It's Time to Rethink Incentive Solutions for the Future of Channel Sales

As the channel ecosystem transforms, look ahead to develop training and tech-support solutions partners need.

December 29, 2022

5 Min Read
Business Thinker
“We never say we know better than anyone else. We’re constantly looking at what vendors and channel partners are offering and considering implementing that into our stack. If we take over from another provider and see something cool they’ve put into place, we’ll learn from them and replicate it.”Shutterstock

By Claudio Ayub


Claudio Ayub

If you look at the structure of a typical channel program, you’ll find most businesses prioritize incentives. Even in the largest firms, there’s a clear emphasis on reward fulfillment and “giving over getting.”

However, if you’ve paid attention to channel trends over the last decade, you know incentive programs are undergoing a major transformation. While the emphasis on incentives hasn’t changed, partner demands are shifting, and channel programs now require an extended ecosystem of support with deeper, more complex reward structures to achieve the same results.

Practical Steps for Channel Programs

Given the breadth of current channel programs, what practical efforts should businesses consider as we head into 2023 and beyond? Let’s explore how current market drivers and technology transformations can help you prepare for the future of channel sales.

  • Channel leaders who improve incentive management come out on top. According to a recent Forrester report, economic headwinds coupled with unexpected trends in employment make planning and budgeting trickier than normal. In fact, the report emphasizes that those looking to stay competitive need to prioritize incentive investments that maximize revenue growth, profitability and resilience while cutting wasteful spending and maintaining experiments with emerging technology. Although it’s no surprise, modernizing incentive programs is still a recognized struggle for many brands.

As an earlier Forrester report shows, the good news is that well-planned programs supported by automated incentive management solutions can deliver on the benefits. When brands deploy the right mix, level and cadence of incentives, it improves revenue and profit from the channel, deepens customer relationships and increases mindshare and loyalty of partners. Channel leaders who embrace this guidance to harness market opportunities will be well positioned for success in 2023.

  • The need for authenticity in the partner’s journey is reshaping program models. As we previously highlighted, the No. 1 issue impacting channel brands and partners is the misalignment of partners’ sales processes with the digitally connected buyer. Consumers want more than rewards for transactions, they want incentive models that adapt to the complexities of their buyer’s journey, with messaging aligned to their unique needs. Rewards focused on behavioral learning and partner success win over purely transactional rewards, and programs that offer personalization at every stage of the sales funnel are more effective than traditional models.

Channel leaders desiring to stay relevant should design comprehensive incentive models that not only apply modern lead generation and lead management strategies, but also leverage automation to offer the customization, visibility and control channel partners demand. Success relies on ditching the one-size-fits-all mindset in favor of a highly personal approach. Brands that embrace an authentic, transparent connection with partners — and use technology to deliver personalized incentives and rewards — will happily reach their goals.

  • Ecosystem solution providers play a key role in channel evolution. Today’s tech landscape of incentives, recognition and engagement technology is a dynamic mix of traditional, new and creative solution providers, including those that offer proprietary or white-labeled solutions, native software and professional services. Some use points-based recognition and reward-fulfillment platforms, while others use surveys and engagement-driven systems, or any combination of the above. The common thread is the expansion of data capture, analysis and insights capabilities.

Unearthing the benefits of channel ecosystem data is a core focus for many channel leaders, especially as they prepare strategies for the months ahead. Data is also driving demand for …

… new technology and software that combines innovations such as omnichannel marketing, gamification, specialized partner relationship management (PRM) and partner ecosystem management (PEM) for maximum market impact.

Choosing the right incentive management solutions that can offer a blend of scale, geographic relevance, vertical expertise and training to keep pace with developing trends is imperative. Not every solution will have every component needed for success, but channel leaders should still pay close attention to technology and solution providers that offer deeper data insights with adaptable systems that can be easily adopted in most workflows.

Other considerations when choosing an incentive automation solution include:

  • Adaptable user interface — Intuitive and seamless adoption means participants should feel comfortable working on the platform, no matter their role in the ecosystem.

  • Customer support — The right provider will have a strong emphasis on complete ecosystem support across vendors, partners and end users.

  • Flexibility for multiuser incentives — Flexibility to adapt to multiple incentive programs, tailored to partner life cycle and buying stages, geography, partner segment and user personas, is a must.

  • Robust reward offerings — Incentives and rewards should feel both personalized and exciting, with seamless reward fulfillment across all territories and a clear understanding of the markets your business serves.

  • Analytics and deep insights — Access to data and analytics is not only a critical component of any technology platforms, but easy-to-use dashboards and effective reporting is paramount to success.

  • Scalability for growth — The right provider will help you keep pace with current and future trends while modernizing programs to match the evolving partner and channel ecosystem.

Channel programs will soon go beyond simple automation to leverage pre-set models and machine learning systems that help you automatically determine the perfect mix of incentives for customer personas. But as this next step occurs, leaders will need to develop incentives, reward strategies and programs that can effectively grow with it.

Looking Ahead

Logical transformation is the only surefire path to success. There are many ways to transform and modernize the channel ecosystem, from re-thinking your reward strategy to embracing the latest channel incentive and program management technology. The options for channel leaders to empower partners and capitalize on new market opportunities are endless. Now is the perfect time to reassess and improve operational efficiencies and explore new technologies that bolster your competitive position.

We encourage you to look at the audiences you serve and ensure your solutions provide the things your partners need — demand generation, training, sales enablement, technology support and deal pipeline management, to name a few. Logical decisions with practical implications for partners will make all the difference between success and obscurity.

Claudio Ayub is senior vice president of Technology, Media, Telecom (TMT) Practice at 360insights. He was previously chief strategy officer at Perks WW, which sold to 360insights in 2020. You may follow him on LinkedIn or @360insights on Twitter.

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