The traditional way of managing channel sales partners has been to assign a partner account manager to manage your top partners. In some cases, it's a one-to-one relationship, where one person is assigned to manage a very large and important channel partner. But in an age of doing "more with less," it's much more common for a partner account manager to be responsible for managing dozens - if not hundreds - of partner relationships; however, this way of managing partner relationships doesn't scale.
Typically, channel and partner enablement only works for the top 20 percent or less of a company's partner ecosystem. The remaining 80 percent, which are often SMBs, are underserved - resulting in lost business opportunities. While individually SMB partners may not represent much business, collectively they are a significant source of revenue.
So what can be done about the problem of how to effectively engage this long tail of the channel - the 80 percent of the channel partners that collectively add up to a significant amount of additional business? Some innovative companies are successfully leveraging social networking to re-invigorate partner relationships with their entire ecosystem while also recruiting new partners into their channel.
Social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have already surpassed email usage in the consumer space but how can social media be effectively used to improve channel sales results? The problem is that many of the existing social media sites have been built for consumer or generic purposes and have not been built from the ground up to leverage social media for the specific purpose of increasing a company's channel sales. For example, business partners may discover each other on social networking sites, but then are left to their own devices to actually conduct business effectively with one another. Often there is no continuity of process or tools to drive business.
There is no doubt that social networking could be used by companies to better communicate their company and product messages in a much more targeted and effective fashion than outdated email blasts or generic partner portals. Social media provides the tools that allow the individual members of a partner ecosystem to express themselves by identifying who they are, what they have to offer, and what they are interested in. Social media also offers the tools for vendors to receive real-time feedback from their partners on a variety of topics including product feedback, sales tools needs, incentive program effectiveness, and much more.
Companies who are proactive in seeking partner feedback and incorporating them into product roadmaps and sales strategies have the most to gain from leveraging social media for business.
Social media offers an opportunity for smaller partners to gain access to a level playing field where they can gain a stronger voice and become more competitive by improving the marketing of their company as well as improving the effectiveness of how they collaborate on new deals. Just as the Web provided a level playing for what were traditionally storefronts dominated by large companies, social media is providing smaller, agile companies a way to reach audiences without a large marketing budget.
Much in the same way that Twitter and blogging have revolutionized the power of grassroots movements to create ground up power in the political arena, social media applied to the channel business has the potential to revolutionize the way that channel partners communicate and gain influence with vendors.
Social media also offers the power for channel partners to span across vendor networks to collaborate on complex deals that require expertise on multiple vendor products. Partners have a better ability to control their deals and opportunities and to find and build partnerships that help them grow their business as they see fit.
Instead of the traditional one-to-many top down method of engaging partners, what's needed is a collaborative business community focused around the company's products and solutions. Often SMBs are better at supporting each other in complementary situations than depending on large vendor support.
IDC noted that online community software enables new ways of working that require a shift in mindset and culture. Even though more and more enterprises are beginning to utilize B2B social media, gaps in adoption will remain based on the inability to adjust to transparent communication. It is only when businesses can recognize the importance and influence social media has on their brand and partner relationships that they can really expand and provide the best resources throughout the channel.
About the Author
Mark Sochan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chief executive officer of Partnerpedia, a provider of online partner communities and channel enablement solutions, where he's responsible for driving overall corporate strategy and building key strategic partnerships. Before joining Partnerpedia, Sochan was vice president of business development at SAP, where he was responsible for the SAP NetWeaver Partner Program and the launch of the SAP Developer Network.
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For the rest of the June 2010 issue of CRM magazine — our second annual Social Media Issue, this year focused on communities — please click here.