About 99.9% of all incentive designers and buyers see channel incentive programs as a way to get more from the same people they are already getting a lot from.

For years and years program designers focused on the top performers. Think competitive groupings with only so many at the top earning awards. These programs only rewarded those who were at the top of the pyramid. 

Sometimes the pyramid is based on total dollar sales, sometimes percentage increase over last year’s sales, or profit dollars, or height – who knows. The net-net is many programs only rewarded the top tier. Everyone else got the participation pat on the back.

Then we all got a bit smarter and realized that those at the top of the pyramid don’t have as the same sales/profit headroom as someone who isn’t a top performer. We finally figured out the goal should be about moving the entire bell-curve of performance, not just the top 10% or 15% of those you invite to your program.

So we did that.

More program rules for more people and a better designed program.

But then we stopped.

Who is NOT Buying?

Here’s a not-so-secret, secret. Your real growth will come from those that ARE NOT CURRENTLY buying from you.

Think about it. You only know the customers you know. You don’t’ really know how much or how good a customer might be if they are buying from someone else (ahem…your competition.)

Real growth – long-term growth – comes from adding more people to your audience not just asking your existing customers to do more.

Incentive Programs can be BOTH Sales Incentive and Audience Acquisition

Think about how you can leverage your incentive program to not only reward performance in the program but ALSO capture NEW customers. These people who can provide you with significant upside. And bonus – you’re not beating up your large, loyal customers. You know how much they like that. #PROTIP: they don’t.

Some ways you can leverage your program (dependent on your industry/channel/etc.)

  • New account incentive for your own field salespeople (again – they are often ignored in the channel program design.)
  • New account bonus for your existing customers (assuming no competitive issues.)
  • Growth bonus for those at different levels. Example: Those at $xx,xxx in sales who grow by 10% get a bonus of X – those at $xxx,xxx and grow 10% earn a $3x bonus. The goal is to provide a bit of an outsized incentive for growth to get those customers to show their true colors. They may be a huge customer hiding in your competitor’s sales!
  • Ads in industry trade magazines soliciting membership (with bonus of course.)
  • Special sign-up bonuses at conferences, trade shows, etc.

There are hundreds of ways to get customers to raise their hands and self-identify as potentially great partners. You just need to search for ways to find them and give them a nudge your way.

Learning from Nothing

I see this as another way of talking about survivorship bias – we only see the visible and not notice what isn’t there.

The story I always tell when describing survivorship bias comes from the military

During World War II, the Statistical Research Group (SRG) at Columbia University examined the damage done to aircraft that had returned from missions and recommended adding armor to the areas that showed the least damage. The bullet holes in the returning aircraft represented areas where a bomber could take damage and still fly well enough to return safely. Therefore, the Navy reinforce areas where the returning aircraft were NOT SHOT. This counterintuitive finding made the correct assumption that the places bullets hit didn’t down the plane but the areas unhit probably were the areas that were most probably hit on the planes that did not return.

In other words – the absence of data in one area was evidence for data in another.

People who are NOT buying from you could be the best customers you will ever have but you just can’t see them yet.

Always dig deeper.

And ALWAYS look for new customers and not just sales from identified customers.

I am an expert at the invisible. Want to test my vision? Then touch this button with extreme prejudice and we can find your ghost customers together.