How to Get More Input from B2B Decision Makers Using Channel Incentives

In sprawling, complex channel sales networks, sometimes it’s hard to decide who your communication efforts and marketing strategies should target. The typical B2B company targets their end users, which may not be the best tactic. Those who study B2B markets have found that, while engaging and marketing to end users is important, it’s better to reach out to decision makers and influencers in B2B companies. Directly engaging sales channel decision makers using channel incentives or channel reward programs can result in stronger B2B partnerships, which ultimately helps you increase sales and gain market share.

Channel incentives

Supply Chain Misconceptions: The Be-All, End-All End User

As a B2B business, there are many moving parts in your supply chain, carrying products from supplier to end user:

  • Decision Makers, who sit at the top of the sales channel “food chain” and control which companies they do business with
  • Influencers—researchers, technology experts and committee members—who provide decision makers with the data they need to make informed choices
  • The Purchasers, who buy the product
  • The End Users, who actually utilize the product or service

Since end users are the parties who actually need and apply your product or service, it makes sense to aim most of your communications and B2B marketing strategies at them, right?how to improve channel sales

Not so fast.

While B2B end users are certainly important, they’re not really the ones who control your fate. That’s B2C thinking. In a sales channel business model, your relationship with the influencers and decision makers is far more important.

In The B2B Executive Playbook, author and B2B expert Sean Geehan revealed that, “A surprisingly large number [B2B companies] are either not paying enough attention to executive decision makers or are ignoring them altogether…In fact, our research has found that the average B2B company spends 75% of its time and money marketing and selling to end users and purchasing agents, the two groups of customers who have the least say in purchase decisions. Influencers, who do play an important role in deciding purchases, receive substantially less attention [15%].
And decision makers, the executive customers who actually make the purchase, receive the least investment of all [10%].”

A lot can go wrong when B2B companies ignore the most important people in their supply chain.

 

Sales Channel Decision Makers: They Sound Important…Because They Are

When you’re more in touch with your end users, you may have an enviable database of those who use your products and what their purchasing habits are. But, when you’re not also in touch with your influencers and decision makers, you’re simply reacting to the market instead of staying ahead of it. According to Sean Geehan, “direct engagement with executive customers keeps the development team not only aware of specific account needs, but plugged into future opportunities.”

Harris Morris, president of the Harris Corporation Broadcast Communications division, says that his company keeps their finger on decision makers’ pulse because “the relationships we have built with strategic accounts enable us to help design the industry’s future standard, not follow the standard…a much preferred position.’”

Not engaging and building relationships with sales channel decision makers means you’re missing chunks of data that are crucial to your business’ success. Without input from decision makers, sellers and manufacturers have little insight into the needs, challenges, goals and priorities of their B2B customers.

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This increases the likelihood that suppliers will produce products and services that are irrelevant to their customers. Furthermore, B2B influencers and decision makers have no idea what their suppliers’ benefits are, so they can’t make an informed choice about which one would best fit them as a business partner.

Sellers and manufacturers in supply chains may believe that it’s too difficult to get in touch with B2B decision makers in other companies, or that those decision makers don’t want to hear from them. This isn’t necessarily the case. According to the Geehan Group’s B2B research, “We have always found, however, that executives are genuinely mystified by the lack of effort their key suppliers and other sellers make in reaching out to them.” Joe Morgan, CEO of Standard Register, told the Geehan Group, “When I became CEO, I was surprised I didn’t get calls from most of our key suppliers.”

Even if it does prove difficult to get in touch with B2B decision makers, do you really want to risk your competition getting there first and developing the kind of close-knit channel partner relationship you could’ve had?

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Using Channel Rewards to Connect with B2B Decision Makers

 

One of the ways you can invest in strengthening relationships with channel partners and gathering more insight from decision makers is with a channel incentives program. The B2B Executive Playbook cites the success tech giant Oracle experienced with such a program:

“In 2004, Oracle…quickly realized that most of their executive customers didn’t have the time to attend multiday trade shows, no matter how interesting and enjoyable they were. So, Oracle’s senior vice president and chief customer officer, Jeb Dasteel, was assigned the task of designing, launching, and overseeing an ongoing executive customer program.” According to Dasteel, “We realized how important additional input and relationships with other parts of the decision chain would be for our future. Without the perspective and insight of decision makers, we would be lacking a whole category of customer input today.’”

For the most effective decision maker input initiative, you can offer incentives on both sides of the information exchange. Offer your internal departments incentive rewards for reaching out to channel partner decision makers, then offer those decision makers and their businesses rewards for supplying their input.

Geehan recommends investing 30% of marketing efforts into decision makers, 35% into influencers, 30% into the user, and only 5% into purchasing agents. Keep this in mind when setting up a B2B incentive program. Ideally, you should use incentive program providers like Loyaltyworks, who specialize in channel sales incentive programs, so you can implement a rewards system tailored to achieve ROI in a B2B environment.

When you showing B2B decision makers appreciation for their input, it proves to them that you value being a trusted adviser and reliable business resource, not just a commodity supplier. As you develop a more meaningful and substantial relationship with influencers and decision makers, all parties will reap the rewards of reliable, profitable sales channel partnerships.

Savannah

Savannah Bobo
Copywriter for The Incentive Solutions Group of companies, consisting of:

Incentive Solutions | Loyaltyworks

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