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ISO 10018 Challenges Current Approach to Sales, Channel, and Consumer Engagement

The concept of Enterprise Engagement and ISO 10018 quality people management standards have as much to do with sales, channel, and consumer engagement strategies as they do with employees. There’s a more scientific way to achieve greater results from traditional loyalty, promotional, incentive programs, communications and sales training by specifically addressing what’s necessary to achieve success. 
By Dr. Gary Rhoads, Ph.D 

Anyone in the sales or marketing field who thinks Enterprise Engagement or ISO 10018 belong in human resources is overlooking a practical framework to achieve far greater success from the money currently spent on incentive, promotion, loyalty, recognition and training programs. 
Based on my experience with the voice of the customer technology developed by Allegiance (now Maritz CX) and more recently the sales assessment and enablement technology of Xvoyant, I can safely estimate that organizations around the world could achieve far better results from the large sums they spend on loyalty, spiff, incentive and training programs by applying a more systematic approach to identifying and addressing precisely those actions and behaviors that over time lead to best results, as well as more specifically what activities both enable people and inspire them to do more. 

A Voluntary Roadmap 

Contrary to some assumptions, ISO standards are not meant to impose regulations on organizations. Rather, they provide a roadmap that is purely voluntary, inexpensive and with a tangible return-on-investment in terms of improved efficiencies and an enhanced experience for all involved. ISO standards provide a highly collaborative and consensus-based framework that can be purchased from online for under $150, and that generally is supported by multiple books and training programs so that any organization can profit from the roadmap. (see Enterprise Engagement: The Roadmap, 4th edition.) Few of the 1.3 million companies that spend the additional money on ISO 9001 audits and licensing the ISO logo for marketing do so for any other reason that they see value in enhanced performance and as a badge of honor with customers, communities and employees that demonstrates their commitment to people. 
Developed based on quality people management principles established by ISO in 2012 that for the first time emphasized the need to address the interests of all stakeholders in a strategic fashion, the Annex SL management framework and ISO 10018 standards issued around that time coincidentally align in almost every way with the framework developed by the Enterprise Engagement Alliance in 2008. 
Like the Enterprise Engagement Alliance framework that lies at the foundation of Enterprise Engagement: The Roadmap 4th edition, the ISO Annex SL management process now required in ISO 9001 quality management, ISO 45001 occupational health and safety standards, and 14 other ISO standards, as well as the new ISO 10018 quality people management certification from, are based on three fundamental principles that directly apply to the design of traditional incentive, promotional and loyalty programs for consumers, salespeople and channel partners.
  1. Any process involving people must connect, or at least take into account, the interests of all other stakeholders.
  2. Any tactics used to engage any stakeholders will achieve greater results if connected and aligned with any other effort to engage any stakeholders.
  3. Each organization and situation has its own unique circumstances calling for a special set of solutions that could include leadership and coaching, assessment and feedback, different forms of communication and training, job design, community and diversity, innovation and collaboration, rewards and recognition, analytics, etc. 

The Need for a More Systematic Approach

Efforts to engage stakeholders often suffer from the same design flaws that had to be overcome in the quality field starting about 40 years ago when ISO 9001 quality standards were first issued. Why? Today’s consumer, sales and challenge engagement strategies commonly deploy the same ad hoc, reactive approach that undermined quality management in the U.S. and elsewhere in the 1980s. 
Despite much greater integration of advertising, promotional, public relations and social media activities over the last two decades, many companies, lacking any academic or professional training on the subject of engagement, continue to spend money on reactive, ad hoc, uncoordinated incentive programs, promotions, loyalty programs and sales training efforts, often separated by deep silos, so that the best efforts of creating a clear brand, vision and culture run up against the parochial interests of different departments. How many times in big organizations do we hear that the people designing consumer marketing and loyalty programs have little strategic contact with the people in channel partner engagement, or with those who design sales incentives or training programs? Yet all available research suggests that the better these activities are aligned across the organization, the better the results. That level of inter-connectivity is one of the big lessons from the quality management movement. 
Essentially, what we learned at Allegiance is that in almost every case there are customers with expectations that organizations fail to deliver because even though they’ve done a good job of creating the expectations through marketing and sales, they haven’t done as well when it comes to delivering on them -- encouraging specifically those actions and behaviors on the part of employees and organization policies that will actually fulfill those expectations. 
We see the same phenomenon at Xvoyant, where our technology enables us to see much more precisely those activities, actions and behaviors that drive greater success, and to better forecast the impact of those activities on the sales close cycle and volume of each salesperson based on their ability to enhance those actions or behaviors. 

