by Leo Jakobson | January 25, 2017

Starting an incentive program from scratch can be a nerve-wracking process, especially when you've never even overseen one before. But with a good product, executive support, and an experienced incentive provider as a partner, it's possible to do more than just get it right. Sometimes, you can knock it out of the park on the first pitch.

That's just what Stefanie Dixon of Brother International (Aust), pictured above, did with a channel incentive program for channel reseller partners who carry its products. Working with global incentive provider Power2Motivate, the maker of printers and supplies, as well as other small electronics for the home and office, created a new incentive program for targeted reseller partners that increased hardware sales by 28 percent and brought in 150 percent of its revenue goal. 

Even more importantly, the program saw 543 channel reseller partners start a direct relationship with Brother Australia by registering for the program, closing in on triple the goal of 200, while meeting another goal of 65 percent active engagement, using merchandise and high-end individual incentive travel awards. This put Dixon's sales reps in a strong position to reach out to the merchants in the future with the goal of getting them to see Brother Australia as more than just a manufacturer of boxed printers at retail, but as a viable source of business solutions with multiple device sales and ongoing supply contracts. 

It was also enough to make the Brother 100K Prize Giveaway Incentive's 2016 Grand Motivation Master Award winner.

Every year, Incentive selects the best, most effective incentive programs from a number of qualified applicants, in the categories of Channel Sales, Sales Incentive, Engagement/Recognition Programs, and (added this year) Corporate Social Responsibility. (See the other winners here.) Brother Australia won in the Channel Sales category as well as the award for best overall program -- the Grand Motivation Master Award. 

Winning With "Wow" Awards

The incentive program ran from January to March 2015, a key time of the year for Brother Australia. For one thing, it is back-to-school season in Australia, so retail printer sales are strong. And as Brother Group is a Japanese firm, it is also the fourth quarter of the firm's financial year, which let the division end on a high note. "Every month, sales were better than the previous month," says Marketing Specialist Dixon, whose duties had previously included channel promotions and lead generation, product launches, and advertising, but not, until this program, business incentive programs. Still, as a former Brother Australia salesperson, she was familiar with the concept. 

Despite its name, the Brother 100K Prize Giveaway did not give away a single penny in cash. "We did not want to do cash," Dixon says. "There are legal implications -- taxes -- and we wanted something more exciting, more tangible, so winners were not using the awards to buy groceries."

It was a two-tiered program, anchored by an end-of-program drawing for three grand prizes: once-in-a-lifetime individual incentive travel awards that were not only far beyond most of the participants' means (valued at around AU$20,000, or about $19,000), but included experiences that were beyond memorable, such as a New Year's Eve trip to New York City featuring VIP access to a rooftop party -- with celebrity appearances -- in Times Square to watch the ball drop live, a trip to a luxury mountain resort in Northern Europe with ice-driving and dogsledding, and seven nights on a private island in Fiji, with a private chef and butler.

There was also a merchandise award component, and like the grand prize drawings, it used gamification to excite interest. For every AU$1,000 of Brother hardware products purchased, the participants received a token good for an entry into the grand prize drawings and a "spin" on an electronic wheel with the opportunity to win points worth AU$100 to AU$1,000. These were used in an online merchandise catalog built and fulfilled by Power2Motivate on its SaaS cloud-based platform, which covers everything from planning and promotion to back-end metrics.

"We wanted them to be able to win throughout the program, to keep them thinking about it," Dixon says. The prizes ranged from golf club sets and TVs to movie tickets, says Claydan Krivan, the customer success manager at Power2Motivate who worked with Dixon on its 100K Prize Giveaway. Toronto-based Power2Motivate has offices in the Americas, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and the Middle East. 

Play the Game

One big benefit of the gamification was that it ensured the smaller resellers, many of them mom-and-pop stores, had a shot at the big prizes and knew it, Dixon says. "It was empowering to know they still had a chance at the big trips," she says. And while the bigger firms had more chances to win, two out of the three big prizes went to firms that had won no more than three entries, she notes. The bigger firms were not giants, however, as the program did not include the large multinational chains, which have their own promotions.

"This was a program to drive the middle tier, to ensure they're buying Brother products and pushing Brother products out there," Krivan says. "Anytime we implement a channel program, we want to see the low- to mid-tier resellers move up another level, to incent them to buy more products and have more chances to win," Krivan adds. "They are the ones we want to push and drive -- they don't have a key account manager, they are not wined and dined like the high-level retailers."

The Brother 100K Prize Giveaway was aggressively promoted by Brother's account managers and distributor partners, but also online and in print and digital ads in the country's two main trade publications. 

Another benefit of gamification became clear when the participation rates vastly exceeded expectations. The original merchandise budget of the spin-and-win game remained unchanged, while a traditional points-per-dollar-spent awards program would have gone way over budget (admittedly for the best of reasons). 

"We talked about this early in the design process," Krivan adds. "We wanted high-value awards, but if we are expecting 150-200 participants, what happens if we get 300, how do we divvy up the prizes? That's where gamification came in. While the result of each spin is completely random, a specific number of points was allocated each month. That was really a lifesaver."

Building the Future

An incentive program that brings in sales and revenue growth way over expectations is a big success by any standards. Doing it in the last quarter of the fiscal year is even bigger. But when that program also positions you for future growth, the success is huge.

While a well-planned incentive program, robust platform, exciting awards, and a strong and ongoing promotion campaign are all important factors, one of the reasons the number of participants was so far above the goal is that neither Brother Australia nor Power2Motivate really knew what to expect from the potential participant pool. 

Even more important than the short-term sales and revenue boost was the fact that the Brother 100K Prize Giveaway positioned the company for future growth.

"We had not worked directly with these resellers before," Dixon says, noting that previous incentives targeted distributors. "The biggest goal was to grow our reseller base and create awareness with resellers we hadn't worked with before. We didn't really know the scope of what was out there." 

The huge exposure to this end of its channel came at a time when Brother Australia was shifting its focus from retail to the commercial market. "This promotion really helped start that process, introducing our brand and our products to resellers," Dixon says. "Once they had a reason to look further into our product range, our customer service, our additional support through our sales teams, they realized we really were a viable option as a solution vendor, not just a printer-in-a-box vendor. I'm not saying that this program was the full reason behind this, but it certainly was significant in kick-starting that."

The company has since created a team that works with resellers on commercial clients, helping with issues like making bids, promoting big product roll-outs, and making deals with UPS on shipping. It has also reshuffled the team that works with reseller channel partners it hadn't connected with in the past.

"We've got a new database of resellers, so our salespeople were able to get to know these people. It really introduced us to a new type of reseller, and a lot of these are now really strong partners with our commercial team," she adds. "Our salespeople don't sell to end-users, but they go out and work with them to get them the right solutions for what they need. The transactions go back through our retailers, but it's often more than just the hardware sale, because they've got added support that they can offer, such as the special UPS rates and remotely monitoring ink supplies so the client never runs out -- the value add."

While this first incentive program focused on all sales, it opened the door to future programs that have targeted higher-margin products and commercial clients, among other goals, Dixon says, adding that they remain successful. The 2016 version of this program beat its target of 700 reseller participants handily.