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How to Drive MDF Program Engagement

Craig DeWolf

Drive your partners’ engagement with your MDF program while keeping your programs on track.

Driving partner engagement. You've now decided what you want your MDF program to achieve and you've designed it, but now you need to drive partner engagement and keep your program on track. Some considerations that help make no two MDF programs alike, and the reason why you shouldn't design or feel that one program is going to work for any different go-to-market model is because your MDF program will only be as important to the partner as you are to their revenue stream. If you're a primary brand, you could probably have a mediocre MDF program and your partners might use it. On the other hand, if you're not a primary brand and you're struggling to get attention, you're going to need to go one step further to make it more compelling for your partners to use.

Ease of doing business is a big driver of partner loyalty and understanding where and how you can make your program easier to use is a big component of this. The one thing that marketers don't take into account is that your vendors are representing multiple brands, each one has a different MDF program, each one has different administrative requirements, and you need to be able to stand out in a crowd. Be sure to take your partner's perspective when designing your program, and more importantly the administration of “what's in it for me,” because you have to design the program to be compelling for your partners.

The flip side of that is, why do programs fail? And this applies to the broader incentive scope, not just MDF, it generally boils down to these components: The first is poor communications and training, and that's a very broad topic. Meaning they either weren't aware that they had a program, or they weren't clear on how to use it or what the benefits were for them. The second is that administration was overly cumbersome, the risk and reward factor did not work in their favor. Or the third factor, the program did not align with the partner's needs for whatever reason, which is another reason to look at the point above. Take a look at your partner's perspective, “what's in it for me,” when you're designing the communication and launch plan around your program.

The first thing you need, which many companies oddly don’t have, are formal program guidelines. They are the rules of the road that is the tie-breaker, the terms and conditions around the program, that go beyond simply addressing the eight variables we talked about earlier. It also details the administration around the program: What are the escalation and support processes? What are the terms and conditions? What is reimbursable/not reimbursable? What are the FAQs? This should be the basis for stakeholder understanding, whether it is internal or external, the internal being your channel marketing managers and field personnel who might interact with your partners.

Some additional best practices are to use incentives to drive MDF adaption and understanding.  What this really means is that it's not about making sure your partners know the best practices around web marketing principles or content management principles, it's really around your program. It should be targeting the people that use your program, requesters or administrators and marketing managers at the partner level, to drive adoption, promote best practices, and minimize support because they understand your program and they understand all of the attributes around it. You can align your incentive with training and utilization, typically a one-time reward, depending on who the client is, to make sure your audience understands this before they have access to it.

In this case, we might have a marketing accreditation promotion on our platform. Again, it's really around your partner's understanding of the guidelines and how your program works, what the administrative processes are, and what are all of the various tools and resources you make available in order to hit their goals? You might think that $30 as a one-time reward, or even $100, is too costly, but in terms of driving adoption or minimizing support costs, or minimizing administrative time on the back end trying to get partners to catch up to this, it more than pays for itself over time.

The other components that I think you should try to achieve as program administrators is to try to reduce claim to payment to under two weeks, because for your partners, cash flow is king. We already talked about getting regular feedback from stakeholders, internal and external, to make sure that your program stays on track because perception is everything. We always recommend no more than two levels of approvals. One would be for financial approval and one would be for content. Many clients have several levels of approvals, when all they really need is access to the information, which can be done through an MDF system. And also to be transparent about requirements on real-time basis at multiple touchpoints, such as someone actually claiming or submitting a fund request that they’ve attached the right proof of performance or the right materials before they submit it.

So in summary, program ease of use and understanding will drive program engagement. Don't assume that you have your partner's attention span. Published guidelines will help you drive adoption, as well as help the understanding process for both partners as well as internal users. Rewarding partners for understanding your MDF program can pay dividends on the back end. Streamlining program administration will help improve the perception of your program, and help drive more engagement from partners.

About the Author

Craig DeWolf

Craig DeWolf, Perks WW VP, Marketing Enablement, has over 30 years of channel program and trade marketing experience spanning a variety of industries and distribution models including technology and consumer product companies. As Vice President, Marketing Enablement he provides a unique multi-industry perspective gleaned from a background working across agency, supplier, and vendor/manufacturer roles. Craig has engaged with key business partners and worked with a variety of clients on both channel and trade strategies and programs, including: AT&T, Apple, Avaya, Bridgestone Goodrich, Canon USA, Hewlett-Packard, Kraft, Oracle, Panasonic, Timex and Xerox. Immediately before joining Perks Worldwide, Craig held senior roles at Hawk Incentives, Hawkeye Channel, and CCI—a work history that shows his deep understanding of the channel space.

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