Time to Turn Away From Bright Shiny Objects 

Faced with never-ending demands to increase sales and, until recently, lacking any access to a credible framework that looks at all aspects of engagement across the enterprise, the sales and marketing sectors are often most prone to looking for “bright shiny objects” to hit important short-term goals. That often boils down to offering some sort of creative incentive, spiff, promotion, points-based, or other loyalty program (i.e., carrots, goading people, bringing in sales training or coaching resources, or perhaps offering co-op marketing dollars or other incentives for channel partners). The problem is that this toolkit may not precisely address what is needed to drive a sale or a referral in the case of your company, product, customer base, or sales force. Of course, offering points drives behaviors that can rob short-term purchases from a competitor, but if integrated with other strategies to address the emotional connection, it’s more likely they’ll do so in a more sustainable way. 
Such was the state of quality management in the 1980s; throw a bunch of tactics at the wall and hope something sticks. Before ISO 9000 standards, the quality field abounded with fads and “bright shiny objects” such as quality circles, gain-sharing, or statistical process controls -- all necessary, but no serious and sustainable improvement emerged until organizations started to adopt a focused, integrated, systematic process to quality that connected all the various initiatives into an ongoing, auditable process. The same applies to engagement, and that means ideally aligning everything from advertising, social media, promotions and loyalty used to engage customers to incentives, training and communications aimed at channel partners and the sales team.  

How to Apply the ISO Framework to Sales and Channel Strategies 

The sales and consumer marketing fields will benefit as much from ISO 10018 and the Enterprise Engagement framework by:
  • Extinguishing the notion that quick-fix incentives and promotions are anything but that, and they in fact can promote counter-productive behaviors unless carefully designed.
  • Applying a systematic approach to how any marketing, incentive, communications, innovation, or learning activities connect brand promises to the specific activities aimed at customers, channel partners and salespeople (i.e., drilling down to determine specifically what behaviors and actions translate into greater customer satisfaction and referrals, channel partner commitment and sales force performance).
  • Better coordinating external advertising and marketing with internal communications, training and cultures, so that the channel and sale engagement process aligns with expectations created by marketing, a process almost always easier said than done.
  • Identifying specifically the types of information or knowledge salespeople need to build trust with customers or channel partners, and the approach that works best in each marketplace, with each customer.
  • Understanding that consumers, clients, distribution partners and salespeople are in fact individuals, each with his or her own relationship with your organization, and that the closer one can get to understanding the drivers of each relationship and what can be done to maximize it, the closer one can get to the notion of continuous improvement in sales and marketing that has worked so well for quality management.
  • Identifying the external and internal factors that will affect outcomes, including the interests of other stakeholders inside or outside the organization, not to mention government, economic, or competitive forces. 
The concept of Enterprise Engagement and ISO 10018 Quality People Management standards do not eliminate incentive, promotion and loyalty tactics used to drive short- and long-term sales. On the contrary, they apply a systematic approach to process design that drives greater efficiency, better return on investment and an enhanced experience for all concerned by connecting the dots between every activity aimed at achieving almost any goal involving people.  
Dr. Gary Rhoads, Ph.D, is the Enterprise Engagement Alliance founding Academic Director; a Stephen Mack Covey Professor of Marketing & Entrepreneurship, Department of Business Management, Brigham Young University; and founder of Allegiance, and most recently Xvoyant. 
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