share
by Dan Hawtof | April 15, 2016
Channels are everywhere. Businesses buy through channels, such as technology resellers, headhunters, office supply stores, and so on. As a consumer, we primarily purchase the products we use through an indirect sales channel or reseller. Whether it's a big box electronics store, car dealership, veterinary clinic, or eye care practitioner, we rarely buy direct from the manufacturer. 

So, the sales channel is vast. And most channel managers are struggling with how to obtain mindshare from their external sales network of resellers, distributors, clinics, dealers and channel partners. It's hard enough to get an internal sales team to complete training, fill out paperwork, follow up on leads, and close deals. Imagine if you don't know who the salespeople are and they don't work for you. 

That's the challenge channel managers face. You want external sales partners to evangelize your products and be rich, selling machines. However, your experience may often be the opposite. You (and anyone else who sells through an indirect sales channel) know that incentives can help boost sales and the completion of important selling behaviors. But external sales teams receive a constant deluge of information from all of their vendors. The question remains: How can you drive engagement with your brand?

Be fast and flexible

Our research and experience reveals that most vendors - even those with more than $1 billion in annual revenues - have limited insight into the impact of their indirect incentive investments. Many channel managers still find themselves trying to manage programs on spreadsheets, which can be both cumbersome and error-prone, or on separate systems, which make data nearly impossible to aggregate for relevant ROI insights. 

In our experience, there are a few best practices that are worth following.

Leverage a robust marketing engagement platform that's personally motivating. In other words, the right solution enables a channel manager to launch, communicate, and measure the incentive programs that can drive sales most successfully. You need a system that is:

* Fast to implement
* Highly flexible
* Fully customizable from simple to complex programs
* Ability to offer behavioral and sales incentives
* Personalized
* Segmented and targeted
* A tool that provides total program visibility 
* Easy to use

Build the platform in the cloud. The days of "custom platforms" are long gone. Sure, you want to be able to customize your programs and incentives, but you don't want to reinvent your platform every time you have a new marketing strategy that can give you the competitive edge. 

Build engagement throughout the entire partnership lifecycle, including recruiting, training, developing, integrating, motivating, and retaining. It must be easy to add a new individual and build smart groups that deliver timely information only to the segment of your channel network that needs it. 

Offer a broad rewards portfolio

Effective incentives are the lifeblood of a successful indirect sales program. That's why you need an innovative rewards and payments portfolio - such as branded prepaid cards, checks, gift cards and vouchers, direct deposit features, merchandise, travel, and experiential gifts - with a broad reach. Look for a multilingual platform that can fulfill rewards accurately, seamlessly, and in a timely manner.

Fully support your customers and partners

Like most channel managers, you're probably running a lean-and-mean team. Therefore, you want platform management options: full-service, supported-service, or self-service. Look for a company that can offer these options, including the associated incentives, with the choice to dial up or down the support you receive over time. Your team should focus their energy on the competitive landscape to determine the incentive strategies you want to implement. Let your engagement provider manage the details, including launching, managing and reporting on campaign results.

Identify new ideas and focus on smart execution

An external sales team requires more cut-through-the-clutter engagement strategies than an internal group. That's why you need to stay front and center with relevant content that is also fun. Think of your resellers as part of a social network that wants interesting and informative information from you. Plus, if you incent them for staying engaged, you are much more likely to keep their attention.

Through a SaaS- or cloud-based engagement platform, you will be able to deliver highly flexible and targeted incentive offerings across the entire external sales partner lifecycle. Combine this with a robust rewards portfolio and industry leading services and support, and you will have everything you need to incent sales-driving behaviors in your partner network. 

Dan Hawtof is vice president of product and business development, channel solutions, at Blackhawk Engagement Solutions.