Get beyond the fascination and addictive tendency of Twitter, Facebook and other social networking apps, and underscoring all of these new approaches to connecting, communicating and collaborating with others is a revolutionary new way of communicating with your channel partners as well.
Social networking is making channel management more about walking the walk and less about claiming a partnership with another company by virtue of logo sharing. It’s making channel relationships real again. And this authenticity is a very good thing.
What’s the Point?
But why dive into the social networking pool?
Isn’t it full of self-promoting opportunists who would rather help you as long as it helps them and furthers their own goals?
Or is deeper than that? Does it address some fundamental unmet need in relationships, both personal and professional?
I think it is the latter; people’s personal and professional lives have never been more disconnected, there have never been more opportunities for confusion over how to get to the truth and deliver it. In the area of channel relationships, the 10 reasons for making social networking part of your channel strategies are as follows:
- It’s time to communicate with your channel partners using the processes, systems and apps they want to use. Manufacturers are finding social networking makes them more responsive and gets barriers out of way, staying more relevant to their channel partners over time.
- This is the era of transparency and authenticity, embrace it and win or ignore it and lose. It’s time to drop the pretenses and get real with channel partners. Trust is the new currency.
- Your toughest competitors aren’t in other companies; they are distractions to your channel partners’ time and attention. Using social networking to cut through clutter is a competitive advantage. Can you say what the top three unmet needs are of each channel partner? If not, then communication isn’t happening as much as you need it to in order to serve them. Cut through the many distractions between your company and its channel partners and resolve to understand and stay current on those unmet needs. Social networking as a real-time platform can help do that.
- Lead escalation and management can be managed in real-time and be less of a source of conflict than it is today. One of the main problems that served as the catalyst for channel processes to become more automated was the continual arguing between channel partners and those they represented when it came to lead management and escalation. Relying on portal platforms including Microsoft, SAP, Oracle and Salesforce.com there are literally thousands of companies managing leads and their escalation processes through automation today. Social networking’s contribution to this is gaining real-time updates and querying on status, and bringing in technical teams when needed.
- Coordinating on advertising, CO-OP, channel promotional programs and product introductions can be truly collaborative when social networking is used versus being sporadic and incomplete when done manually. Consider the first product introductions you were involved with and how they have progressed today. Some of you may have had companies overnight packages of materials; others may have used a portal. Using social networking platforms can deliver more speed and accuracy than has been possible in other approaches, especially those that are manually driven.
- The long-ago vision of team selling in Partner Relationship Management (PRM) platforms is now a reality in social networking. If knowledge and insight into solving tough customer problems is how you win business over just price, then social networking can make team selling all the more valuable.
- Bring your service attitude to social networking. It’s great that companies including JetBlue, Starbucks, Southwest and others are relying on Twitter to connect with their customers and listen to them. If there is only one task you take from this blog entry, be sure to check out the excellent index Jonathan Kash continues to expand at the Social Brand Index. If you join Twitter follow him at @Time@simplify too.
- Get plugged in to what your customers really think. I’m fascinating with how social networking could contribute to the DMAIC process of Six Sigma, specifically in the area of Voice of the Customer. Don’t get that formal though; get plugged into your online reputation first.
- Look three years down the road of social networking and realize that the accumulated interactions your company has can become the basis of a more market-driven, responsive content management system. Every company struggles with knowledge management, yet in collaborating with channel partners, critical knowledge in your company can be captured and put into context. The area of defining roles, processes and taxonomies is coming to social networking, and that will transform it completely than it is seen today.
- Social networking is more about learning and serving, especially with channel partners. I’ve seen companies dive into social networking and try to take it into the promotional aspects only and lose credibility in the process. Realize that the entire lifecycle of how you serve channel partners must be planned for on a social networking platform.
Look to learn how your channel partners want to communicate, challenge assumptions about your existing channel management platforms, and when you consider social networking, consider each phase of the lifecycle of your channel management strategies. Taken together, getting more transparent, responsive and focused can improve your and your channel partners’ performance.
Louis Columbus is senior manager, enterprise systems at Cincom Systems and a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He has worked with enterprise clients on defining solutions to their channel management, order management and service lifecycle management strategies. He also teaches graduate-level international business and marketing courses at Webster-Loyola Marymount University and University of California, Irvine. He is the author of 15 books on technology and two books on analyst relations. His book, Getting Results from your Analyst Relations Strategies, can be downloaded for free. You can contact Louis on Twitter at @LouisColumbus.