Choosing Effective Incentive Rewards for the Craft Beer Distribution Channel

America’s Beer Distributors: Fueling Jobs, Generating Economic Growth & Delivering Value to Local Communities. (PRNewsFoto/National Beer Wholesalers Association)

By: Nichole Gunn, Vice President of Marketing and Creative Services, Incentive Solutions

From improving market penetration to increasing sales volume for a specific product, craft beer producers rely on their indirect salesforce to accomplish their strategic goals. Incentive rewards can help craft beer producers create win-win scenarios for their indirect salesforce and influence their selling behaviors in ways that benefit the brand. However, not all rewards are created equal. The effectiveness of an incentive reward program depends on choosing rewards that capture the attention of wholesale and distributor sales reps and provide sufficient motivation for them to go the extra mile.

  When choosing rewards that appeal to their target audience, it’s important for craft beer producers to focus on the following factors:

•    Value Proposition: Will these rewards provide sufficient value to your indirect sales reps to justify their efforts and maintain their interest?

•    Personalization: Will these rewards feel meaningful to participants on a personal level, creating an emotional impact?

•    Scalability: Will your reward selection give you the ability to tailor your value proposition to different segments of your audience, from easily attainable rewards for new participants to exclusive rewards for top performers?

•    Memorability: How long will this reward keep your brand top-of-mind with participants? 

•    Participant Lifestyle: Which types of rewards appeal to your participants’ interests and align with their lifestyles?

•    Competition: If your competitors are running a rewards program, how will your program provide a more compelling value to your participants?

  Additionally, craft beer producers need to consider how their reward selection ties into their overarching goals, as well as their budget. Will it be more profitable to focus on providing more attainable, less personalized rewards to drive short-term growth or to develop high value, highly personalized rewards to solidify long-term loyalty? Or, perhaps, some craft beer producers will be interested in a mix of both. Either way, it’s important for craft beer producers to view their incentive reward program as an investment rather than a cost and concentrate on choosing rewards that help them achieve their goals in a profitable, cost-effective manner.

Types of Incentive Rewards

  Today’s incentive reward programs provide a variety of different reward types that craft beer producers can offer to their participants. These include gift card and debit card rewards, points-based merchandise rewards and group incentive travel. Each of these reward types has various strengths and weaknesses, depending on the goals of a craft beer producer and the makeup of their target audience.

  For instance, gift card and debit card rewards are highly scalable and provide an easy to understand value proposition. However, this comes at the expense of personalization. While a branded, reloadable debit card will keep your brand top-of-mind longer than cash commission, it doesn’t provide much in the way of social value and will not necessarily make a distributor sales rep feel warm and fuzzy about your brand. With e-delivery options and reloadable cards, gift card and debit card rewards can be awarded almost instantly, making them best-suited for SPIFFs (short-term incentive promotions) or for sales promotions for a wide audience. 

  Merchandise rewards, on the other hand, have trophy value and provide tangible rewards that indirect sales reps will associate with your brand for much longer. With an online rewards catalog that’s chock full of millions of exciting rewards, from digital movie rentals and Netflix subscriptions to home theaters, a points-based merchandise program is highly scalable and allows participants to choose personalized rewards that fit into their lifestyle and match their level of performance. Online merchandise rewards allow craft beer producers to incentivize sales growth across each segment of their salesforce, while also inspiring loyalty in top accounts with higher value, more personalized rewards.

  Of the different reward types, group incentive travel is the most memorable and emotionally impactful. By rewarding top-performing indirect sales reps with a trip to an exclusive locale like Tahiti or Venice, craft beer producers will have the opportunity to really personalize their relationship with their wholesale and distributor sales reps and create memories they won’t soon forget. However, incentive travel isn’t very scalable. Typically reserved for top accounts, incentive travel is better suited for building loyalty and solidifying long-term relationships. Additionally, it’s worth noting that while the effects of Covid-19 have put a damper on incentive travel events, demand for these trips will be through the roof when travel resumes, and many vendors will be motivated to provide great deals for craft beer producers who plan ahead. 

