B2B dealer program: The ultimate guide for increasing channel sales 2024

Loyalty Incentives Marketing Channel management Featured

In this article, you'll find everything you need to set up and launch a dealer engagement program.

This how-to guide covers all the basics, including:

  • What a dealer engagement program is and what sorts of businesses it is good for
  • How to register and onboard dealers into your program
  • How to increase product knowledge in your dealer/retailer/reseller network
  • How to incentivize your dealer channel
  • How to run tactical incentive programs for your top products
  • How to send regular newsletters to your dealers and staff
  • How to run a product launch to your dealer network
  • How to integrate with your CRM
  • How to keep your distributors happy with data
  • Choosing the right software

 

What is a dealer engagement program and what sorts of businesses is it good for?

As a product-making business, you likely rely on dealers to handle the actual sale of your products. Because of their direct engagement with customers, these dealers - along with their staff - wield significant influence over those end-customers’ purchasing decisions. In fact, studies show that in-store interactions have a significant influence on over 80% of all buying decisions

Put another way, all those YouTube videos you did, all those updates to your website, all that email marketing and everything else, only have a small fraction of the influence compared to what happens when the customer is face-to-face with the dealer.

It follows that making sure those dealers are motivated and fully-equipped to sell your product is a key element to your success.

Scaling your business means you need to automate

If you only have a small number of dealers to manage, you can probably do it all manually. If you manage a more significant number of dealers however, or if you want to scale your business to any significant degree, then manual isn't really an option, and you’ll be looking for tools that help you automate as much of the process as possible. 

The smart strategy in 2024 is to influence and engage directly with your dealer channel, and for that, you need a dealer engagement program.

So what, specifically, does dealer engagement entail? 

Simply put, dealer engagement is all the things you do to win the hearts and minds of your dealers. While that covers many different activities, it can generally be broken down into three main pillars:

  • Knowledge - Giving your dealer community better knowledge of your products so they’re able to sell more effectively

  • Incentives - Creating adequate motivation so they sell more of your products more often

  • Communications - Delivering the right information to the right person at the right time (without coming off like a spammer)

Within your channel network are people with different roles, such as managers vs sales assistants, with different motivations. So you need a spectrum of tools and strategies to target each role and achieve the outcomes you want.

In the sections below we'll explain exactly which tools and strategies work best in each situation.

How to register and onboard dealers into your program

Let's start with a crucial first step: Your dealers and staff need to register for the program to access training and incentives.

So how do we get them to do that?

Hopefully, you already have a list of your dealers and their contact information. If you don’t, use your distributors and/or sales reps to help build that initial contact list.

Now it’s time to think about setting up a website and sending emails. The right software package will make this easy (see the section below, ‘Choosing the Right Software’). Note: Part of the invitation process should be to get dealers to confirm their details (since you’ll often be working with at least some out-of-date information).

Your shiny new dealer engagement website will need a name and identity so you’ll need to purchase a domain name. Be sure to pick something brand-consistent and transparent, and its usually best to emphasise the knowledge or community aspect e.g. if your company is called ACME you might choose ACME-hub.com or ACME-academy.com etc. Your website styling should likewise be consistent with your brand's look and feel. Again, the right software platform will make this easy.

Of course, people will only register with your deal registration program if there is a good reason for them to do so, so you need to think about what will offer real value to your dealers. Dealership managers and owners are most motivated by things that help them run their businesses better, so tell them how your program will help them!

That might include:

  • Industry training to help them educate new staff. The best kind of tutorials teach staff about broad subjects, i.e. general principles and areas of business, not just information specific to your products.

  • Specialised product training, teaching staff the ins and outs of your products so they can provide better service to the end customers.

  • Incentives for staff. This will make dealers’ staff happier to deal with your product, and keep your product front-of-mind on the dealership floor.

  • Incentives for the dealership. You might want to offer incentives or favourable trading terms to the business or business owner.

Contacting dealers with their invitations can be as simple as sending an email, but it’s a good idea to assume that only about 20% of your emails might reach your target audience, so consider setting up an automated system to send a series of emails encouraging dealers to join. It’s a fine line. Yes, you want to follow up when a dealer hasn’t responded, but you also don’t want to get pinged as spam, so exercise caution and good judgement. 

Here’s a suggested automated process that strikes a nice balance:

Video: How to build an automated dealer onboarding process without being spammy

Similarly, Partner Relationship Management (PRM) software which automates the registration process makes this process easy for both you and your potential partners.


 

How to increase product knowledge in your dealer/retailer/reseller network

If I asked you what makes your product special, I bet you could immediately bang out a bunch of reasons. 

But what about your dealers? Could they? 

Sure, they’ll usually have some knowledge of your product, but often their understanding will be patchy and inconsistent. Some staff might know more, others might know less, and some might ‘think’ they know things which turn out to be completely wrong!

Simply putting videos on your website or uploading information to YouTube won't help, because there’s usually no incentive for dealer staff to go and look at them. Dealer managers want their staff to watch and learn, but if there is no way for them to track what has been done its kind of pointless asking.

