Retaining Loyalty Program Sponsors

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Often the only way to make the economics of your customer loyalty program work is to attract funding partners that will pay for offers or will otherwise supplement communication costs to your customers (usually by funding inserts or buying analysis). However, it can become incredibly time-consuming to manage these sponsors and difficult to win their long-term commitment.


Here are 10 things you can do to retain these lucrative partnerships:


Develop a specific partner retention program. As part of your customer loyalty strategy, you should include plans for a business-to-business loyalty program for sponsors. This plan should identify benefits, communication strategy and staff commitment. By putting time and thought into this at the beginning of your planning, you will save many hours of constantly reselling past sponsors and looking for new commitments.


Offer value-added services. Offering special services as a benefit helps transform your partnerships into strategic relationships that strengthen overall business for both companies. For example, in one case, sponsors that insert coupons in a government mailing are offered free direct response consulting reviews that identify ways to obtain better response to their standard offer. Not only does the consulting produce a stronger response rate, but it also helps develop a personal relationship with the partners.


Develop a sponsor Web site. This site should be both operational and informational. In addition to answering standard questions about your product and partnership opportunities, it provides quick and easy participation. All forms that need to be completed should be available online, and reports should be delivered online in spreadsheets that can be manipulated by the sponsor.


Develop an offline newsletter. Not all sponsors will be proactive enough to get information online. Develop a quarterly newsletter that updates them on how your customer loyalty program is doing, as well as mini-case studies of how other sponsors are using the program to meet their marketing needs. You also can highlight any new products you are offering to sponsors.


Include standard reports with interpretation. If possible, try not to charge extra for standard reports on response rates, customer profiles, etc. Provide these reports with the basic participation fee, then spend time developing a marketing interpretation of the reports. By telling a sponsor not only what happened but also the likely cause of the success or failure, you then can up-sell by making recommendations that will strengthen future results.


Offer exclusivity. Exclusivity not only generally brings in more revenue and longer-term initial commitments, but it also sets the tone for the relationships. In an exclusive relationship, a sponsor is far more likely to share confidential data that can make the sponsor's participation more successful.


Minimize options and simplify. It might be counterintuitive, but minimizing options and "packaging up" solutions for a sponsor can produce a stronger relationship than a customized approach. For example, offer only three standard reports or standard formats for inserts versus working hand in hand with the sponsor on whatever the sponsor wants. This will make it far easier to implement and will require less time on the sponsor's end to participate.


Tie into the sponsor's budgeting cycle. Always review new products and obtain contracts before sponsors must submit their annual budgets. Failing to customize your selling approach to a potential sponsor's budget cycle is one of the biggest ways that new and renewed sponsorships are lost.


Have sales staff sell sponsorships. Too often, the marketing department tries to sell loyalty program sponsorships directly to partners. However, it is far more efficient and more likely to succeed if the partnerships are sold by the internal group that already has the contacts and is already selling. The staff can simply leverage existing sales materials and sales meetings to represent loyalty products.


Integrate with other marketing efforts. It is a much easier sell for the sponsors if they can show senior management that their sponsorship of your loyalty program supports existing initiatives.


For example, if a grocery retailer already works with a packaged goods company on an education program, it's easier for that packager to show how inserting a supporting message/offer into the grocer's customer loyalty program ties together all the customer communication.


• Deirdre Girard is a principal and co-founder of PreVision Marketing LLC, Lincoln, MA.
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