As a channel sales leader, you would agree that channel partners – be it, distributors, dealers, retailers and last-mile influencers – are integral to your growth strategy and key to a great customer experience. Winning channel partners’ trust, commitment, and loyalty is by no means an easy task but a thought-through, long-term channel partner engagement effort.
What does it take for a trade marketing and sales leader to earn channel partners’ trust, commitment, and loyalty over a period? How does one go about it? Are there any best practices to consider?
BI Worldwide brings to you proven behavioural science-led, award-winning best practices for driving channel partner engagement to build trust, commitment, and loyalty. Let’s have a look at them:
- Establishing Trust: Brands must remember that trust is first earned and then preserved, and there are ways in which brands can prove themselves as trustworthy to channel partners.
- Be Clear, Consistent, and Real: Brands should communicate clearly, with the right frequency, and be as human as possible to sound real to channel partners. Being honest and transparent about incentives, rewards, relationship benefits, long-term association privileges, sales targets, and recognition provides an opportunity for trade marketing and sales leaders to build trust with channel partners. Channel partners respond better to messages received in local/regional languages across media channels. Overcommitting, false promises, and clickbait messages should be avoided at all costs, as these can lead to a breakdown of trust with channel partners. Taking regular feedback and reciprocating by enhancing the overall partner value proposition works best when brands are looking at building trust.
- Finding Idiosyncratic Fit: According to behavioral economics professors Dr. Ran Kivetz and Dr. Itamar Simonson, a major reason individuals choose which incentive or loyalty program to join is based on whether or not they identify an idiosyncratic fit. Idiosyncratic fit is the feeling that you enjoy a unique advantage in achieving a goal, making a sale, beating an opponent, or completing a task or if it helps me make money or do business. If you are a sales leader, this is a secret weapon you need to know how to use. Your channel partners should believe they have an advantage over others in achieving their goals, that the rewards on offer are worth their effort, and they see the value of associating with your brand. Failure to find the idiosyncratic fit leads to lack of confidence, clarity and trust from channel partners resulting in confusion and lack of participation.
- Streamlining Day-to-Day Operations: Most channel partners (especially distributors and retailers) value operational excellence the most when dealing with brands. Prompt resolution by brands of billing and sales claims, rewards and app related queries, packaging issues, and real-time updates on product availability, goes a long way in establishing brands as credible and desirable to work with for channel partners. Sales leaders going the extra mile to manage their channel partner programs and outreach is a key factor in strengthening trust levels – efficient and transparent dealings, helping them in dire straits with easy credit policies, sticking to timelines and honoring and following through on their commitments to channel partners are of utmost importance.
- Driving Commitment: Channel partners play a pivotal role in shaping a customer’s ultimate purchase decision. How, as a sales leader, you drive their commitment to your brand matters significantly.
- Inspire them with Hedonic Rewards: Brands need to consider the feelings they are trying to evoke through their rewards strategy. McKinsey’s study states that non-financial incentives are more effective motivators than financial incentives. BI WORLDWIDE research says, most of the channel partners prefer cash rewards to stay with a brand, but non-cash rewards are the ones that ultimately prevent them from jumping ship. The principle of preference reversal explains this; people say one thing but want something else. Identify the behavior you want to reward, integrate the same behaviors with your channel loyalty program and keep them committed.
- Make them Market Ready: Leveraging idiosyncratic fit, again, by constructing a unique learning program that makes your channel partners smarter than the rest (to buy/sell smarter) in the market. Training them on effective sales tactics, improving communication skills, and how to keep up with the latest technology are valuable upgrades for channel partners in the long run. When it comes to brand-specific training, it’s important that channel partners are made aware of all product features and are also adequately informed on the competitive edge the product has over similar products in the market. BI WORLDWIDE’s Know, Feel, Do framework ensures channel partners are inspired with the right knowledge and encourage action according to how you intend.
- Shift Focus to the Middle: Engaging the 20% top-performing channel partners is quite straightforward and most of us as sales leaders, are doing a great job at it. How about the middle performers (60%), or even the bottom layer (20%)? If you want to get the most from your channel partners, you need to move the middle by engaging an additional 60% of your audience. Setting achievable and realistic series of goals for them, appealing to their emotions, and consistently giving them a reason to focus helps to improve their performance on an individual level, which adds up to a collective commitment from both, channel partners and brands, to achieve business results.
- Building Loyalty: Once you have gained the trust and commitment of channel partners, it matters how you consistently engage, recognize, and celebrate with channel partners to keep them motivated and engaged.
- Recognize heroes, and celebrate success: Everyone likes to be noticed. Recognizing and celebrating channel partners’ success regularly for exhibiting brand values, business goals achievements, setting new performance standards, winning customers, and gaining positive reviews and tenures help to inspire them to keep doing great. What exactly happens when you recognize a channel partner? It starts a cycle of success, and they feel valued and appreciated. Grounded in the science of behavioral economics – principles like the dopamine effect and subjective well-being comes into play, and channel partners reciprocate the desired behavior to feel the benefits of recognition and in turn, become engaged and motivated. Recognition must be meaningful and timely; it needs to connect back to the brand’s values and business objective to drive any shifts or changes in behaviour. Social recognition is equally important, recognise channel partners during channel events, channel meets, and channel partners offsite and in front of their family and community members.
- Keep nudging to produce results: A single impression isn’t enough to guarantee action, leave aside achieve a favorable outcome. As per a recent study by BI WORLDWIDE, it takes 6 impressions to produce an action from your channel partners – this proves why strategic nudges are so critical to driving specific business results. Framing Effect, another behavioural economics principle, helps people in decision making by presenting information (data insights) associated with positive or negative connotations which prompts an action such as decision to participate, to buy, to sell, or to make a referral. As sales leaders, we should leverage framing effect to nudge channel partners towards taking an action by helping them participate in a sales promotion, or a sales contest or a sales incentives program, which helps you in achieving sales goals and provides rewarding opportunities to channel partners.
- Make wellbeing a priority: Pandemic has certainly changed the way most of us look at our overall wellbeing alongside our work or business. Channel partners are no different. As per BI WORLDWIDE’s research, channel partners are inclined to develop a closer emotional association with brands offering wellbeing privileges as part of an overall engagement program alongside business benefits and rewards. Brands should consider introducing wellbeing benefits such as health insurance coverage, medical check-ups, consultations, yoga and meditation classes, financial wellbeing inductions, and other health related benefits contributing towards a healthier channel partner community. Moreover, by addressing these needs for channel partners, brands enable and empower them to be more devoted to their business, which results in a win-win scenario for both.
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