How to Engage Your Most Important Sales Channel Partners
There is no substitute for understanding and engaging the person who signs the contracts.
As a sales channel manufacturer, distributor or dealer, “If only” probably runs through your head often. “If only I had access to my partners’ customer data,” perhaps, or “If only I could do more for my most valuable partners to strengthen their trust in me.” Plenty of B2B marketing think-pieces advise channel partners to develop closer relationships. You already know it’s important to establish trust and good will with your “VIP” partners, but here’s some data from Sean Geehan’s The B2B Executive Playbook just to drive the point home:
- A B2C company (Starbucks): 80% of sales come from 15 million customers
- A B2B company (Celestica, a Canadian supply chain services outsourcer): 90% of sales come from 10 customers
There’s a massive difference in how many customers these two companies have. Starbucks can afford to lose 50,000 of its VIP customers. B2B companies can’t even afford to lose five. They have to work closely and develop a trusted partnership with those customers, which is easier said than done. Setting up a VIP channel partner incentive program is a great way to engage your partners with actions, not with words.
Where You Stand with Your VIP B2B Partners
Are you enjoying an incredibly lucrative relationship with your most important channel partners, in which you’re mutually invested in each other’s success and regularly exchange helpful performance data and market insights? Can you call up the decision makers in your sales channel anytime and schedule a meeting to discuss sales plans and B2B marketing strategies? If not, then you likely have a problem with how your partners perceive you, and you could be doing a lot more for both your businesses in order to increase sales and gain market share.
The two ends of the B2B partnerships spectrum, as defined in Geehan’s The B2B Executive Playbook, are:
Commodity/Service Supplier Valued Partner/Advisor
On the far left of the spectrum, your company means very little to your B2B partners. Whether you are a manufacturer providing actual goods or a seller providing the service of distributing or dealing, your partners have very little perception of you outside this role. As you progress to the right of the spectrum, your partners begin to perceive you as being intrinsic to their success. They seek out your advice in major sales strategies or marketing efforts. Your relationship is interdependent; your fates are intertwined.
Starting a Program for VIP Channel Partners
When it comes to relationships with your most influential, or VIP, channel partners, you should not be handing relationship management completely off to the sales department or account executives departments. You should develop VIP partner engagement program in which you regularly communicate directly with your sales channel’s most important decision makers.
In Geehan’s B2B Playbook, tech giant Oracle discuss how starting a program for VIP partners helped their organization: “Even in accounts where we aren’t performing great, when executive customers participate in our engagement programs, they continue to buy, buy more, and even help us convert prospects to customers” (Jeb Desteel, senior vice president and chief customer officer at Oracle).
Research conducted by Geehan of over 70 client companies found that VIP channel partner programs had the following effect on B2B businesses:
- Customer retention increased by 30%.
- Account growth increased by 300%.
- Number of those willing to recommend their B2B partners increased by 270%.
- Overall satisfaction increased by 30%.
One of the best ways to establish an inner circle for VIP partners is by using online incentive technology. The adaptable technology of online incentive programs means that they can be easily adapted for multiple uses and tiered rewards. For instance, if you already have a channel incentives program through a provider like Atlanta-based Loyaltyworks, you can define a select group of participants to be part of your exclusive VIP partner program.
Features of Your VIP Partner Incentive Program
The Right Channel Partner Participants
For a VIP partner program to be successful, first be sure that those you invite into the program are truly “VIP” status. Geenhan’s B2B Playbook recommends that “participants should represent the top 20% of accounts that deliver 80% of your revenue” and “should only include about 10 to 25 executive customers from those accounts that are most strategically or financially important to your company, division, or geography.”
You don’t want to share insider market knowledge with someone who won’t be in charge after a couple of years, or someone who feels entitled to influencing your direction after years of doing business with but doesn’t actually contribute much to your revenue.
Not Just Channel Incentives—Prestige and Pride
Make it clear that your VIP partner program is not just another reward program. Capture their attention with eye-catching, personalized marketing. Think exclusive country club invitation mail-outs, not standard email templates. If you already have a channel partner incentive or loyalty program, distinguish your VIP program with a unique name, such as The Visionaries Council or The Executive Club. Make sure they know they are being invited into the program because of their value to your business and their ability to offer important insights. Being part of the program should be a source of pride.
Incentive Rewards for Sharing Information
The value of a VIP channel partner program comes from the expert insights and advice, as well as the mutual trust in a dependable business partnership. Therefore, offering rewards for submitting reports, data and analytics should be among the first things you do with your VIP partner program. The rewards will provide them the incentive to begin sharing insights and marketing strategies. Once they recognize the financial gains and market innovations to be had from working closely together, they’ll become very vocal and active in your program.
Exclusive B2B Marketing and Sales Perks
It’s easy to claim you’re creating a special VIP program in order to share marketing insights and tactics, so put your money where your mouth is. Create exclusive opportunities for your partners to excel within the program. For instance, run promotions during which customers receive double or triple the typical number of reward points for purchasing your partners’ products or service. This creates an incentive for your customers to choose your VIP partners’ products over competitors, strengthening your partners’ trust in you.
Creating a VIP incentive program can go a long way in putting you ahead of your competitors, allowing you to develop proactive B2B market strategies instead of simply reacting to the market. By establishing and marketing the VIP program the right way, proving you can offer them immediate benefits, you can leverage insights and data, multiply each other’s strengths and take over your industry.