How to Create an Uncommonly Effective Channel Incentive Program

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    Channel partners can help your company reach new markets, increase sales, and boost revenue—as long as they’re properly motivated. But in many cases, channel partners don’t prioritize selling your product.

    Fortunately, an effective channel incentive program can change that.

    Below, we’ll cover the basics of what it takes to create an incentive program that encourages channel partners to promote your product.

    Understand Where You’re Headed

    Before you begin creating an incentive program, you need to determine what you want to improve. Start by identifying your baseline results with your current channel partners.


    • How many channel partners you have
    • How they are performing today
    • Which channel partners are performing the best
    • Which markets your channel partners are most successful with

    Then, identify your goals. Are you simply trying to increase sales, or do you want to enter a new market? Do you want to increase the number of channel partners you work with, or do you want to improve the performance of your existing channel partners?

    Once you understand how your channel partner initiative is performing today and how you would like it to perform in the future, you can begin designing a strategic incentive program.

    Decide What You Want to Incentivize

    The first step in creating an incentive program is determining what you want to incentivize.

    Remember, an incentive program is all about changing behavior, so review your goals and determine what actions you need your channel partners to take to achieve those goals.

    In some cases, this is as simple as aligning incentives to your business goals. In other cases, particularly if your channel partners are struggling to make sales at all, you’ll need to incentivize other behaviors.

    For example, if you think you’d be better off having your internal sales team own the sales process, you may want to incentivize lead identification. When channel partners find people who are interested in your product, they simply pass the information to your team and receive a reward.

    If, on the other hand, you think they could convert sales on their own if they made some changes to their sales process, you can incentivize the activities you believe would improve their results. This could include offering rewards based on phone call volume, demos, or any other activity you think would increase their conversions.

    Decide How You Want to Incentivize

    Once you’ve determined the behavior you want to change, you must decide on the reward you’ll offer.

    Providing an immediate bonus for members of the channel partners’ sales teams is the simplest answer, but there are several other options worth considering.

    You could offer a prize, such as free lunch for a week, professional development opportunities, tickets to a show or movie, a spa day, electronics, a getaway, an appliance, or a gift card. Salespeople may actually enjoy these prizes more than money because of their novelty—and because they won’t just go to bills.

    Of course, you might want to incentivize company leaders, rather than members of their sales teams. In that case, your incentive could come in the form of sales or marketing support. You might offer to co-host a webinar, write a series of guest blogs, or assist with sales calls.

    Don’t assume there’s just one type of incentive that will work for your channel program. Try experimenting with different combinations of incentives to see what works best for your partners.  

    Keep It Simple

    Finally, make sure it’s not difficult for your channel partners to participate in the incentive program. This doesn’t mean you should make it easy for them to hit the goal—you want that to be a bit challenging—but signing up for the program and claiming the reward should be frictionless. Otherwise, people won’t participate.

    As noted by Elliot T. Berkman, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, at the University of Oregon, changing behavior comes down to two things: “the will and the way.”

    He explained that the will “refers to the motivational and emotional aspects of behavior change. The will is the ‘why’ of behavior change. Why is the behavior important to you? Why do you want to change? Why now?” This is what your incentive program seeks to address.

    The way, however, “refers to the cognitive and informational aspects of behavior change. The way is the ‘how’ of behavior change. How is behavior change going to unfold? What skills and capacities does it require? What is the specific plan?”

    Put simply: the more difficult it is to change a behavior, the less likely a person is to make that change. And if your incentive program is complex, it creates another barrier that makes your channel partners less likely to make the changes you seek.

    Make it easy for your channel partners to sign up for the incentive program, track their progress, and receive their reward.

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