The better solution is to put partner training tutorials inside your dealer portal, and then integrate those videos into your incentives program. After all, you will likely require dealers to complete some minimum training to be eligible for sales incentives, so tie your tutorials into that process, ensuring key information is communicated and dealership staff are incentivized to participate enthusiastically in the new program. And the dealer manager can see who in their team has done the training so can give them a nudge where needed.

Product-specific training should form the bulk of your e-learning material, but it’s also very valuable to include more general industry training content. For example, if your business is in the pain medication market, start with An Introduction to Pain Medications, or a tutorial on How Pain Medicines Work. Or if your business is golf clubs, start with tutorials such as Understanding Different Types of Golf Clubs, or Understanding Different Golfers’ Needs. This will help build your domain authority with dealers, and dealer managers will love you for training their staff.

To further strengthen your relationship with your dealer managers, produce training content targeting them. If you work with pharmacies, offer material such as How to Operate a Pharmacy More Profitably. Or, if you’re working with sports stores, explain how salespeople can better support customers new to a sport.

Incentives are very important in dealer training because you’re asking people to give up their time to learn about your products. The best way to do this is with a points system, ideally using the same points system used for selling your products (see next section). Depending on the value of your products you might want to offer incentives for each tutorial completed, or you might just target specific key products. But you should always include a quiz when giving incentives, to avoid people just clicking through pages. 

Video content is usually the best - it’s fairly easy to produce engaging content - but you’ll also want to ensure that whichever video hosting platform you’re using has the ability to register when a video has actually been watched.

 

How to incentivise your dealer channel

When incentivising your dealer channel there are two approaches to consider, and you will probably use both:

  • Providing discounts for the dealer based on volume or growth targets

  • Providing dealer staff incentives based on individual sales

You’ll also need to decide whether you offer:

  • Permanent incentives

  • Tactical, or promotion based, incentives

  • A combination of the two

Lets dive into those options in detail below.

 

Dealership discounts based on targets

At the dealership manager/owner level, you will usually want to incentivize based on achieving targets of either growth or specified volumes.

Two tips:

  • When entering new markets and acquiring new dealers, use a straightforward tiered structure where achieving certain sales volumes provides a discount. For new dealers, this might need to be a projection, while for existing dealers this might be based on the previous year’s results.

  • To get the most out of a mature network of dealers, use growth targets. This allows you to incentivize growth for dealers both large and small. Hopefully you can use a set of percentage targets for all your dealers, but sometimes it will need to be by negotiation. 

Because you need to maintain a good relationship with the dealer you will generally want to give them the benefit of the doubt. So for new dealers you might start them on a level based on what they expect to achieve. And for existing dealers you should always carry forward the level achieved one year to the next.

To implement this, use software that supports a tiered discount system and can show dealers their progress towards targets.

Dealer staff incentives

The simplest and most direct way to encourage dealer staff to sell your product is by rewarding them for selling it. This is often referred to as a channel loyalty program and is very common across industries.

For example, if your products have a retail price of $1000, you might reward the person who makes the sale with a $20 bonus. For most sales assistants, that will be a powerful incentive.

In some instances, dealer managers might express concern about a possible negative influence over their staff. They might be worried that their staff won't give customers the best advice, which could hurt their business over the long term.

To mitigate this, incentives should be balanced with education and dealership discounts. In cases where there is still friction on direct incentives to dealer staff, you can use a team-based reward system to alleviate concerns (see below).

In either case, you’ll need a software system with both a points engine and a way for dealer staff to record their sales. You should have an expiry date on your points to ensure total liability doesn't add up over time, and you should encourage participants to use their points as they accrue.

Usually, you won't have access to highly granular data - such as what was sold by which salesperson made each sale - so you will need a way to validate rewards claims. 

Generally, the best way to do this is with an AI-based invoice/receipt recognition system. After making a sale, the salesperson will typically use their phone to take a photo of the receipt or invoice and upload it to your partner portal. The system should then identify and record eligible products and award them points.

Your dealers will, of course, need to be able to use their points to get something in return. 

There are two main paths you can take here:

  • Allowing them to use their accumulated points to purchase merchandise through an online store (called a reward store)

  • Allowing them to convert their points into cash (via gift cards or bank transfers)

Doing merchandise is harder because products need to be physically shipped, and most people prefer to take the money, so most businesses tend to lean towards cash. However, you might also want to offer branded merchandise, such as hats and hoodies etc - a great option to maximise brand exposure in your channel.

My recommendation for most businesses is to use a points-based reward store loaded with gift cards and branded merchandise. If your dealers are doing high-volume sales (perhaps earning $100 or more in rewards per week, for example), then you should use an automated process such as with xtrm.com.

As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to decide whether to offer points to individual users, only to the manager/owner, to the team as a whole, or a combination of the above.

