Incentive programs come in all shapes and sizes.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of thought, research, and decision-making that goes into finding the incentive program that perfectly fits your distribution business.

There are also many determination factors that come into play when picking an incentive program, such as the number of anticipated participants, earning criteria, budget, company and distribution size, how long the program will run, company culture, etc.


For our purposes here, we’re going to narrow the scope.

It all boils down to who you want to target as your audience and what your business goals are. Are you attempting to reach your small- to mid-level customers? Or, do you need to arm the personnel in your sales channel with the knowledge and motivation to create a unique buyer experience? Are you looking for expanded market share, brand loyalty, or incremental sales growth? Maybe you’re simply hoping to recognize your top performers.


As with the others to come, a program that targets a sales force is categorized by a few specific goals. Naturally, these goals are tied closely to those whom you wish to incentivize. So, a few common goals often pursued by companies running sales incentives include:

  • Driving incremental sales;
  • Focusing on specific product/product family launch/drive;
  • Putting in place a training and enablement system;
  • Increasing referrals; and
  • Maintaining and increasing retention and recruitment.

More often than not, companies struggle with one or more of these goals, and, luckily, sales incentive programs are designed to help with them. Using a sales incentive program, these goals are achieved through an assortment of strategies and tactics. Some of which include:

  • An online reward platform;
  • Short-term promotions;
  • Group incentive travel; and
  • Individual reward fulfillment.

How do these all come together to fix your business issues? Let’s lay out an example.

Say you’re launching a new product, and you want it to hit a certain threshold of sales. At the same time; however, you’re struggling with retaining your salespeople. Maybe there’s not enough opportunity to get recognized for individual sales, as the cycle is very short and yields a low margin.

Now, let’s assume you’ve fully bought in to a sales incentive program that starts just before the launch of your new product.

With an online reward platform, your sales personnel will have year-round access to a website that shows them their progress toward the goal, which you’ve developed for them individually with the help of some handy data.

Now, at launch, to start motivation off high, you’ve created a short-term promotion to help bolster numbers. Every product sold gains 100 points toward awards that your personnel can redeem for. On top of this, there’s a tiered winning structure. Any salesperson beyond their tier one goal in product sales gets one prize. Any salesperson beyond their tier two goal gets another. So on and so forth.

These two strategies, an online platform, and a short-term promotion can give salespeople a reason to stay (earning points and rewards) and a make a product launch that much more successful.


Although direct sales and channel sales are very different in their nature, many of their goals are the same or similar. With channel incentives, there’s a few extra, though, including:

  • Driving incremental sales;
  • Focusing on specific product/product family launch/drive;
  • Putting in place a training and enablement system;
  • Increasing referrals;
  • Maintaining and increasing retention and recruitment;
  • Acquiring essential data about the channel or the end users;
  • Differentiating from competitors;
  • Establishing and reinforcing steps of the sale behaviors; and
  • Justifying the use of their Manufacturer Development Funds (MDF).

So, even more similarly to a sales incentive, a channel incentive program can use any of the same vehicles for any of the above goals:

  • An online reward platform;
  • Short-term promotions;
  • Group incentive travel; and
  • Individual reward fulfillment.

Let’s lay out another example.

You sell complicated products, and you want to make sure that your channel has the right tools and creates the correct buying experiences throughout the sale. So, you’re working on installing a training and enablement system. At the same time, you want to reinforce some common practice steps of the sale while using the increased incremental sales to justify your MDF.

Sounds like a tall order, huh? Fortunately, you’ve bought into a channel incentive program.

Using an online platform, you can make available ample resources that teach your channel partners how to properly sell products and conduct themselves while making the sale. Alongside these resources, you can install e-learning modules, which can house quizzes, tests, and even certifications to advance partners’ knowledge of these topics to keep them engaged and enabled.

Upon completing these modules, channel partners can earn points that go toward very motivating rewards. Using the motivation and knowledge garnered from these tactics, you’ll start to see your incremental sales goals achieved in no time, just like one of HMI’s clients.

You can use this increase in sales to justify your usage of MDF to your manufacturing partners.


Although some goals remain, here’s where goals start to get a little more different. Here’s a few that a company looking to incentivize their customers might look like:

  • Putting in place an enablement system;
  • Maintaining and increasing retention of customers;
  • Acquiring essential data about end-users;
  • Differentiating from competitors;
  • Recognizing top-buying customers;
  • Gathering up an “unfair share” of wallet;
  • Extending the company’s brand;
  • Acquiring product/brand advocates;
  • Bringing brand top of mind for customers and potential customers; and
  • Taking the focus off the price of products.

Not surprisingly, these goals can also be accomplished through the same vehicles as channel and sales incentives.

  • An online reward platform;
  • Short-term promotions;
  • Group incentive travel; and
  • Individual reward fulfillment.

The same tools used with separate strategies can lead to substantial success with a customer loyalty program. To give you an idea of how they work, here’s another example.

Let’s say that you’re a distributor who has a group of top buyers that you want to recognize for their business. On top of this, you’d like to gather up and retain more of those small- to medium-sized customers — we call them your middle 60 percent — all while expanding the presence and mindshare of your brand.

Since you’ve bought in, you’ll have these vehicles at your disposal.

First, let’s knock those top performers out of the park. A group incentive travel program can be implemented to help with the retention and recognition of those top performers. Send them on a trip of a lifetime to Cabo, the Caribbean, or Europe. The destination you choose depends solely on how much you want to spend and the interests of your audience.

Next, let’s get to targeting that small- to medium-sized buying crowd. We have an e-book on this topic coming up, so watch out for that when it comes. Until then, here are some tips:

You can kill two birds with one stone for these customers. Using an online platform coupled with superb marketing, you can spread the word about your new program, which has been well integrated into your brand. Use your branded marketing tactics to drive traffic to your online platform.

Once they’re there and enrolled, you can reward them for their purchases by using an earning structure that fits your needs and budget and will drive results. One good way to retain those mid-tier buyers is to reward the ones that were just on the cusp of earning the group incentive travel trip but fell short with individual travel reward fulfillment they can redeem their points for.

Another great way to retain and maintain your middle 60 percent is to run short-term promotions using your online reward platform. These promotions can showcase special offers, certain manufacturers’ products, or new products. By providing rewards for the products your customers already need and use, you can create an engaging relationship and generate interest among the program participants for your business.


As you can see, there are a lot of options in the incentive space. All you need to do to figure out what kind of program is the right fit for you is identify your business goals and the vehicles you want to use. Then, once you’ve bought in on incentives, watch your numbers tick higher and higher.

Publication date: 04/03/18