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Relayware Partner Relationship Management

Incentive Programs: Fail Fast. Then Adjust for Success

Posted on January 2, 2014 by Chris Bucholtz

One of the hazards of running an incentives programs without a channel management application is that it’s a little like dropping a bomb: you think you’re lined up on your target, but after you drop it, it’s subject to a lot of things that can cause it to miss. There may be wind, or it may start wobbling because of a defect, or your aim was off from the start. And, now, as it heads on its merry way, there’s no way to correct it.

However, an incentive program is not subject to gravity and the inevitability of a quick demise – you can change its course, and you can even adjust the target audience for that course. All that requires is two things.

Number one is visibility into the effectiveness of the program. Is it doing what you wanted it to do for the partners you were aiming at? Is it motivating behaviors that work to your advantage, or are partners working around it? Are your metrics showing a suitable level of success, or are they not?

Number two is the ability and willingness to make changes to the course of the program. Naturally, you can’t make changes that will anger your partners, but you can make adjustments that make a program better for both parties.

Condition number one can be handled through a modern PRM application – through parts of the application designed to manage incentives and MDF, and through data gathering tools that permit rapid reporting on the effects of those programs. Condition two may be a little trickier, however – not because making the changes is difficult, but because it’s sometimes tough to admit that the plan you conceived is not working exactly as you, the channel manager, thought it would.

That’s one of the great conflicts of the age of data: human pride vs. objective data. When you’re standing at a distance, it’s obvious that data should win that fight. But when it’s your plan that’s being scrutinized, it’s like the data is calling your baby ugly. It may be right, but it still hurts.

The way to dodge that mindset is to recast the situation in terms of the oft-misattributed saw “fail cheap, fail faster, fail often.” Your initial program was probably somewhere in the ballpark of what you wanted it to be, but to get the most out of it you want to land squarely on second base. That visibility into your incentive programs lets you know how far from the target you’re landing, so you can correct things and keep working toward your target – and you can do so quickly. The first failure merely allows you to see the distance and route to success.