Published: April 3rd, 2017

In today’s competitive marketplace, even high profile IT vendors must work hard to find new and innovative ways to capture and retain the loyalty of their channel partners. One thing is for certain: the old concept of trading rewards for loyalty is dying. More and more, it’s about the experience.

In the March 22nd webinar, “Channel Incentives: Building Partner Loyalty and Advocacy,” Paolo Del Nibletto, President, Canadian Channel Chiefs Council, and Ian Hutchieson, Global Director, Channel Loyalty, ICLP, discussed the various methods a company or individual should employ to build and maintain customer loyalty.

Hutchieson and Del Nibletto offer a definition of loyalty, what it is supposed to be, and explore real-life examples as lead-ins to suggestions on how one can build a robust — and successful — channel incentives program.

Changing the approach

Hutchieson makes it clear very early in the webinar that when it comes to loyalty between business entities and their channel partners, there must be a move away from (or beyond) the old, unsubtle “What am I going to get for being loyal?” question. Hutchieson rightly dismisses the idea that money buys loyalty, and maintains that a company should never rely too heavily on monetary incentives for channel partners.

Loyalty, then, is to be seen as multi-dimensional and not just a matter of throwing money in partners’ general direction. Hutchieson’s use of a quote from futurist and award-winning author Brian Solis’ bestselling book X: The Experience When Business Meets Design is telling:

“Experiences are more important than products now. In fact, experiences are products.”

Hutchieson develops Solis’ idea of experiences as products by looking at Airbnb, the online marketplace and hospitality service. By offering simplified and personalized experiences, Airbnb has been able to make emotional connections to its customers, which in many cases has translated into long-term loyalty.

Hutchieson notes that most successful businesses are:

  • Commercial in that there is little to no cost associated with their financial incentives/rewards;
  • Differentiated in strategy in that they focus on more than just pricing, products and brands;
  • Data-driven in that they invest in and make excellent use of customer data;
  • Consistent in that they offer a rich, seamless customer experience across all touchpoints;
  • Innovative in that they are original and come up with novel ways of keeping their customers engaged; and
  • Agile in that they respond promptly to criticism and don’t get stuck on challenges.

Experience first

Companies that put effort into analyzing their loyalty program do a good thing, but they do not go far enough. Only when they ask the question, “How do we use our partner program as a bridge to driving greater loyalty?” does a company begin to put itself in the best possible position for long-term success. The answer to this question is manifold and takes in such aspects as:

  • Thinking of partners as customers and treating them accordingly. That means keeping front of mind the reality that without one’s partners, the enterprise will fail. When one sets partners aside for VIP treatment, one is keeping their priorities in order and proceeding to plan, which should involve a partner-first strategy.
  • Formalizing loyalty as a channel-wide initiative. The key here is in asking who is or should be responsible for partner loyalty. The active idea here is that loyalty is complex, and involves thinking on many different levels and in many different areas; because of this, there is a need for spreading a single, uniform view of loyalty, and the means and methods by which it is to be achieved, across an entire enterprise.
  • Building a more robust channel incentives framework, comprised of: an earning proposition, including consolidating and simplifying to reduce costs and enriching without having to spend a lot of your own money; a redeem proposition, including establishing key differentiators; and a communications proposition, which involves making sure your strategy is embedded in all your communications.

To stream Channel Incentives: Building Partner Loyalty and Advocacy on demand, click here.