Three Myths About Global Channel Incentives Programs

By Richard Grogan-Crane

From Program Strategy to Execution and Fulfillment  

Launching a global channel incentive program to motivate partners and their sales reps requires focus, collaboration and discipline to work through the many obstacles to their implementation. Often these obstacles arise from well-intended concerns that can result in roadblocks that temporarily or permanently derail such programs despite their demonstrated success.  Here, we examine three such “myths” that often enter into discussions about global channel rewards programs.

#1 The Strategy Myth - Managing Incentives Globally Is Not Feasible

Channel incentives, particularly, any incentives aimed at individual or team members that are employees of the channel partners, operate differently in different regions and countries.  Cultural, regulatory and market differences often lead to the decision to manage all such incentives locally.

Often, the results are programs that are designed by overstretched teams to meet hyper-localized conditions and either a lot of manual processes and spreadsheets or outsourcing the requirements to local agencies that create program infrastructure on proprietary systems that do not connect to the company’s data while duplicating the core functionality in every region.  Meanwhile, global channel incentive automation becomes more difficult the more entrenched each regional, bespoke program becomes.  

Of course, when it comes to maximizing impact with customers, channel partners and partner sales reps alike the well worn maxim to  “Think Globally. Act Locally” still applies. But if you’re managing a global partner network, you need to think and act globally!  

Strategically, that begins with understanding how the incentive support the overall partner value proposition globally 



Operationally, the program management and resource strategy should be clearly set:                                                                          

  1. Create a consistent program management framework and infrastructure to support the partner experience
    • Budgets
    • Program Branding
    • Terms & Conditions: Tax and Compliance
    • Offers & Promotions
    • Rewards/Payments
    • Measurement/Analytics
    • Finance
  2. Establish program governance that clearly lays out roles & responsibilities for global and regional teams
    • Offers & Promotion Funding
    • Offers & Promotion Design
    • Program Communications
    • Partner Management

While it may not be the first, ultimately, the foremost consideration in the program execution or implementation stage is the partner experience.  

Channel automation tools can enhance that partner experience and simplify the channel operations tasks by replacing processes built on spreadsheets and emails. In the implementation stage, the benefits or using a global rewards platform to provide a consistent, branded experience that can be locally adapted through simple configurations becomes clear.   

It’s also in this stage where designing in program flexibility can translate into the ability to act locally; operational efficiency can turn into partner ease of use and speed of payment; and participant reward choice can result in higher levels of partner sales rep engagement and partner satisfaction.  

#2 The Audience Myth - Engaging Individual Sales Reps Is Not Possible

The challenge with the Audience Myth is that it is not entirely a myth.  

In North American and Latin American markets, it is common practice to vendors to spiff partner sales reps directly in partner organizations that permit such offers.  In other words, they do so with the partner organization’s consent.  

Not all firms will want their reps to participate. That’s their choice. But it shouldn’t stop a program manager from creating a program that’s effective for those that do participate.  When surveyed, nearly a third of program respondents have told us that their firm only permits their participating in ‘approved’ spiffs, while less than 10% reported that their company did not allow any participate. To a program designer, that should be good news.  It is a best practice to get both management and sales reps engaged in any incentive or spiff in order to maximize participation levels.

Outside the Americas, the practice of directly rewarding individual partner employees can be a challenge. In the EU and other countries where rewards directly to individuals can run afoul of co-employment laws, any earned incentive payments can be aggregated at the company level.  

From a program design perspective, however, it’s imperative not to lose sight of program objectives which likely include creating higher levels of engagement and loyalty for your solution with those in direct contact with the customer and gaining deeper insight from the data generated by the incentive program.  To do so, ensure that program claims or transaction data capture continues to include the individual partner employee so they can be engaged and recognized, if not rewarded directly.  

Next, ensure that the rewards payments and supporting data aggregated at the partner level shows the individual and amount earned and provide the partner company with a means to easily redirect the earnings from the company’s account to the individual.  Without the information and turnkey process, asking your partners to redistribute any earnings is adding an administrative burden that’s unwarranted.  


#3 The Reward Myth - Is Cash King or is Non-Cash a More Effective Motivator?

When it comes to the question of what’s the best reward -- cash, merchandise, travel, prepaid debit cards, gift cards, unique experiences, etc. --- there seem to be two camps:  “Cash is King” vs. “Non-Cash is more effective.”  Well, here’s a surprise -- they are both right.  Perhaps that’s because they aren’t addressing the same question. 

In the “Cash is King” camp, proponents would offer two key advantages:

  • It’s often the easiest and most efficient way to reward someone for completing a sale or specific activity.
  • Reward recipients, when asked, consistently select cash as their preferred award.  

Cash rewards are an effective means to motivate a desired behavior change.  

But behavioral scientists and those in the “Non-Cash is More Effective” camp will also tell us that the behavior changes are also the most likely to revert once the incentive is taken away.  From an optimizing your incentive budget this suggests that the best use of cash incentives is for gaining attention, initial awareness and consideration and adopting new behaviors.  Perhaps that’s why most spiffs are paid in cash.

The problem with real ‘non-cash’, however, is in its execution - it doesn’t scale. Travel incentives can be incredibly powerful when they link performance and achievement with an exotic location and access to senior executives.  For all but they very highest performers, they are unaffordable and often require a prohibitively large commitment of executive time.    

So, most incentives are aimed at moving the middle performers.  And the most common ‘non-cash’ alternatives used for these purposes -- gift cards, prepaid debit cards, points -- all have an element of cash hidden within them.  

It turns out that choice is desired when it comes to what incentive participants want -- and when given that choice they tend to elect cash or cash equivalent options at a very high rate.  Funny, that the main ingredient in ‘non-cash’ turns out to be ‘cash’.  

Please share your ideas, insights or other ‘myths’ you may have discovered about creating channel incentive program. And for more information on XTRM Global Rewards Payment Platform or XTRM AnyPay, you can find more on our website.  

We look forward to hearing from you.

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