by By Lisa Grimaldi | November 01, 2008

When Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems decided to launch an incentive program for all of its partners around the globe -- 200 countries in all -- business development manager Jan Rath turned to Maritz Motivation for help.

After a lot of research, testing and "at least 100 phone calls a week" between Sun and Maritz, says Rath, Sun Partner Rewards debuted two years ago. First launched in the Americas, it was rolled out over the next 18 months in Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. And even in the face of economic ups and downs here and abroad, Sun sees the business benefits of the incentive program and is committed to keeping it in operation.

The program rewards resellers of Sun's products -- sales reps who do not work for Sun but are employed by firms that sell high-tech products. The goal is to motivate participants to increase sales, promote specific products, and strengthen the relationship between sellers and Sun. Different global regions can create specific goals unique to their markets, notes Kurt Hosna, global rewards director for Maritz.

Sun has a partner portal on its website where participants can register for the voluntary program. The site then links them to a sales incentive website, maintained by Maritz, that explains the rules. Once participants sign up, they earn points that can be redeemed at any time from the online rewards catalog created for that region. While the program is ongoing (there is no set end time, though product promotions change quarterly), it can be customized so that if one region wants to boost sales in a quarter, it can do so.

The catalogs display reward offerings based on local customs, styles and trends. For instance, in India, scooters and even cars are featured, because many professionals in that country don't have them. In Japan, where there is a strong culture of philanthropy, participants can redeem rewards as donations to chosen charities. Some gifts, such as iPods, are universally popular and are available in all regions.
Another key detail: The catalog is available in 16 languages. "With the local language, the reps can sit down in front of their computers with their families, and they can all read the gift descriptions," says Hosna.

A few glitches are still being ironed out. One difficulty simply is getting resellers to participate. Another is finding solutions for country-specific challenges, such as Australia's 94 percent fringe-benefit tax, which is levied on those who earn gifts.

Success is difficult to measure, too, notes Rath. But data from one partner firm, Advanced Micro Devices, demonstrated that for every dollar Sun spent on the program, it earned nine dollars in return on investment.