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Sales Transformation: Influencing Behavior with Channel Incentives

Did you know, according to research from SiriusDecisions, 75% of companies plan to invest more in Channel Incentive Management?

At our recent webinar, Channel Transformation: Influencing Behavior with Incentives, presenters, Maria Chien, Service Director, Channel Marketing Strategies @SiriusDecisions, Lisa Penn, Chief of Staff, Global Partner Marketing @SAP, and Steve Kellam, VP of Global Alliances @360insights outlined key tactics on how to go about designing effective channel incentive programs that incorporate best practices to achieve sales transformation and positively impact behavior. They also discussed how the B-to-B buyer’s journey has changed and how the buying process is driving the need for organizations to transform their channel incentive marketing efforts through, and to resellers.

In fact, incentives are so key to influencing behavior that results from our webinar poll showed over 80% of the audience indicated channel incentives are important to driving sales transformation.

Our presenters had many valuable insights to share that took us over time. For your convenience we recorded the presentation in case you didn’t get a chance to tune into the live event.  You can watch the replay here as well as review the full slide deck which is embedded at the bottom of this post. Below is a quick re-cap of the main topics covered by our subject matter experts.  Outlined are key tactics on how best to align the B-to-B buyer’s journey with current go-to-market strategies.  Also included are some best practices for planning and selecting high performing channel incentives that influence behavior and drive sales transformation.

The Reality in B-to-B Buyer Behavior

In the first half of the webinar, Maria Chien discussed how organizations need to better understand how buyers are likely to behave and actually respond to their offerings and tactics. She explained, “Most B-to-B leaders are confused about how to effectively re-balance their marketing and sales resources in relation to changing buyer behavior. Understanding buyers and their behaviors is the main ingredient of high-performance marketing and should drive sales transformation and how channel organizations incentivize their partners to address this change.” The buyer’s journey creates a need for marketing and sales transformation so understanding how buyers want to purchase offerings is essential for driving growth.  Maria outlined this in the SiriusDecision’s depiction of the buyer’s journey framework, where the three primary phases (i.e. Education, Exploring Solutions, Vendor Selection) that the buyer goes through, greatly impacts their decision-making process during the buying cycle.

This fact was also reinforced by our audience poll where 61% indicated a change in the buyer’s journey had the biggest impact on their channel and driving sales transformation.

The reality today is that information gathering and other activity via digital channels is still consistent throughout the buying process.  Marketers need to continue investing in digital channel incentive marketing programs to successfully navigate the new buyer’s journey, however, suppliers aren’t necessarily incentivizing, influencing or supporting their partners to adopt these digital programs. Maria suggested, “Helping partners through their digital marketing transformation will set them apart and give them the competitive advantage when working to attract new buyers.”

The Key Sales Transformation Challenges

The second half of the webinar focused on key sales transformation challenges including the shift in the buyer’s journey and the different ways the B-to-B buyer is investigating and purchasing products.  Both presenters agreed that the transformed buyer’s journey creates the biggest challenge for marketers today.  Marketers need to recognize these changes and flip their channel incentive programs around to best reach the new B-to-B buyer. According to SiriusDecisions research, when sellers (both direct and indirect) were asked what their top business challenges were, they indicated:

  • 72% unable to connect offerings to buyer needs and challenges
  • 69% inability to differentiate offerings from competition or status quo
  • 65% poor content quality or inaccessibility of partner portals

Steven Kellam further detailed five key sales transformation challenges affecting B-to-B organizations;

1. Program Growth Alignment - the struggle to establish channel partner programs that support their channel incentive strategy.

2. Lack of Program Transformation - the inability to transform or adapt to changing routes to market.

3. Alignment to Buyer’s Journey - non-alignment of go-to-market strategies to the buyer’s journey.

4. Incentive Effectiveness – channel incentives that are too focused on past performance rather than influencing future behavior.

5. New Incentive Methods - emerging partner types and new technology that are altering the way channel incentives are created and executed. Our speakers discussed how these issues are all connected and are very important when it comes to addressing sales transformation.

Maria also included a statistic from a recent SiriusDecisions survey, where they asked B-to-B marketing and sales professionals,

How they use channel incentives and are they meeting their goals?Only 14% of respondents stated that channel incentives met their goals.

According to our own webinar poll, audience members indicated that the highest rated factor posing the greatest sales transformation challenge was, in fact, channel incentive effectiveness.

At the end of the day, sales transformation cannot be addressed and supported if ineffective channel incentive programs are developed and implemented.

The Role of Channel Incentives

Channel incentives need to keep the reseller ecosystem engaged and motivated to drive demand and sell offerings. By increasing partner knowledge and their capability to grow sales and market share, at the same time of rewarding them for a job well done performance and relationships will get stronger and sales transformation will occur. Maria Chien explained, “The key to channel incentives is not to take a one-size fits all approach to influence partner behavior.Channel Incentives need to be developed in a way to motivate partners and reward them for their progress. Organizations must take a disciplined approach to designing channel incentive programs. Channel incentives are important because they help to recognize and reward partner contribution, increase loyalty and drive desired behavior.

Core Channel Incentive Planning Components

In the last half of our webinar, Lisa Penn at SAP walked through some real-time experiences and discussed how to plan, implement and effectively manage channel incentive programs. She outlined a few different best practices including:

1. Build a Decision Matrix - a formidable framework for planning and positioning the right channel incentive program, beginning with mapping out objectives, confirming alignment to measure effectiveness, assessing existing efforts, to funding and securing executive sponsors.

2. Include Program Requirements - guidelines that are necessary in order to ensure tax and country game rules are followed, corporate compliance is adhered to, the appropriate rules of engagement are in place along with regional sponsorship and timely communication.

3. Ensure Ongoing Focus – create a repeatable design and launch template to effectively manage and launch channel incentive programs.

Final Thoughts

“Lead your partners through sales transformation by educating yourself before you educate them,” summarized Lisa Penn.

The webinar concluded with final words from our presenters both reiterating the fact that channel incentive planning starts with a clear goal, a target audience and a program designed to achieve the goal through behavioral change. Today, business and market realities have created an unprecedented opportunity for sales and marketing leaders to create value for their channels.  And to stay current and align the B-to-B buyer’s journey with growth strategies, marketers need to modernize their channel incentive programs by incorporating best practices throughout the planning, implementation and management process.  This is the only way to positively influence behavior and achieve sales transformation. As mentioned above, check out the full replay of this webinar, including the Q&A session at the end.  If you wanted to skim the slides, review the slideshare of the webinar presentation deck below.

And don’t forget to tune into our next thought leadership webinar, where subject matter experts from 360insights and the SPUR Group will discuss the four types of incentives and share best practices for choosing and implementing the right channel incentives. REGISTER HERE


About the Author

360insights is the leading channel engagement and business optimization company, that enables brands to better influence, manage, and engage with their complex channel ecosystems. The company offers a suite of channel solutions including a SaaS-based platform that empowers brands to fully orchestrate their complex partner networks, while also delivering a powerful Incentive Automation solution for consumer rebates, SPIFFs, volume incentives, MDF/Co-Op, sales allowances and points programs. Combining incentive management and ecosystem orchestration with a powerful data analytics engine, 360insights serves 300+ enterprise organizations globally, across multiple industries, helping them boost their indirect business. Learn more at

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