Gamification Is Coming to the Channel, and It’s Overdue

Many vendors are looking to rate their partners based on points earned in their programs. This kind of gamification and transparency is long overdue in the channel and could provide the added incentive to spur greater partner investment.

By Larry Walsh

The channel is replete with “tiers.” We have the precious metal tiers – Platinum, Gold, Silver. We have the shiny rocks tiers – diamond, ruby, sapphire. We have the power-player tiers – Elite, Advanced, Specialists. And we have the sweet fruit tiers – Orange, Apple, Kiwi. OK, perhaps not sweet fruits, but you get the picture.

Channel tiers are a means for recognizing the investment and performance of partners. The more partners sell, the higher they go in the tiers. And by moving up in the tiers, partners receive more support, incentives, and rewards.

In the consumer world, customer loyalty programs are the equivalent of channel-program tiering. Airlines offer early boarding and free luggage checks to preferred customers. Supermarkets provide special discounts to those who regularly shop at their stores. Credit cards and banks offer cash back for using their credit services and advanced products.

Partners get additional benefits from tiers: bragging rights and branding. They’re able to market themselves as “Titanium Black” or “Diamond Elite” partners, signaling to their customers that they possess a special relationship with a vendor that can unlock better pricing and support.

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The problem with tiers is that they lack transparency. What’s the difference between two Gold partners? How do two partners that focus on different technologies and markets earn Platinum status? As the old joke goes, “How can you tell the difference between the top and bottom graduate of Harvard Medical School? You can’t.”

The solution is gamification (sort of, as you’ll see below).

When it was first introduced, gamification was purely about simplifying complex learning by converting training into games. Researchers discovered that people retain more information when they’re playing a game than they do through other methods. And, as with all games, people would earn points by participating and having their skills or knowledge tested.

To make things interesting and prod more than just participation, gamification platforms have leaderboards or scoreboards. On these leaderboards, people can see where they rank relative to other competitors, just like we did in the 1980s when playing Pac-Man.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to use the modified version of gamification rather than the traditional one. Many vendors are going beyond learning platforms in applying gamification. Instead of assigning points based on participation and test results, they’re looking to assign points to partners based on their attributes, investments, and performance.

In addition, vendors are looking to publish partner scores in a show of transparency designed to stimulate other partners to compete for higher rankings.

Frankly, it’s a great idea that’s long overdue.

One of the biggest problems in the channel is that partners think they’re more important or capable than they really are. As part of the traditional marketing and channel development, vendors spend a lot of time and money cajoling partners into higher levels of performance. They praise them. They wine and dine them. They flatter their egos. And the result among some partners is an artificially inflated sense of self-worth.

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By using a gamification strategy to rate partners, and making rankings transparent, partners will have more incentive to better themselves to gain favor with their vendors and their channel account managers. Partners that exhibit positive behavior and performance will earn more points, and that will catch the attention of their CAMs and business development managers.

Gamification has the additional benefit of equalizing the channel playing field. Small partners often bemoan the difficulties of competing with their larger counterparts. Under traditional models, revenue productivity plays an outsize role in partner valuation and favors larger partners. Through gamification, vendors can establish point systems based on operational and performance attributes that put large and small partners on equal footing.

The trick to this type of gamification is applying points based on attributes that truly make a difference in partner performance and return value to vendors. Additionally, vendors need to make points attainable; making points too difficult to earn will disenfranchise partners from the process. Some points can be awarded automatically upon meeting a basic criterion – filing a business plan, for example. Other points can scale based on the level of performance; for instance, partners can earn a certain number of points for different steps in revenue productivity.

Being ranked this way, and in such a public fashion, might ruffle some partners’ feathers, but this is how meritocracies work. The more effort you put in, the more you get out of the system. And, truth be told, partners are competing for limited vendor resources. Call it what you will – gamification or meritocracy – but such systems will drive some partners to the top of the heap and more readily identify the underperformers.

Again, gamification is long overdue in the channel. Vendors should get on their games.

Larry Walsh, The 2112 Group

Larry Walsh is the founder, CEO and chief analyst of The 2112 Group. Follow him on social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.