Engaging Business Customers Through Incentive & Reward Programs

Strategy First Rewards Second

B2B incentive and reward programs 101

If you work in B2B, you will understand that engaging with partners and business customers requires a completely different approach to B2C.

For starters, purchasing behaviour is driven by a whole different set of needs and wants. Unlike consumers, a business makes budgeted and large scale purchases. So decisions are logical as buyers look for efficiency in the purchase, i.e., time, money, and resources.

Often a business is not the end-user but a reseller, and their purchase intention depends on their position in the sales channel. For example, automotive manufacturers traditionally work with a franchised-dealer distribution network where vehicles are sold with a margin.

In contrast, IT vendors work with distributors holding a network of reseller partners who on-sell hardware and software as part of their overall offering. Food & Health product manufacturers have a similar wholesale distribution model where business buyers hold accounts or work with sales reps. Tradespeople buy from retailers who work with vendors and product suppliers. 

In essence,  sales channels in each industry have different setups and networks. In such networks, where relationships are key, brands need to also connect with customers and channel partners through non-sales or relationship activity.

Relationships are the backbone of sales. But marketing activity does a lot of the heavy lifting. It supports those channel relationships, where limited resources need to be deployed wisely to achieve the best sales outcomes.

From brand awareness and product enablement to running strategic programs and driving customer acquisition and loyalty, marketers have an arsenal of tools they can tap into.

B2B incentives are one of the most powerful activities that marketers can use to grow sales within a channel.

What is a B2B Incentive Program?

The B2B incentives principle is very simple: take the action we want, and you will receive something in return – a reward.

Incentive and reward programs are a way for businesses to drive loyalty and change purchasing behaviour in their channel. Whether aimed at sales partners or business customers, a reward is an engaging way to help change habits and achieve a company’s objective —namely, incremental sales volume, sales growth, a deeper share of wallet, market share or price protection.

B2B incentives take different forms, including rebates, cashback, product promotions, earning points, merchandise rewards, ranking on a sales leader-board to win a place on incentive trips or events and more.

For example, a company that offers a discount or a cashback incentive to wholesale partners who place a minimum order aims to increase volume sales or share-of-wallet. 

On the other hand, an incentive trip that rewards dealers who achieve their dollar or unit volume target aim to retain and grow sales levels, resulting in sustained or improved market share —the outcome of experiencing the incentive trip results in deeper, stronger loyalty.

Strategy First Rewards Second

When planning an incentive, it is easy to start thinking of what will attract customers to participate and engage with the offer/program.  In other words, it is normal to think of the reward first.

The problem with this approach is that it assumes rewards are the only driver of behaviours and that the reward itself is the solution to the marketing challenges at stake. 

Whilst a reward is a key component of any incentive program, we need first to understand the challenges and problems preventing the company from achieving its objectives.

We call these pain points, and identifying them comes at the start of any B2B incentive and rewards program design. Here, we define the criteria and the actions the program participants need to take. 

The program criteria will drive behaviours that will achieve the intended results in the incentive. Once there is a robust program design, we define what type of reward will support the program.

The reward needs to be relevant to customers and partners participating in the program and entice them to engage and be involved in the incentive. 

B2B Rewards

Incentive and Reward Program happy business customer

There are many ways to classify a reward. For example, you can divide them as tangible or intangible or financial or non-financial. But to keep it simple, B2B rewards generally fall into one of the following categories:

Merchandise Rewards

One way to reward is by offering customers points to redeem merchandise items in a catalogue, bought at discounted prices because companies such as 212F buy large volumes from suppliers. This means participants get more bang for their ‘points’, and you offer a high perceived value reward, although the actual cost is less to the business. Since it is possible to tailor a reward catalogue to meet any budget and taste, there will be an engaging reward for everyone.

Another benefit of merchandise rewards is what is known as “trophy value”.  Imagine the emotions that are triggered when receiving a trophy, such as at a sporting event. The public symbol of achievement, the personal memento of effort, and the moment’s memory will last well long after the life of the reward itself. 

This satisfaction comes in the same way when receiving an incentive reward. Imagine the bragging rights when a person gets their item in the workplace and tells colleagues that it came from your program. It is marketing you can’t buy, and the motivation and hype around your incentive multiply. 

Branded Cash

Imagine giving someone a Visa prepaid gift card with your brand —you are giving the freedom of choice, and your brand will be present every time the card is used. Unlike store gift cards, which can only be used at the retailer’s network, Visa is accepted anywhere. In-store, online, and overseas, which is perhaps the strongest value for participants. 

The benefits of branded cash are hard to match with any other reward.

Branded cash fits into any incentive and reward program design, either as a single load gift card or ongoing recognition via a reloadable card. Each card has its unique function, but this flexibility means that it is easy to find the right option to complement program objectives. Plus, it is easier to communicate the value, benefits and simplicity of the reward to participants.

Travel Incentives

Companies consider incentive travel as the pinnacle of reward offers. Travelling inspires and excites customers and partners to achieve results like no other rewards. It celebrates the success of partners who’ve achieved big results or gone well above and beyond expectations. 

This shared drive and qualification build a community of like-minded, successful customers associated with your brand. The business loyalty that results from this group is invaluable. Plus, with a travel incentive, you’ve got a captive audience for the duration of the trip. Imagine what you can do with that time!

Communications

Defining your incentive and reward strategy is a big step in program design. There are a lot of moving parts and elements to consider. Getting your program design right is crucial. The next element that ties the program’s mechanics, the offer, and participants together is program communications.

A well-designed communications strategy is the backbone of a program. Whilst letting customers and partners know the program criteria and the reward on offer, the communications main goal is to drive purchasing behaviours to meet the incentive objectives.

Most importantly, communications must engage with recipients in a meaningful, personalised and relevant way. Personalisation of communications is key, where access and utilisation of accurate data optimises engagement and campaign outcomes.  

Personalised incentive programs are among the most effective ways to engage and tug at customers’ heartstrings, minds, and budgets.  

For example, you can tell John in two very different ways about your incentive and reward programs. “John, you’re invited to participate in an incentive to earn points for every purchase you make.” Or “John, because you’ve been doing business with us for over five years, we want to reward you points on every purchase, which you can use to get that bicycle you mentioned.”

The latter is certainly a better approach; John will be excited about the program and the opportunity to have a shiny new bike by behaving in a particular way. It talks to him personally, and there’s an emotional attachment (his desire for the bicycle).

Messages must also reinforce the behaviours that result in rewards. For example, “John, your last purchase gave you 1200 points; you are only 500 points from having enough points to redeem for that mountain bike.”

By outlining actions and identifying the most important value propositions for customers, marketings can implement a personalised incentive program and change the behaviours needed to achieve a brand’s goals.

B2B incentive and rewards programs complement face to face direct sales teams in achieving coverage across industry channels and customer groups.

By  212F – Australia & New Zealand’s B2B Engagement agency specialised in incentive and reward programs.

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