How to Use Partners to 300x Your ROI in a Down Economy

How to Use Partners to 300x Your ROI in a Down Economy

Andrew Phelps 5 min

Small budgets, big ROI

Two years ago, the IncentivePilot team discovered that true gamification (not just points and leaderboards) was the key to partner activation.


Our hypothesis was that we could get more eyeballs if we had a little fun. What we didn’t expect was that engagement is so high with games that reward budgets can be cut by 90% or more.


Virtually overnight, we transformed $150k+ programs with low engagement into $25k programs with staggering returns on investment (ROI).


In fact, all the gamified programs for which we have access to the data have achieved from 10x to over 300x (no, that’s not a typo) ROI for our customers.


Incentive programs are table-stakes

In 2016, our UX/UI studio was hired to design and build some incentive program apps for the channel sellers of a Fortune 100 tech company.


At the end of the first program, we learned that 22% of reps had participated in the program. It was the most successful channel marketing program they had ever executed.


Well, that was easy. Were we God’s gift to the channel? Nope.


The truth is that the bar was very low. We focused on user experience and marketing best practices. They made a big difference.


The channel has evolved

Fast forward to today and the challenge of activating channel sellers has evolved. The biggest difference is the complete inundation of our media channels with automated spam and copycat information.


Email is dying, social is ultra-competitive, and SMS is plateauing shortly after its meteoric rise.


There is nothing unique about being a tech giant with online training. Sellers now have access to thousands of partner portals and scores of incentive options.


The budgets for programs have risen with the competition. You’ll hear that “sales teams are coin-operated,” and the whole thing is “pay to play.”

I disagree.


The data don’t lie

We’ve run hundreds of programs with millions of dollars of incentives invested.

We’ve learned that the most important factor for a program’s success is not the financial investment, but simply a critical number of touchpoints with partners.

Outbound sellers will tell you it takes 12-20 touchpoints just to get a call with a cold prospect. The number for driving your partners to new behaviors is in the same range.


Many programs reward or spiff reps for anything they do. As the tech ecosystem grows, hundreds of competing channel programs have inflated costs and diminished returns.


The truth is that successful programs go back to marketing basics: Get a partner’s attention, share a simple message, and repeat that simple message as many times as possible.


Create great content

The challenge is repeating the message as many times as possible without spamming people.


That means you need content that people want to look at 12-20 times.

The easiest way to get those touchpoints is with games. If something happens in the game, people come to look. If they come to look 12-20 times, you’ll be top of mind.


Gamify your program

A great example of this is our poker game. When a seller completes an enablement activity or hits a sales goal, they are dealt a random playing card.

So if they just completed your latest training, they get an email that invites them to view their card. When they click the button, they are back in your PRM, looking at their card and seeing the other activities you’re inviting them to complete.


They also see a leaderboard. Not of who has sold the most but who has the best poker hand. If they’re lucky, they’ve got good cards and sit near the top. They might feel compelled to gloat with their teammates.


Now there is a conversation about your campaign at their organization.

The touchpoints build on themselves.


Use more than money to drive results

As channel marketing managers across the ecosystem face downsizing and budget cuts, running the same old program is an even worse idea than you think.


If you’ve conditioned your partners to be paid for everything they do, their performance will not drop linearly with decreased incentives. Science tells us that human beings get conditioned to compensation and lose motivation beyond their original levels as compensation falls.


The idea is illustrated in this old joke:


A group of kids knocks down trashcans on the way home from school.


As neighbors threaten them with punishment, nothing changes.


Finally, an elderly woman offers them a quarter for every trashcan they knock over.


They take the deal and enjoy getting paid for their mischief.


A week later, the woman tells them she can’t afford to pay them as much and they’ll only get a dime for each trashcan.


The kids tell her there’s no deal and they stop knocking over the trashcans.

Your sellers are not snotty kids but you get the point. Reducing your campaign budget using a classic incentive structure will likely harm your program performance exponentially because you are not meeting the expectations of your sellers.


Instead, you have to invest your budget in doing something completely different (like a goofy game) so you are changing expectations, rather than missing them.


Zig when everyone else zags

Whether your budget is growing or shrinking this year, take the opportunity to try something different. Throw out the old playbook and invest every dollar you have in getting a high number of quality touchpoints with your sellers.


You’ll have your best year yet.


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Andrew Phelps 5 min

How to Use Partners to 300x Your ROI in a Down Economy

The incentivePilot team discovered that true gamification (not just points and leaderboards) was the key to partner activation.

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