by Leo Jakobson | January 15, 2013
Julie Samsel, KCPzone channel manager

In 2012, there were many compelling entries for Incentive's Fourth Annual Motivation Masters Awards. The programs, which took place between January 1, 2011 and March 31, 2012, covered a wide range of incentive disciplines, from internal sales and employee engagement to channel sales programs.

This year's Grand Motivation Master Award winner was the KCPzone, a successful web- and mobile-based channel sales and loyalty program for distributor sales representatives (DSRs) who resell commercial washroom, industrial wiping, and safety products. The program is run by Kimberly-Clark Professional* (KCP), the B2B arm of the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, maker of well-known consumer brands such as Kleenex, Cottonelle, and Huggies.

The KCPzone encompasses more than just a channel sales program, however. It is a one-stop shop for DSRs seeking marketing materials to use with their own customers; product information and training tools; and information about product promotions. By making sales and taking online product training, participating DSRs earn points redeemable for KCPzone-branded stored-value gift cards and individual travel awards.

Launched in 2011, the KCPzone has proven to be a game-changer for KCP, which has seen a 40 percent increase in DSR sales claims for five consecutive quarters; 157 percent growth in new business from 2011 to 2012; and a triple-digit return on its initial investment. The KCPzone has also been a work in progress. A relaunch that took place toward the end of 2011 added gamification and social media tools.

"I would say the KCPzone is having a very positive effect on our business," says Julie Samsel, the Dallas-based firm's KCPzone channel manager. She adds, "2012 is going to be the best year ever in the history of KCP from a financial perspective" - despite the challenging economy.

More Than Rewards
"We had three initial goals when launching the KCPzone," Samsel says. "To make it easier to do business with KCP, to drive engagement, and to reward loyal behavior." Samsel notes that DSRs have a lot of discretion over which of the brands that they carry and put in front of the end-user client - especially in the cleaning and hygiene products area, a high inventory-turnover market. The point, she adds, is to turn DSRs into "advocates talking up our brand, saying how great KCP is," she says. "We want them to be resistant to competitive offers. We want them selling our products all day long, every day, looking for opportunities for us."

To do that, her firm turned to St. Louis-based Maritz Motivation Solutions and Charles Purvis, senior client advisor. KCP and Maritz decided to create an incentive program "built around the participant experience of the distributor sales rep that would have huge potential to shift [market] share," says Purvis. A first step was making the KCPzone website a "place of engagement," he says, where DSRs could connect with the KCP brand. "You do things like provide everything that a DSR needs to be successful at selling KCP products in the KCPzone - as kind of a table stake," he says. "That also scratches the itch of 'make it easy to do business,' because the resource center is where you can easily get sell sheets, downloadable presentations, and things like that."

The KCPzone sales rewards program is points based, with rewards redeemable for either a reloadable "filtered" gift card that can be used at some 200 specially selected merchants or for individual travel awards arranged by Maritz Travel. The filtered card provides a "brand experience that offers trophy value," says Purvis. "You're not using it at a grocery store and it doesn't disappear into your wallet." DSRs also earn points for training, closing new accounts, and for joint sales calls with their KCP sales reps, which gives the company a connection to the end-user customer that it often doesn't have, Samsel says.

Adding Gamification and Community
As research shows how powerful gamification is, companies like KCP have been adding it into their programs more aggressively. One key, Purvis says, is not incorporating gamification tools just for gamification's sake. "Identify high-value actions that you want the participants to take and you make it easier or more enticing for them to take those actions," he says.

Since the 2011 KCPzone relaunch, DSRs have been able to work their way up three tiers: the base blue level, then silver and gold. Silver-level DSRs earn more points for each sale or other action. At the gold level, DSRs receive an iPad and earn even more points.

To ensure that DSRs checked out the new site and its features, KCP created a navigation challenge. Purvis says, "It was kind of a scavenger hunt. We would plant icons on pages we wanted to make sure DSRs got to. They would collect the icons, win recognition, and win some points."

A photo contest awarded bonus points to any DSR who sent in photos of themselves, their friends, or family using rewards acquired with KCPzone points, Samsel says. Images included people on fishing boats, eating at restaurants, and even showing off remodeled homes. The five photos voted the best earned more points. "The value of this is twofold," Samsel says. "One, it's fun for DSRs - the whole competitive piece with the voting - but it also inspires other DSRs who are maybe not as engaged or involved."

Beyond that, it's a step toward creating a community. "It gives DSRs the sense that they are part of something that's not just them, that there are other smart DSRs who are actively engaged in this thing," Purvis notes.

Online forums where DSRs can interact with each other and with KCP sales reps are also being developed. "If you think of the power, and the force-multiplier of an online community, versus a couple of DSRs talking in the break lounge at their distributorship, then you get a glimmer of what we see as being possible," Purvis says.

Creating an Advocate
While KCP pays competitive commissions, Samsel says that the KCPzone's ultimate goal is to build a sense of loyalty that goes beyond a "show-me-the-money" attitude. A win with a DSR who brought in a large research university account last year provides a good example of what a community of advocates means, she adds.

"Before the KCPzone, this DSR was solely a Georgia-Pacific guy, our main competitor," Samsel says. "After hearing about the program at a sales meeting, this DSR said, 'Hey, I'm going to check this out and see what it's all about,'" she says. "So, he started selling Kimberly-Clark. Now he only sells Kimberly-Clark. His old Georgia-Pacific sales reps were breaking down his doors to try and get into this account. They were flying people out from headquarters, offering him more money in cash than he was going to make in points on the KCPzone. And yet, he still turned them down."