Curious about the in’s and out’s of the pro deal system? SNEWS turned to industry expert Andy Marker, a veteran in developing pro programs, to share his insider perspective. In the last article of a three-part series on SNEWS, Marker explores the factors that go into pro/influencer programs outside the retail employee realm – such as athletes, ski patrollers, educators or musicians – offering guidelines to achieve a high level of sales, influence, marketing and brand recognition.
Who qualifies as a pro for inclusion in a pro/influencer discount program can be a tricky situation. The definition of a pro changes with your perspective and position within any given market -- be it a true pro, someone who thinks they are a pro, a retail employee, an industry brand employee or any number of potential professionals that this type of marketing focuses on.
To mitigate success, any company that builds a legitimate pro/influencer program should do it in-house to have more control of the database, brand image and message. Programs also need to have a market and brand knowledgeable person heading up the operation.
Creating a vibrant and responsible pro/influencer program is critical for success in today’s competitive marketplace. It’s marketing that makes money, and you’re missing out on some great exposure and revenue if you don’t have a strategy in place. If you were to poll every brand that has a booth at Outdoor Retailer, Interbike, SIA, Surf Expo or DEMA, I think you would find most, if not all, have some degree of a pro/influencer program in place. The real questions are: Is it targeting the right people, and therefore, being effective? Or, is the program doing more damage than good?
And, hopefully, 100 percent of these brands have a program that enables retail employees to access an aggressively discounted price on the products they are pushing. To reiterate again: The retail floor employee is the most influential link in the product selling chain to the end consumer and to have a program that addresses this market is crucial as retail floors get crowded and even more competitive.
Targeting and marketing to retail employees is relatively easy and the qualification is pretty straightforward. Outside the retail environment, though, there seems to be a wide variety of opinions on how and why you should offer discounts to professionals and influencers.
From a brand perspective, there is certainly no end to the requests for a discount from the wide spectrum of people that think they will represent your brand well or deserve access. It’s very important to quantify and qualify those that you allow into your program. Ideally, those strategic decisions should be made by a person within your company who is savvy in branding and marketing.
Consider these eight pointers to make a program work for you:
1.Think about the basis for the word "pro": professional. Are the people requesting a pro deal true full-time professionals in the area they are applying under, or just part time, a volunteer or an enthusiast? For the most part, I see more benefits to having only true, full-timers in my programs. By using this as one of your first qualifiers, you immediately build a filter that will help in the approval process.
But there are numerous exceptions to that rule that make good business sense. For instance, there are a number of influential, yet part-time or seasonal vocations such as the large volunteer force that makes up the National Ski Patrol. Working with an organization like that can get some great exposure for your brand if done carefully and responsibly.
2.Ensure your program is targeted to the right markets that make sense for your brand. You may make a few sales if you market stand-up paddle boards to Backcountry Rangers, but are you really achieving anything that’s valuable? Consider your target consumer markets and who influences them, and then assess if there are effective ways to attract these people.
3.Do all you can to avoid retailer issues. Small, cool mountain towns such as Jackson, Wyo., or Missoula, Mont., are magnets for pros, and almost any program is flooded with applicants from areas like them. These large populations of pros can do more damage to a retailer’s business and the relationship with the brand than help, as it’s designed to do. Some of the best retailers in the business are located in areas like this across the United States, and unfortunately, deal with pros and pro abuse every day. Find a way to counter this possible negative and turn it into a positive by finding ways to partner with the retailer. Doing so will further your retailer relationship. I’ve done this a few times with great success.
4.Consider segmenting your brand offering. Ask yourself if any pro category you work with will really support or use your specific brand or product in the course of its position? This should matter to you -- although sometimes it’s a good idea to stretch your brand into other target markets. Does a ski patroller need a pro deal on a backpacking tent? Probably not. What about groups like smokejumpers? Some would (and do) argue that these individuals or those like them don’t qualify or need a deal on anything. It’s all in one’s perspective and your program goals.
5.Look to a wider range of influencers than normal. Pros should always be influencers, but influencers aren’t always pros. As a result, I don’t call programs that I work on “pro programs” too much anymore -- it just doesn’t apply. Using the term “influencer” is more appropriate and emphasizes the correct reason for the program in the first place. Regardless, over the course of my career, I have worked with musicians, speakers, celebrities and other types of people who are looked upon from a different perspective than one would normally equate with an outdoor industry-based pro program. While at a former position, I was able to sell some apparel to some big name news people and it was always a small thrill to see them wearing this product on air. They were appreciative of the discount and I was appreciative for the exposure, making us all happy.
6.Do you know if the applicant has a great personality, is well regarded in the community or have you heard that they are a knucklehead? It can be an important consideration especially if something doesn’t feel quite right when you first get introduced. This is difficult to measure on a macro level, but for those of us who deal with pros on a regular basis, we certainly have those individuals that are difficult or obnoxious. If there’s ever a question on anything you’re presented with, email the potential pro for some more information, do a Google search or ask other people who might know them. You might be surprised at what you find out.
7.Educate and communicate to your pros. Tell them what your brand is about, why it exists, and which local retailers are selling your brand so they can refer clients or friends. Have a steady communication program with the people in your database and you’ll start seeing a closer relationship and brand involvement.
8.And last and perhaps most importantly, constantly review your database. You must continually ensure your brand is offering this program to individuals that are doing what they said they were when they signed up. Again, constant and effective communication with the people in your database supports this.
All of this can be a very slippery slope. Anyone receiving a discount from a brand should remember that no special access is a given and it should always be considered a privilege to receive. People you offer access to shouldn’t have any sense of entitlement and you should avoid people like this.
Determining who can participate in your pro program is important to your brand image and business strategy. Taking the time to implement a robust program with sound qualifications will show great returns. In order to do so, it is essential to consider the professional aspect of applicants, identify potential retailer hotspots, and give those areas and your retailers the proper respect and consideration. Focus on educating the pro community about your products, your company and the responsibility of being able to access your program to ensure that this connection and relationship is beneficial. Above all, offer world-class customer service to pros and influencers as they are the visual ambassadors of your brand, at the very least.
To see Part 1 and learn the basics of the various discount systems, the differences between third-party outfits and tips on how to manage a pro program in-house, click here.
To read Part 2 on how to develop a pro program for retail employees, identify signs of abuse, and the hallmarks of a good and bad program, click here.
Andy Marker is the pro sales director at Prana, and has worked for the last 20 years developing pro programs at companies such as The North Face, Nike and Patagonia. He is also the author of the white paper, “Creating, Building and Managing Successful Pro/Influencer Programs.” Questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.