There are two questions everyone asks, “Which channel incentives are the most effective?” and “How do I know which promotions to put in which area during the partner journey?” The best way I know to answer is by showing an example of an incentive framework designed to have a systematic approach to incentive plan design.
The first step in the process is identifying your overarching goals. A lot of people begin with program design. That's not where you start. You need to start by understanding your corporate overarching goals. In terms of growth, what are the growth goals? What are you trying to achieve? And that has to be very clear, right? That's your single objective. You are after growth, but what type growth, right?
Secondly, you need to partner profile. Develop your ideal partner profile and engage partners in the profiling and the exercise. Now you know who you want to engage, but which partners are really going to contribute to those goals, right? I'm talking about your growth goals. You need to identify and flag those partners. Once you've done that, you've got to get back to the partner-level personas and understand which partner personas are going engage with each one of the programs that you're bringing forth.
Last but not least, and perhaps the most important step is to understand what behaviors you want to see the partner personas perform. This is critical and very high level. And one of the more critical aspects is also understanding your partner's sales process.
The partner journey in brief is engaging the partner, gaining a commitment to you and to the partnership, and then making them productive. Once you get them there, you have to understand what their sales cycle looks like. Most of the time partners run on an activity-based sales cycle that is misaligned to your buyer’s journey.
Most vendors out there have done buyer's journey studies and haven't done much with them, but here is a way of putting them to good use. One: compare your partner sales process to your buyer's journey. Look at data, look at the sales cycle length. It’s very important that you understand that; that's an easy measurement to get.
Two, and you have this data, look at your close dates. That's another data point that's really important in aligning your partner sales process to your buyer's journey, at least in teaching partners how to engage buyers. So, you have this data point. Another data point that you have is when an MQL became a SAL, whether it was partnered-led or whether you sent them that MQL, that is another data point that you can use.
And another very easy to obtain and simple way of aligning that is understanding where the real sales cycle lengthens from this data point and adding when the registration happened. These simple measurements are going to allow you to align that partner sales process to your buyer’s journey, making partners a whole lot more productive.
When it comes to identifying the behaviors that you want partners to commit to at the individual-, team- and company-level, start with three buckets: partner capabilities, demand creation, and financial goals.
In the first bucket is partner capabilities. Some of the most common ones include onboarding velocity, certification training, and joint business planning is a big one. Increase program engagement is also typically found in the partner capabilities bucket.
The second bucket is all about demand creation. How are you going to get partners to generate demand? How are you going to increase the number of leads generated by partners? How are you going to increase marketing contribution to partner pipeline?
The third bucket is financial goals. How much are you looking to increase revenue? What is the increase in pipeline contribution, customer retention, or customer satisfaction?
Now, once you've listed all of those, what you need to do is align those activities, behaviors, and even transactions to the three key areas of the partner sales process: enablement, pre-sales, and post-sales.
Within the enablement phase you might include sales accreditation, technical certification, marketing certification. You need to teach partners how to generate demand and in order to do that you have to identify who's doing marketing, right? Joint business planning is another important activity that you want partners engaged in during the enablement phase.
When it comes to pre-sales demand generation by the partner is a critical activity and absolutely include lead follow up and early opportunity registration.
I think you get the idea, right? First you just list the activities and behaviors and transactions, and then you organize them according to that partner's sales process. Once you've done that, then you must come back and tag how you want to influence those activities and behaviors. Do you want to influence them at the individual level or at the company level?
Each partner type is going to have its own framework because it's going to vary from partner to partner. For instance, for one partner you may have sales accreditation and technical certification and marketing certification all at the individual level. If your program tiers—and I’m talking about metal tiers— required technical certification, this activity should be a company-level engagement.
Marketing certification is about identifying the marketing person and teaching them how to use your tools. You're going to influence that activity at the individual level. You're going to influence closed deals at the individual level but stretch goal attainment is a company-level influence. Once you've done this, and you’ve tagged all the different activities, behaviors, and transactions in the way you want to influence them, then and only then, you can go back and apply the specific incentive type.
Marketing certification is influenced at the individual level with a point-based rewards program. Demand generation is influenced with company-level incentives such as market development funds (MDF), which is going to incent the company in generating demand. These are two different things. Joint business planning is a company level, Co-Op incentive. Additional subscriptions: spiffs will get you their renewals. Spiffs or rebates can get you there. Same thing with sales pipeline attainment.
Once you tag that individual or company, maybe even team, and overlay the type of incentive that you want to use to influence those behaviors, then you apply the benchmark incentive rate. For example, marketing certification will take about $300 in points to get a marketing person at the partner level to engage with you and your tools and learn your buyer's journey and learn how to align your content to the different buyer journey stages.
Lead follow up is another individual-level incentive offered through a points-based rewards program. Half a point of that transaction is going to be very enticing for a partner sales rep. Opportunity registration of that same lead is going to add .75% to the earnings. Then if that same sales rep closes it, the benchmark incentive rate is between 1% and 2%. The point I'm making here is that these things stack up, and that delivers an enormous amount of value back to the partner sales rep or partners sales engineer.
When it comes to rebates—a company-level incentive—you're talking 1% to 3%. However, there may be MBO-based incentives that will add another two or three points. And so, these, especially when it comes to rebates, are going to stack. If you can do this on a partner type by partner type—not just tier, but partner type—which defines their go-to-market, their specialization areas, then your whole picture is going to change.
Now that partner is really in alignment with the new buyer’s journey. They're serving up all the demand generation content, using your tools and using your content in alignment with that buyer. When sales in the pre-sale stages start, then that partner sales team and marketing team are now going to use all your lead management content and tools to engage the buyer.
Same is true on the sales side. They're going to use your ROI calculators, your demos, your testimonial in personal events to engage to that buyer and therefore to be much more productive, much, much earlier using all these different type of incentive programs and promotions.
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