottom lines and bolster future marketing initiatives. Meanwhile, Sales Performance Incentive Funds (SPIFs), offering rewards such as gift cards or entertainment tickets, incentivize sales reps' performances, especially during slower periods. Other crucial elements in the incentive mix include volume-based rebates to stimulate sales, Innovation Funds that offer financial or knowledge-based benefits to aid business expansion, Co-Op Funds tied to sales for long-term incentives, and Deal Registration or Referral Incentives that reward partners for identifying potential customers. This comprehensive approach fosters overall partner loyalty, encourages advocacy for the brand, and ultimately drives revenue growth.
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.
4. Keep it Fun With Gamification
Integrating gamification into your B2B partner incentives programs can be a game-changer! Gamified channel incentives can effectively reward targeted behaviors and re-engage partners who may be trailing in points. Utilize contests, including Instant Wins or Sweepstakes, as tools to introduce new products, spur sales of specific SKUs, and enhance partner engagement. Whether as standalone incentives or components of broader contests, these events foster participation, ramp up excitement, and deepen connections with vendor brands. To encourage healthy competition, introduce leaderboards that tap into the innate human desire for success and the instinct to avoid lagging! By displaying real-time achievements, these dynamic boards can light a fire in those falling behind, pushing them to improve their performance and secure a spot among the top achievers.
Eyewear brand Oakley aimed to spice up their sales strategy with a dynamic, gamified rewards program -- while simultaneously building a robust sales rep database. Together with Snipp, they engineered a user-friendly, mobile-optimized platform that allowed reps to register and submit receipts or POS printouts of eligible purchases, with a live leaderboard fueling their competitive spirits. The program offered a range of rewards, with special prizes for the top 25 reps, a grand prize, and individual rewards for achieving sales milestones.
5. Offer Robust Rewards That are Easy to Access & Redeem
Rewards play a pivotal role in motivating channel partner 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. Within this context, non-cash rewards are gaining popularity in B2B incentive programs due to their significant impact on recipients, triggering emotional responses that enhance their perceived worth. Large companies, as per the Incentive Research Foundation's 2022 data, have attributed a 32% rise in total revenue and a 30% increase in market share to these rewards, which include items like unique travel experiences, and awards. And, in our digital era, making these rewards – cash and non-cash, alike – easily accessible and redeemable via a mobile-optimized rewards platform is vital. Whether developed in-house or through a corporate provider, these digital platforms allow partners to conveniently track points, explore reward options, and redeem their choices seamlessly.
Procter & Gamble shines a spotlight on the best in their B2B Partner Program, showering standout partners with awards like the 'External Business Partner of the Year'. This honor salutes suppliers who lead the pack in innovation, customer service, and cost efficiency.
6. Keep it Dynamic and Adaptable to Feedback
A channel partner incentive program is a living entity within an overall B2B partner program and requires ongoing care and fine-tuning. It’s 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 revolutionized its B2B partner program in 2022, transitioning from a tiered system to a more dynamic points-based model. This move underscores the importance of adaptable partnership frameworks that can pivot in response to shifting business objectives.
B2B channel partners are now pivotal influencers, agents, and advocates, guiding the buyer's journey, and becoming increasingly important in an environment of economic unpredictability. A robust B2B partner ecosystem can unlock new growth and revenue opportunities, potentially shaping the market leaders of 2023 and beyond. The Partner Experience (PX), then, has risen as an essential ingredient in this partner-driven world, fueling successful collaborations and ecosystem growth. By providing impactful partner incentives, businesses can significantly enhance their PX, leading to steady positive ROI. Consider our six best practices as your playbook for standing out in the competitive arena of B2B partnership growth!
Read our full B2B Channel Marketing Guide here!