Creating Channel Relationships that Survive Breaking News

Editor’s Note: This post was co-written by Nicole Harris and Dawn Schillinger.

Since February, the whole world has been a captive audience watching one breaking news update roll in after the other, documenting the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on our daily lives.

The nations of the world, at the behest of health organizations like the CDC and WHO, have enforced social distancing protocols and ordered lockdowns to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. Self-isolating presents a challenge for all businesses trying to keep the lights on, and it’s bound to create friction in your sales channel. But take comfort in knowing you have one less thing to worry in these uncertain times: this is exactly why you have a channel incentive program in the first place.


Businesses of all sizes rely on manufacturers to provide products in order to meet their business goals
. Those products need to arrive on time and at a mutually agreed upon price. What do we think happens when they’re unable to live into those agreements? Like a customer who can’t find what they need, they move to another brand. But if you use your channel incentive and loyalty programs to do more than just nudge incremental sales, then the story’s different.

These days, the most successful brands are those that are committed to deliver a personalized experience— and they do so by getting to know their channel partners and customers on a personal level. That level of commitment can’t be taken lightly, especially during times of crisis. These brands understand that it’s not only about celebrating when times are good, but also creating a bond that makes it impossible for them to walk away when times are challenging. 

Why should customers give your brand a second chance? Why would they wait for you instead of choosing another brand that can deliver as expected? Why would they be willing to pay a bit more for your brand than they have in the past? Because of their relationship with you and your brand. You’ve built those relationships across multiple interactions. You’ve uncovered preferences through data, you’ve listened to feedback and taken action, and you’ve rewarded them for their hard work and partnership – in good times and bad. Now, more than ever, is when your investment in them will pay off – and if they’re forced to choose another brand for whatever reason, they will come back.   

This time is proving to be a challenge for every business, but it’s also an opportunity.

Ask any manufacturer what their top challenges in 2019 were, and tariffs will be very close if not at the top of their list. How manufacturers dealt with tariffs differed. Some had no choice but to pass the additional costs on to their customers (and spent countless labor hours revising price lists and agreements). Some absorbed the additional costs, hoping that it would be short-term pain that may give them an edge over their competition (in other words, long-term gain).  

While tariffs have stabilized a bit in 2020, it hasn’t stopped the “Breaking News” that impacts your business. Saying that the stock market has been volatile is an understatement. Unrest in the middle east has everyone eyeing fuel pricing. We’re living through a virus with global reach and yet to be determined financial impact. It’s easy to see why manufacturers are scrambling to meet the commitments that they’ve made to their shareholders, their channel partners and their customers. They know that in this time of disruption, partners will turn to whoever can help them. And once the disruption settles, they may not switch back if they got a better experience elsewhere.

It can be difficult to stay optimistic when all manner of news is telling us things will get worse before they get better. But take heart knowing your sales channel program is designed with these sorts of contingencies in mind. Now is not the time to shirk away from our obligations to our partners and customers. Now is the time to rise to the occasion and show everyone why they’re doing business with you in the first place. When done well, your channel programs should make the reasons for weathering the storm and delivering that value all the more obvious.

About the authors:

Nicole Harris, Strategic Account Executive: A passion for understanding people, and how to motivate them, is what first attracted Nicole to Maritz 17 years ago. Since then, she has become a leader in the areas of Consumer Loyalty, Channel Incentives, Employee Engagement and overall motivation best practices that are grounded in data and science. Nicole helps her clients in the manufacturing, hospitality and financial services sectors connect the dots between their business goals and the people who make those goals a reality.

Dawn Schillinger, Consultant: Dawn comes into the role of consultant with a fairly eclectic background. Her expertise spans behavioral science, sales performance, journalism and economics. Thanks to her unique understanding of people-centered disciplines and a love for uncovering people’s true motivations and behaviors, Dawn brings an inquisitive mind and a meticulous attention to detail each of the clients she works with. Whether working in industries from manufacturing to healthcare or targeting people from employees to end customers, Dawn starts with what is known about people to build out the best solution to deliver results.

Topics: Channel Incentives, Manufacturing