For Channel Incentive Program Success, How It Works Matters


By Richard Grogan-Crane

For most companies, large and small, trying to implement channel incentive programs or spiffs for their channel partner sales reps globally is simply too complex logistically, but it doesn't have to be.

A global rewards platform and program framework should be turnkey for global and regional teams to use. Recognizing that added complexity is nearly inevitable, should provide even greater impetus for simplicity. In short, the platform should provide the simplest means to deliver secure, transparent and swift rewards payments with the flexibility to adapt to unique regional requirements.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler ...  Albert Einstein

Keeping things simple can be a challenge for global program managers trying to support regional teams with cultural, regulatory and channel relationship challenges that differ broadly from those found in countries headquartered in North America. And, given that the ROI impact is highly dependent on partner adoption and partner sales rep engagement, how these programs are operationalized is critically important to their success.
So here are a few keep-it-simple-suggestions (KISS) to start your program planning and some alternative methods that may enable a globally consistent approach that is flexible enough to accommodate the regional differences required to meet the marketplace realities.

For the program manager, the organizing principle should be to automate as much as possible, beginning with how rewards are earned/claimed and how they are redeemed/spent.


On the earn side, the best claims process is no claims process at all.  That may be a bit of a mind-bender especially when the need for proof-of-performance is mandatory for compliance and finance.  But think about - in a market where ease of doing business can be a competitive differentiator, why ask anyone to submit data you already have?  And, assuming that you and your field or sales operations teams already have a full plate, why add any additional requirements for verifying partner submitted data?
Try to work through each requirement to identify where required information is already being captured and stored in your PRM/portal, CRM, ERP, LMS or other system.  If the program requires completing a new customer sale is that information captured in your Salesforce CRM?  If the deal needed to be registered and approved is that in Salesforce and is the individual sales rep or SE identified?  If there are training/certification qualifiers are they at the partner or individual level and where is that status captured? & Optimally, all the data could be extracted from your PRM/CRM tools and fed to a rewards platform to fully automate the issuance of rewards without your partner needing to bear any additional reporting burden. In order of preference based on ease of use for your partners, potential Claims processes include:

  • Completely Claims-less - a process where no claims are required; rather the qualifying performance data is captured from data in the vendor's systems and workflows trigger the authorization and payment
  • Smart Claims -a process where pre-verified qualifying claims are published from the rewards platform to your partner portal for partners to view/claim without submitting any additional documentation
  • Automated Claims Matching- a process where qualifying transactions can be matched to claims submitted by partners to automate the verification process
  • Manual Claims - claims requiring a partner employee to copy or scan pertinent documents and submit with the claim. Typically, these claims and their supporting documentation then need to be reviewed and verified by the vendor.


Once you've simplified the process for your partners and peers by making it easy to claim and verify proof of performance, you're ready to make it faster and easier for them to receive rewards.To automate rewards, start by taking advantage of the inherent capabilities of cloud-base services to eliminate physical rewards, e.g., plastic prepaid cards or merchandise.

When the most important reward considerations expressed by program participants consistently are choice and value, why maintain a rewards merchandise catalog with limited selection and high fulfillment costs? The trophy value associated with unique items that cannot be sourced elsewhere or unique experiences may carry some weight but a cost/benefit analysis would likely reveal far more cost-effective methods to make a partner feel special.  If trophy value is so important, why do prepaid debit cards always account for the majority of redemption whenever they are added to the rewards mix?  For program managers concerned about offering non-cash reward alternatives, digital gift cards can now offer a broader range of choice as well as operational efficiency.

Plastic prepaid cards, despite their widespread usage, are an outdated rewards payment form and they do not scale globally. Why incur the costs of card personalization, production and shipping or the security headaches of lost/stolen cards, etc.?  Beyond their limitless choice and transparent value, the most compelling argument the prepaid card industry has offered is the brand or trophy value when the reward recipient use the card with your logo to pay for something special. Really?  Perhaps that's a good enough offset to explain away the lost value on all those cards with small balances remaining.  Sure, you could train your reward recipients how to manage a split-tender when their rewards card can't cover the whole cost, but wouldn't you rather be training them on your newest product or service?

Beyond digitizing the reward fulfillment process, automating the collection and management of tax document to ensure compliance is another element that is far more effectively addressed upfront rather than after participants begin to earn rewards.

Finally, with a global platform and program framework in place, then the global program manager is ready to engage their regional counterparts to determine unique program requirements including program participants eligible products/services sale dates, other rewards eligible activities, reward amounts, business rules and qualifying criteria.  Two key areas where there needs to be flexibility concern who actually receives the rewards and what is the form of reward payment: Reward Payee - Individual or Company?Incentives work best when the reward recipient is the one most directly involved with the desired behavior such as making a sale. In the indirect channel, this means engaging the channel partners' sales rep or pre-sale technical support roles directly.  In North American markets this generally works well to reward individuals directly - with partner organization permission. It should also be noted that to ensure high levels of partner adoption it is critical to ensure the program offers are aligned with their business strategy and that it is easy to participate.

In the EU and other countries where the ability to issue rewards directly to partners' employees can be problematic for regulatory or cultural reasons, consider aggregating the rewards at the company level while continuing to track individual performance via the claims process.  Then, by providing the company with a rewards account that can both receive and payout rewards, the partner company is enabled to pay their employees directly using the rewards platform and program infrastructure to make it completely turnkey.

Reward Choice - Cash or Non-cash? If Choice and Value are, indeed, the most important rewards attributes to recipients, then it makes sense to give the choice to reward earners to determine their preference.  Tools such as XTRM AnyPay enable reward recipients to select from a pre-determined set of options with the greatest choice including prepaid debit, digital gift cards or ACH/EFT transfer directly to their personal or business bank account.

In some cases, however, the funding source (e.g., OpEx) or the local market may not permit or desire cash payments. Non-cash reward alternatives include closed-loop prepaid card with limited redemption options or digital gift cards.

The rewards platform should accommodate both cash and non-cash options.


Most spiffs are paid quarterly.  It should be no surprise then to find that the most frequent complaint made by partners and sales reps is that it takes too long to receive their rewards. This is fixable. Reasons why spiffs take so long to payout are numerous, e.g., not completing the planning for the current quarter's spiff before the quarter begins, not announcing program specifics early enough for partners/partner sales reps to make eligible claims as they happen rather than at end of program/promotion, rules requiring proofs of performance that require multiple touches and approvals/verification, lack of resources to process claims on a timely basis, payment processes that require multiple steps and manual distribution of rewards, etc.

Again, by automating internal processes and data sources to confirm proof of performance, you can streamline the process for the partner and reduce, if not eliminate, additional time to validate and authorize reward payments. And, in doing so,  create the potential for reward payments to be processed far more rapidly with any batch frequency that makes sense: monthly, weekly, daily, hourly.

To summarize, a bit of planning and a global rewards payment platform and program infrastructure can lead to significant improvements in your partners' user experience and satisfaction as well as in the operational efficiency for your spiff promotions.Please share your ideas and insights on improving channel incentive program operational efficiency and effective. And for more information on XTRM Global Rewards Payment Platform, you can find more on our website.
We look forward to hearing from you.

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