A person happily opening a box

The Elements of Surprise (Rewards) in Your Channel Strategy

Think back to the last time you received a text, card in the mail, or gift from a loved one “just because.”

In some ways, the intentional but unexpected act might have been more meaningful or memorable than something like an annual birthday text, card, or gift, which might be commonplace from year to year.

The difference is the surprise factor.

When thoughtful gestures aren’t predictable or driven by obligation, they make us feel appreciated and give greater value to our relationships (can you see where this might be going?).

By elevating secret, unexpected, or hidden rewards in your channel program strategy, you can give partners those same feelings of meaning and value to strengthen the sentiment of your connections. Here’s how.

When Should I Offer Surprise Rewards?

Within channel programs, rewards play a leading role in engaging partners and motivating them to reach goals that further your brand’s success.

Unexpected rewards take this initiative a step further. As partners work toward their individual and collective milestones, and then are surprised with additional rewards along the way, it reinforces your program’s value – and their consistent involvement.

Keep in mind that surprise rewards aren’t meant to work alone or work against your base earning program. Instead, they can be used to go beyond it and embrace an advanced program design strategy.

Try offering surprise or hidden rewards related to:

  • Special occasions, like birthdays, holidays, and partner anniversaries.
  • Meeting an undisclosed milestone – like being the first to complete training.
  • Exhibiting key partner behaviors that indicate high engagement or effort.

What Types of Surprise Rewards Work Best?

Now that you’ve identified potential opportunities to offer unexpected rewards, it helps to know which methods are most effective. Consider these beneficial, loyalty-building opportunities to deliver surprise rewards in your program:

Redeemable Bonus Points

Channel partners love the freedom to choose, especially when it comes to their reward offerings.

That’s why presenting redeemable bonus points on special occasions, or when partners meet hidden goals, is a great tactic. By giving partners options to cash out on a range of merchandise, travel and event opportunities, monetary rewards, and more in your rewards marketplace or catalog, you promote value and a sense of autonomy in your program.

However, the beauty of this approach is that your partners aren’t the only ones who gain flexibility. Your participants may customize their rewards, but you get to decide what behaviors or outcomes are worth rewarding and reinforcing in the short- and long-term.  


Receiving unexpected SWAG, quality logo merchandise, and other exciting items that represent your business reminds partners that you support their success as they enable yours.

Additionally, partners will positively associate the delight of receiving surprise rewards with participation in your program. As partners reach for their branded tote, water bottle, or pullover, it reinforces their loyalty as interactive reminders of your brand are present in their everyday lives.

Finally, it’s a win-win marketing opportunity: Free, unexpected, and exciting gear for your partners, and more elevation for your brand as they advertise your merchandise and logos to an untapped network of potential buyers.

Try sending partners a variety of branded merchandise, such as:

  • High-quality apparel.
  • Automotive decals.
  • Technology gear or accessories.
  • Recreational equipment, like golfing or camping gear.
  • Other practical items that boost partner interest.

Surprise Promotions, Deals, or Discounts

While it can be costly to run a channel program, keep in mind that it can also be pricey to enter a partnership. In collaborating with your company, program members obtain a range of expenses that become necessary for success – but that’s where you gain an opportunity to stand out.

Partners will remember positive enablement and be drawn to the programs that offer a head start to drive results. Plus, by providing savings on expenses and resources partners need to get and stay involved in your program, it’s more likely they actually will.

Surprise partners with deals and promotions on expenses, like:

  • Pre-purchased inventory.
  • Showroom costs.
  • Storefronts for selling products.
  • Product samples.
  • Training resources.

Hidden Incentives Beyond Rule Structures

When you go further than your program’s rule structure to reward partners, you can encourage passive partners to become active, and active partners to become that much more engaged.

That’s because you’ve introduced the possibility of other unpredictable rewards tied to growth-oriented behaviors.

In practice, hidden incentives are hinged on milestones you haven’t disclosed – like the first 500 new products sold, the most sales within a designated time frame, or even setting up their profile when the partnership starts. As partners achieve these “quiet goals,” you can offer rewards proportionate to their outcomes.

These hidden incentives can come in almost any form we’ve discussed, including:

  • Bonus points your partners can redeem for items they choose.
  • SWAG and other quality brand merchandise.
  • Discounts and deals on program expenses.
  • Financial rewards, like cash, gift cards, or pre-paid cards.
  • Experiential rewards, like vacations, group trips, and events.
  • Tangible rewards, like high-value items from favorite brands.

The takeaway

As you work to kick up engagement, loyalty, and success for your channel program, don’t underestimate the value and motivating potential of surprise rewards.

Partners, like all of us, want validation for their hard work and acknowledgment for their efforts. Providing it in the form of lucrative rewards, especially when they’re unanticipated, is what builds long-term loyalty in your channel program. It’s also how you capture and maintain partners’ focus on a range of goals – large and small, seen and unseen.