Setting Reward Parameters

  An important component of reward program strategy is determining how participants will be rewarded. Craft beer producers should consider which specific actions participants must take in order to accumulate reward points and whether different actions have different strategic values in helping them achieve their goals.

  For instance, if a craft beer producer’s goal is to increase overall sales, then it might make sense to assign reward points to distributor sales reps based on overall sales volume. But it also might be beneficial to provide point bonuses for first time sales, sales on a new or underperforming product line, completing online educational courses or providing referrals. All of these actions can help facilitate sales growth in the long-term and provide distributor sales reps with a clear path toward maximizing the value they receive from the program.

  Additionally, setting qualification thresholds and offering tiered rewards can help craft beer producers make their program more cost-effective. For instance, it might make sense to require distributor sales reps to sell a certain amount of beverages before they qualify for the program or to offer a group incentive travel trip for the top 25 performers each quarter, in addition to a card or points-based merchandise program for the other sales reps. Doing so allows craft beer producers to allocate their reward spend toward their most valuable supply chain trading partners, while limiting expenditure on sales reps who may not offer as much long-term value.

  In addition to tiering rewards based on performance, craft beer producers can leverage this strategy to target different hierarchical segments of their indirect salesforce, offering higher value rewards like incentive travel to sales managers while running a points-based merchandise or card program for the individual reps who work under them. This allows craft beer producers to incentivize from the top-up or the bottom-down, maximizing their influence within their sales channel.

  Online incentive technology offers craft beer producers the ability to easily segment their audience, change parameters, automatically allocate points and track the impact of these decisions on their ROI through dashboards and custom reports. For craft beer producers, it’s important to have the flexibility to quickly adjust elements of their reward program strategy, while minimizing the man hours necessary to manage their program.

Expanding on the Reward Experience

  Rewards are exciting and provide an easily understood value proposition, making them an effective tool for marketing an incentive program; but rewards are only a small component of the value an incentive program creates for craft beer producers, as well as their supply chain trading partners. An incentive reward program provides new touchpoints to improve the partner experience, such as:

•   An integrated digital hub, where indirect sales reps can connect to learn more about the brand, explore the latest incentive promotions, track their progress and redeem for rewards;

•   A communication platform that craft beer producers can use to send customized communication and automated alerts via email, SMS, push notifications and direct mail;

•   Customizable enrollment forms that craft beer producers can use to capture data about their indirect sales reps in order to personalize their sales and marketing;

•   Data collection tools that make it easy for indirect sales reps to upload sales invoices or scan QR codes in order to verify their sales claims and earn points;

•   Elements of gamification such as leaderboards, spin-to-wins and limited time bonuses to keep sales reps more consistently engaged;

•   Online surveys and analytics tools that help craft beer producers better understand the members of their channel and provide a more rewarding partner experience; and

•   Interactive quizzes and online training platforms to help indirect sales reps become more informed, effective advocates of the brand.

  The appeal of earning a reward channels indirect sales reps into this funnel and keeps them invested in the communication they receive through the program. But, more importantly, the reward program itself provides an entire ecosystem for more personalized communication and engaging brand interactions between craft beer producers and members of their channels. By focusing on the partner experience, both before and after earning a reward, craft beer producers have the opportunity to maximize the effectiveness of their reward program, solidify brand preference among their supply chain trading partners, differentiate their brand and target long-term strategic initiatives.

  Nichole Gunn is the VP of Marketing and Creative Services at Incentive Solutions (www.incentivesolutions.com), an Atlanta-based incentive company that specializes in helping B2B companies improve their channel sales, build customer loyalty, and motivate their employees. Nichole Gunn can be reached at ngunn@incentivesngunn@incentivesolutions.comolutions.com.

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