How to Engage Your Most Important Sales Channel Members

by: Luke Kreitner May 7, 2019

"There is no substitute for understanding and engaging the person who signs the contracts."

—Sean Geehan

 

Many manufacturers, distributors, or dealers get stuck on two little words: “If only.”

  • “If only I had access to my sales channel members’ customer data, my B2B marketing and sales would be more effective.”
  • “If only I could do more for my most valuable sales channel members to strengthen their trust in me, my business would grow more quickly.”
  • “If only my channel partners knew more about the benefits of my product, they would sell my product every time.”

B2B companies have much smaller direct customer bases than B2C companies, making their customer relationships much more important. These small, “if only,” kind of obstacles have big implications for their overall performance.

A comparison from Sean Geehan’s The B2B Executive Playbook illustrates this point really well:

  • A B2C company (Starbucks): 80% of sales come from 15 million customers
  • A B2B company (Celestica, a Canadian supply chain services outsourcer): 90% of sales come from 10 customers

Starbucks can afford to lose 50,000 of its VIP customers. B2B companies can’t even afford to lose five. They have to work closely and develop a trusted partnership with those customers, which is easier said than done. Setting up a VIP channel partner incentive program is a great way to engage your channel members with actions, not just words.

Where You Stand with Your VIP Channel Members

Are you enjoying an incredibly lucrative relationship with your most important channel members? Are you mutually invested in each other’s success and regularly exchanging helpful performance data and market insights? Can you call up the decision makers in your sales channel anytime and schedule a meeting to discuss sales plans and B2B marketing strategies? If not, then you likely have a problem with how your partners perceive you, and you could be doing a lot more for both your businesses in order to increase sales and gain market share.

The two ends of the channel partnership spectrum, as defined in Geehan’s The B2B Executive Playbook, are:

sales channel members spectrum
On the far left of the spectrum, your company means very little to your B2B partners or channel members. Whether you are a manufacturer providing actual goods or a seller providing the service of distributing or dealing, your partners have very little perception of you outside this role. As you progress to the right of the spectrum, your partners begin to perceive you as being intrinsic to their success. They seek out your advice in major sales strategies or marketing efforts. Your relationship is interdependent. Your goals are aligned. Your fates are intertwined.

Starting a Program for VIP Sales Channel Members

When it comes to relationships with your most influential sales channel members, you should not be handing relationship management completely off to the sales or account executives departments. You should develop a VIP partner engagement program in which you regularly communicate directly with your sales channel’s most important decision makers.

In Geehan’s B2B Playbook, tech giant Oracle discusses how starting a program for VIP channel members helped their organization: “Even in accounts where we aren’t performing great, when executive customers participate in our engagement programs, they continue to buy, buy more, and even help us convert prospects to customers,” says Jeb Desteel, senior vice president and chief customer officer at Oracle.

Research conducted by Geehan of over 70 client companies found that VIP channel partner programs had the following effect on B2B businesses:

  • Customer retention increased by 30%.
  • Account growth increased by 300%.
  • Number of those willing to recommend their B2B partners increased by 270%.
  • Overall satisfaction increased by 30%.

One of the best ways to establish an inner circle for VIP sales channel members is by using online incentive technology. The adaptable technology of online incentive programs means that they can be easily adapted for multiple uses. Using flexible incentive tools, you can define a group of program participants to be part of an exclusive, VIP partner program.

Features of Your VIP Channel Incentive Program

To be as successful as possible, an online VIP channel partner program should have the following four qualities:

  1. The Right Channel Member Participants

    For a VIP partner program to be successful, first be sure that those you invite into the program are truly “VIP” status. Geenhan’s B2B Playbook recommends that

    Participants should represent the top 20% of accounts that deliver 80% of your revenue [and] should only include about 10 to 25 executive customers from those accounts that are most strategically or financially important to your company, division, or geography.

    You don’t want to share insider market knowledge with someone who might not be in charge after a couple of years or, worse, who might be working for the competition. Additionally, you don’t want to allocate your resources to someone who feels entitled to influence your decision-making without actually contributing much to your revenue, regardless of how long you’ve been working with them.

  2. Not Just Channel Incentives—Prestige and Pride

    Make it clear that your VIP partner program is not just another reward program. Capture their attention with eye-catching, personalized marketing. Think exclusive country club invitation mail-outs, not standard email templates. If you already have a channel partner incentive or loyalty program, distinguish your VIP program with a unique name, such as The Visionaries Council or The Executive Club. Make sure they know they are being invited into the program because of their value to your business and their ability to offer important insights. Being part of the program should be a source of pride.

  3. Incentive Rewards for Sharing Channel Sales Data

    The value of a VIP sales channel members program comes from the expert insights and advice, as well as the mutual trust in a dependable business partnership. Therefore, offering rewards for submitting reports, data and analytics should be among the first things you do with your VIP partner program. The rewards will provide them the incentive to begin sharing insights and marketing strategies. Once they recognize the financial gains and market innovations to be had from working closely together, they’ll become very vocal and active in your program.

  4. Exclusive Channel Marketing and Sales Perks

    It’s easy to claim you’re creating a "special" VIP program in order to share marketing insights and tactics, so put your money where your mouth is. Create exclusive opportunities for your partners to excel within the program. For instance, run promotions during which customers receive double or triple the typical number of reward points for purchasing your partners’ products or service. This creates an incentive for your customers to choose your VIP partners’ products over competitors, strengthening your partners’ trust in you.

Creating an incentive program for VIP sales channel members can go a long way towards eliminating “if only” from your company’s vocabulary. Developing proactive B2B market strategies helps you stand out from the competition. And by establishing and marketing the VIP program the right way, and offering immediate benefits to your channel partners, you can leverage insights and data to multiply each other’s strengths and take over your industry.


About Luke Kreitner

Luke Kreitner is the VP of Sales at Incentive Solutions, an Atlanta-based incentive company that specializes in helping B2B businesses accelerate growth, increase sales, motivate channel partners and retain B2B customers.