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by Steve Damerow | June 13, 2016
Most people rarely think of incentives as influencing sales decisions through a business-to-business (B2B) distribution channel. Yet the fundamental purpose of incentives remains the same no matter what the context: to influence people to take certain actions. And people respond to, "what's in it for me?" whether they are employees, customers, or part of the B2B distribution. 

According to the Department of Commerce, B2B spending is roughly twice that of B2C spending. Clearly, it is time for B2B incentives to take a page from B2C customer loyalty programs and promote B2B advocacy selling.

The Importance of B2B Advocacy Marketing 

Advocacy marketing is the ultimate sales tool because people are more likely to follow through on a purchase if someone they respect has positively reviewed that item or service. According to a Nielsen survey, most people (77 percent) say "word-of-mouth advice… is the most persuasive source of new product information." When someone feels so strongly about their connection with a product or service that they go out of their way to sell it for you, that's advocacy marketing. Advocacy marketing keeps buyers engaged and involved, which is essential in today's stagnant economy. 

The amount of information and opinions readily available to today's buyers means that it's hard to influence their decisions with traditional advertising or incentives. A solid business value proposition, while essential, just doesn't stand out anymore. This is true for B2B and B2C companies alike, since all buyers are using Internet to inform their choices. According to a study recently conducted by Google and CEB, "A greater proportion of B2B customers are emotionally attached to the brand they purchased than B2C consumers are." Their research revealed business value (functional benefits, business outcomes, etc.) had only a 21.4 percent impact on perceived brand benefits, while personal value (career advancement, self-image, emotional and social benefits) had a 42.6 percent impact.

The value of engaged, advocate customers is immense. Incentive program provider Loyaltyworks has found that their clients average 40 percent more business when customers are engaged.

How Incentive Programs Can Be Used as an Advocacy Marketing Tactic

In the past, advocacy marketing through incentive programs was not possible because companies didn't have a constant, direct link to program participants. But connective technology such as smartphones drastically reduces the lag times and increases the effectiveness of incentive programs.

A study conducted by Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers (KPCB) showed that the average person looks at their smartphone 150 times a day. Incentive program participants spare two or three minutes to fill out a survey, submit a testimonial or send a sales invoice and instantly receive digital reward points. Those points can then be redeemed for items in a custom-branded, online, and mobile reward catalog that combines the user experience akin to Amazon, Expedia, and StubHub all into one! This accelerated process means the reward is more meaningful and gratifying to the program participant. As a psychological study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information stated, "The subjective value of reward decreases with increasing delay to its receipt."

In a stale economy crowded with mature product lifecycle suppliers and a GDP growth that's been limping along at 2 percent for the past ten years, companies must rely on stealing market share from competitors in order to achieve sales growth. The best way to do that is by encouraging advocacy marketing cultures that are both meaningful and beneficial to customers, resulting in a true community of partners. Using smartphone-ready incentive programs allows you to create a culture of two-way communication and engagement on an immediate basis with the very people that affect the sale. 

Today's responsive incentive programs use connective technology, placing access to rewards directly on decision-makers' smartphones and drastically reducing the delay in reward gratification. This enables these incentive programs to be wielded as powerful B2B advocacy marketing tools.

Steve Damerow is CEO of Atlanta-based Incentive Solutions and Loyaltyworks, which have been recognized as a "Top 50 Advertising & Marketing Firm," "Best and Brightest of Atlanta" company for three consecutive years and 2015 winner of Incentive Magazine's "Best Channel Sales Incentive." Damerow has a Masters in Economics and an MBA in Marketing. He is a published author and host of the radio show "Business Matters". His companies have managed thousands of B2B channel incentives since 1977. He can be reached at sdamerow@isicorporate.com or (678) 514-0203.