Monday, April 25, 2011
Can You Use Social Media to Communicate With Your Channel Partners?
I recently posted an answer to a question on LinkedIn regarding using Social Media with Channel Partners:
Question: "What is the most cost effective and sustainable way to engage with channel partners on a social media platform?"
My Answer: "...You can encourage open discussions among your channel partners about your channel program by creating a LinkedIn Group for your Channel program. For the "Access" setting you should select "Request To Join" so you can be the gate keeper for membership, and then click "Create a Members-Only Group." Put together an editorial calendar of topics you want to discuss. Come up with a reward system to encourage engagement (could be financial incentives like MDF, or simply award logoed gear each week to the ones who are top influencers and key contributors)..."
The Problem Is, It Won't Really Work.
Well, to be more precise, you *can* create a LinkedIn Group as described above... And you *can* incentive-ize VAR engagement in the Group... But you will *probably not be successful* in getting your Channel Partners to openly discuss topics and share best practices using this Group, or any other social media mechanism.
The reason is because most Channel programs pit resellers against one another by giving them overlapping sales territories. At PTC we often had 3 or 4 different VARs covering the same geography and the same market. They would compete brutally for the same prospects and customers, sometimes competing in a price war that compelled one VAR to finally win the sale at a negative margin. They would also steal each other's sales reps and AEs. They would trash-talk and get in fist-fights at the annual sales kickoff meetings (true story).
It is very difficult to eliminate this sort of VAR vs. VAR competition. We minimized it to some extent by using a deal registration system and account protection rules. But it is nearly impossible to eliminate it entirely. And in fact it is not really desirable to eliminate VAR vs. VAR competition completely because the right amount of competition keeps them working hard to cover the territory and satisfy your customers.
Social Media is a great tool for bringing together a community of like-minded people so they can spontaneously engage with one another (post questions and answers, etc.) for their mutual benefit. It is not a good medium for organizations who are in direct competition with one another, because it would be foolish for any community-member to share knowledge that would help their competitor to become stronger.
A Better Solution:
Better solutions for communicating effectively with your channel are tried and true:
1. Weekly Channel Ecosystem Webcast
Share important program and product information. Enable Q&A. Post the recordings in a searchable archive on the Partner Portal. Make it mandatory to attend each week, but optional to participate in the Q&A.
2. Partner Portal
Post product information, recorded webcasts, marketing campaigns, etc. for review or download in a password-protected intranet for the VARs.
3. Annual VAR Advisory Council Meeting
Invite your most influential VARs from each geography to a 2- or 3-day summit to discuss their interaction with all departments and business functions within your Channel organization. VAR principals can typically put aside their differences for this once-per-year meeting and identify what about your Channel Program is working and what needs to be improved in each major geography.
Social Media is great, but it is not the answer for everything.
Do you have a different opinion or experience? Please share it with me in the comments section below!