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Revisiting 5 Tough Questions From The Channel

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Revisiting 5 Tough Questions From The Channel

“The wise man doesn't give the right answers, he poses the right questions.” - Claude Levi-Strauss

For many years, there were questions – big questions – in channel marketing that nobody wanted to ask because they were too enormous to answer with authority.  There were other, softer reasons too – answering some of the questions meant admitting vulnerability.  It meant accepting that otherwise unacceptable things had happened on your watch. 

Forget the vulnerability.

Computing power has reached a level where it is now possible to digitize 100% of your channel marketing programs and processes.  With that ability comes the power to answer the big questions and be the one who gets them answered “on their watch.” 

The right question to be asking yourself now is “where do I start?”

In the last seven years, I have been working to help companies reach 100% digitization, 100% automation and 100% audit of their channel marketing programs.  Here are the five most common big questions that you should be starting with:

How Do We Pay Fast Enough To Change Behaviors?

Imagine you have a dog and you tell him to roll over. Instead of instantly giving him appreciation for what he did you decide to give him a treat in 6-12 weeks. A lack of future enthusiasm is totally understandable!

Call them right, call them wrong or call them rude – people simply do not associate a delayed reward with the behaviour that earned them that reward.  To effectively change behaviours, the reward must come as soon after the desired behaviour as possible.

With the technology available to us all, there is no reason to create incentives programs that leave people unsure of where their money is. Pay them out quick, or they will find another brand who will.

How Do We Reduce Admin Burden?

Do you still have people manually administrating your channel marketing programs?  Are they opening thousands of envelopes by hand, trying to read hand-written forms and answering hundreds of phone calls per day?  Is this the highest and best use of your team’s talent?

It sounds painful to move from the old way of doing things, but it need not be and the upside is nearly infinite.  Once all of your program data is digitized, you can start to further leverage technology, optimizing your programs in ways you had previously never thought possible.

How Much Can We Audit?

Audit is a major soft spot on the underbelly of so many programs.  The generally accepted number of non-compliant claims across all channel marketing programs seems to be around 1-3%.  That’s fine: most companies can live with 1-3% and can’t justify allocating resources to enforcing fraud at that level.   

The problem with accepting this number is that too many companies are showing 1-3% non-compliance when their programs are only being audited at random!  Hoping for effective random audit is like hoping to win the lottery.  Hope is not strategy.  The collection and digitization of all data related to every claim enables you to audit effectively at 100%.  100% is the new standard and anything less is leaving money to fraudsters, accidentally double-paying claims or just generally not helping you to achieve your business objectives.

How Do We Know The Players?

Calculating lifetime value of a customer used to be a lot more straightforward.  It was simply a matter of determining how many times a customer could be expected to have a need for a product such as yours over their lifetime.  From there, our job as marketers was to figure out how to make sure that our products were the one the customer chose whenever they had a need.

Call it the attention economy, the connected economy or the social economy but the fact is that the way people buy is changing as fast as the world around us.   Customer lifetime value now must consider not only what the customer will buy in his or her lifetime, but also what they will influence. 

The path to a purchase is now a cluttered landscape of buyer, seller, sales reps, influencers, advocates, detractors, reviews, stores, websites, pickup centers, social proof and whatever comes next. You need to be able to detect which players and elements are influencing your sale the most and then work to leverage those.

What Is The Best Way To Allocate Channel Marketing Dollars?

This is the granddaddy of all the questions in our business.  Do we run a push or pull strategy?  Should I SPIFF or offer a consumer rebate?  Should I do a sell-through allowance or am I better off with instant rebates?  In which territories?  At what time of year?  Should I offer $20 or $25?   The questions are endless and that’s actually really good: this is how we can all improve and this is how we build programs that continue to be more effective.  

The truth is though that none of these can be answered with real authority until you have a large enough dataset to start to build predictive models based on the performance of your previous campaigns.

The real promise of all this Big Data stuff for the channel marketing industry is that it gives us the power to make decisions and spend our promotions budgets with confidence.  If you’re a bit uncomfortable because you can’t answer the above questions, that’s great: you’re ready to get started and you’re probably still ahead of your competition. 

I’ll leave you with one more quote that I like, this time from my buddy Derek Sivers: 

Being smart means thinking things through - trying to find the real answer, not the first answer.”

A lifelong technology entrepreneur, Jason Atkins is the founder and CEO of 360incentives.  360incentives is the world’s first integrated incentive software platform, allowing brands to run spiffs, rebates, co-op/MDF, and sell-through allowances all processed and paid with 100% audit and powerful analytics to predict what to do next. For more information, visit:

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