These each have their own advantages and disadvantages:

  • Individual rewards: This has the advantage of providing a maximal incentive to the individual making the sale. The downside is that sometimes dealers might not like having their staff so directly influenced.

  • Manager/owner rewards: Dealers will rarely mind if you incentivize them! But the downside to this is that it takes a lot more cash to influence the dealer/owner, and it less directly influences the point of sale.

  • Team-based rewards: In this approach everyone earns points, but they go to the dealership as a whole. Everyone sees their points, and usually, someone is nominated to make redemptions. This will usually result in a group reward, such as a coffee machine or something else for use by the whole team.

 

Tactical/promotional incentive programs for your top products

A great way to keep your program fresh and engaging is to run occasional promotions targeting specific products. This is often referred to as a Sales Performance Incentive Fund or SPIF.

For example, as summer approaches, you might launch a promotion that provides additional rewards for dealers who sell season-specific items. 

Even better, you can really dial this up by running a consumer promotion, coupled with an in-store display competition, at the same time. Ask your dealers to set up a display showcasing your promotion and upload a photo showing it off. The best display wins! 

 

How to send regular newsletters to your dealers and staff

One of the most powerful uses of a dealer portal is to pull together current information on incentives, training and product updates into a newsletter for your dealers.

If you’re running incentives, then your newsletter should always lead with the current status of these. Show them what they’ve recently got, and show them what’s on offer. If using dealer levels, then show their current level and how much they need to achieve the next.

Next show any recent news or updates, especially new products.

Then show a selection of tutorials, especially ones they haven't started yet (if any)

This is also a great opportunity to reinforce your brand messaging and reiterate the benefits of your key products.

Your dealer portal software should have tools to make newsletter reproduction easy, bringing together this personalised information for each recipient and sending it to your list of registered users.

 

How to run a product launch to your dealer network

Product launches are critical for product companies. They are your opportunity to get the jump on your competitors and build market share - something very necessary to justify the capital outlay required to develop new products.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Create a product training tutorial on your new product.

  • Run a consumer promotion, such as a rebate/cashback. The great thing about rebate/cash-back promotions is that you also get the consumer’s contact information as they submit the rebate.

  • Run an in-store display competition to give attention to the promotion (see earlier section on tactical/promotional incentive programs). Make it easy for your dealers by giving them printable and co-brandable material for their display.

  • If you’re doing a SPIF or channel-loyalty program, offer double points on the new product(s), but conditional on having completed the new product training.

  • Send a newsletter highlighting the new product, the new tutorial, the consumer rebate, and the in-store display competition.

 

How to integrate with your CRM

Your business should have two technology pillars:

  • CRM for your customers/consumers

  • PRM for your dealers/partners

For your business to run smoothly, these two pillars really need to be integrated so that information flows seamlessly between them.

Choose a PRM which has an integration with your CRM, so that your dealer's information is synchronised with accounts (i.e. organisations) in your CRM, and your dealer staff are synchronised as contacts. These should be segmented in your CRM so you can easily manage dealers separately from customers.

 

How to handle national or regional distributors

Many businesses don't work directly with dealers and instead have distributors who handle a large geographical area, such as a country (like the US, for example) or a region (such as Asia/Pacific). 

If that's you, then you still want to engage with your dealers but you also want to engage with your distributors. These are usually a lot simpler to deal with than dealers - generally, they just want to see reports showing the activity of the dealers in their area.

The specific things they will generally be interested in are:

  • Which dealers have registered

  • Which dealers have been most/least active with training

  • Which dealers have been most/least active with e-learning

This information will help them encourage dealers to participate in the program, boost their sales, and ultimately help the distributor make more money.

Choosing the right software

Phew! We’ve just covered a lot of ground. As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts in a good dealer engagement program. Fundamentally, choosing the right software is hugely important to the success of your program, because the right platform will make it easy to configure each piece of the puzzle, turn on and off elements with the click of a button, and essentially, ‘just work’. 

This certainly requires specialised software - you can't just kludge this together with a CRM system or a customer-facing website like WordPress.

Dealer engagement is best supported by software known as Partner Relationship Management (PRM). Note: When considering PRM software be aware that some products are really only appropriate for software businesses. For example, many PRM systems don’t support distributors or workflows for physical products.

For easy reference, I’ve pulled together a list of key features needed to support what we’ve run through above. 

 

Software checklist:

  • Custom domains

  • Custom branding

  • Mobile responsive web portal

  • Domain warmup

  • e-Learning

  • Sales incentives

  • Incentive redemption via gift cards, merchandise and direct bank transfers

  • Automated communications via email and SMS

  • Invitation and registration workflow

  • Incentives integrated with e-learning

  • Videos in eLearning that have the ability to force being watched

  • Target-based levels for dealers, based on volume and/or growth percentage

  • The ability to calculate and award points based on sales

  • Points expiration

  • Team and individual points

  • AI-based invoice/receipt uploading and processing

  • Photo upload competitions

  • Printable/co-brandable assets

  • Integration with your CRM

  • Reporting based on regional hierarchy

 

 

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