The Impact of Social Media on Channel Marketing and Partner Marketing

My background is with corporate web teams, and this is a topic that is just starting to get explored.

Channel and Partner Marketing often largest revenue stream
At a previous job I was the Web Marketing Manager for the Channel Extranet site at Hitachi Data Systems, called PartnerXchange, a website that dedicated to helping our partners resell our products. This was a high-tech B2B sale which accounted for 60% of the overall revenue of the company. One of the largest networking companies recently told me that the channel accounts for 80% of the overall revenue of the company.

[While Social Media has impacted corporate marketing departments such as PR, MarCom and Web Marketing, Channel and Partner Marketing programs are starting to wake up to the opportunities –and risks– that it entails]

Terms used:

Vendor: The primary company selling the products, such as Hitachi Data Systems

Partner: Often referred to as the “channel, this group resells products to the market, often with additional services, sometimes referred to as a value added reseller or “VAR”.

Social Media: An easy to use toolset that includes technolgoies that empower anyone to easily communicate, such as: blogs, forums, podcasts, social networks, and other easy to publish tools.

Customer: End recipient of product and services, in this case, they primarily deal with the Partner, and may or may not deal with the vendor.

Small uptake in Channel and Partner Marketing
At first, social media impacted the PR group within any particular vendor, then spread to corporate marketing, yet just now in 2008 I’m starting to see some uptake of Channel Marketing departments starting to take notice of social media for channel use.

Resellers often have limited marketing resources
A majority of resellers (although there’s some larger ones) have challenges with marketing, many are small or medium size businesses that have strong competency in service delivery, but lean on the larger vendors to setup marketing initiatives and programs to help them.

When it comes to social media, this can go one of two ways, some small companies, strapped for resources have already started to use these cost-effective tools to communicate to their clients. On the other hand, these resource limited companies won’t have the time to even think about ‘new media’ ways of marketing themselves.

The fact of the matter is that social media tools are cost-effective when used correctly, but could cost hundreds more when used incorrectly –often in the form of brand backlash.

Four Impacts of Social Media on Channel Marketing and Partner Marketing”

1) Internal Vendor Training and Support
Vendors can benefit from training their Channel sales groups, and support teams by creating internal blogs, podcasts, to teach internal staff how to better communicate and work with channel partners. Along these lines include fulfillment and support, where collaboration and community tools could help harvest, manage, and deliver key information to teams.

2) Vendor to Partner Communications
Perhaps the first seen effort is to use these tools as a way to better communicate to partners. Tools such as blogs and podcasts are great for talking to your partner base, but don’t forget about letting them cross-communicate to each other by using community tools. The better your partners are at reselling your products, they better off you are. It’s expected there will be some needs for permissions and rules of engagement as many partner are competitors.

3) Partner to Customer though Empowerment
The resource restricted partner is going to be happy to receive help from the vendor to market their products, and often they already have content that is re-syndicated on their website such as brochures, case studies, and white papers. Now, start thinking about how to create media (audio video) that could have a pre-roll with your partners name on it, and then embedded on their site. This would include RSS news feeds what could help populate their website with freshly updated content. Lastly, consider social media training sessions that teach them how to fish. As the vendor and partner groups start to cross-link all boats start to rise as the conversation gets passed from one company to another.

4) Vendor to Customer
Lastly, vendors should use the opportunity to discuss from their own social media activities the great things their partners are doing to satisfy clients. While it’s sometimes difficult to remain non-partisan, discussing issues, challenges, and solutions that partners are doing in an non-biased way from blogs, forums, communities, and podcasts could spark discussion that could lead to further sales.

In summary, there’s quite a few ways these tools can be used to improve the triangular relationship between vendors, partners, and customers. You’ll often need to find an internal resource dedicated to these new media efforts, and you may require outside help to train, establish a program and conduct workshops. I’m sure you’ll find the right mix.