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There’s nothing simple or easy about building a successful sales channel. And keeping these critical relationships alive and thriving is an on-going challenge.


The old school sales answer to the problem would be more and higher cash incentives (bring on the SPIVs). But you don’t want to go there. Real rewards work with more subtle and effective persuasion to build the investment-grade channel relationships you need for long-term success.

Love for sale

Let’s out with the lingering popular perception of sales people as crass and unscrupulous, who would sell their grandmothers for the right price. The image gets plenty of reinforcement in pop culture tropes: “Greed is good”, “Coffee is for closers”, “Always be closing”. And classic films like Wall Street, Boiler Room and Glengarry Glen Ross, keep the stereotype alive. Of course, some find inspiration in the anti-hero narrative. Check this list of the 12 Best Sales Movies of all Time and why you should love them.

In real terms, negative public relations hurt the profession. A 2015 study by international recruitment firm Pareto Law found that nearly 30% of 18-24-year-olds would not consider working in sales and 25% admitted to holding negative views of the entire industry. Stereotypes die hard.

What’s in it for me?

Bad PR aside, old-school sales practices have fed the stereotype. Until quite recently, sales success had more to do with persistence and personality than product knowledge or customer needs. One-sided conversations fed a single objective: commission.

These days there are a lot more sophisticated, two-way conversations going on, informed by data analytics, augmented intelligence and an array of digital tools. Sales is more about creating value than flogging wares. Yet, old-school carrot and stick incentives still make much of the sales world go ‘round.

Incentive or payment type?

Cash has a place in the bigger scheme of sales performance management, but as an all-purpose incentive tool it can do more to sabotage than support relationships. A fat SPIV will buy you a once-off push for your product, but it won’t influence future sales behaviour (at least until the next SPIV comes along).

Carrots of this sort encourage hard-sell, smash and grab sales tactics, invite easy gaming of the system and can actually kill sales when the incentive program ends. Ideally, sales channel incentive programs are relationship investments and endless cash incentives offer nothing in the way of future return. But maybe you’ve learned that the hard way?

A human-centred approach

Successful channel relationships need to be a win/win for everyone. For suppliers, that means taking a holistic, human-centred view of your channel salesforce and considering how the right rewards can help you forge professional relationships for the right reasons.

Maybe you want to extend reach in one market and increase product mix in another. Build a rewards program that drives your goals and adds real value to each individual in your channel. Rewards can help reinforce positive professional habits, like keeping up with product updates, for example, or learning through mobile micro-training modules. And show some love with motivational messages, generous product support and stimulating sales challenges. A little gamification spin on your next sales promotion could add some sizzle.

Get creative. The more human value you add to partner relationships, the more value your partners can add to end-customer relationships, which translates to your bottom line. And so, the virtuous cycle of brand loyalty begins. Rewards support a healthy vendor/channel partner dynamic and answer the ‘what’s in it for me’ questions echoing through the channel from wholesalers to distributors to the retail sales force. It’s only human.

Right rewards for the right reasons

People are complex, so the more options you have at your disposal, the easier it will be to build genuine relationships with personal, purposeful and meaningful rewards. Know your target audience, discover their passions and choose rewards with care. You’ve got loads of choices, so mix it up with fast and easy digital, great branded merchandise, event tickets, exciting travel destinations, sporting adventures – whatever resonates with your audience and reflects the essence of your brand.

Rewards aren’t meant to be a thank-you present for selling your product, they’re a mechanism for reinforcing the behaviours that lead to achieving your sales objectives. And you’re going for a win/win, remember? Partner requirements and expectations vary, but the baseline for success is shared value, commitment to quality and a long-view of mutual benefit. Rewards that speak to those precepts can only succeed.


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