There’s a dangerous undercurrent we see developing among channel marketing organizations trying to deal with the confusing landscape of social media options that can best be called “Checking Off the Social Media Box.” Everyone knows social media is important, but it’s hard to pin down exactly where it adds the most value, so business objectives get over-simplified to reduce the confusion.
Chris Becwar at Channel Management published a post last week that points to one of the central challenges channel marketers face today, a challenge we discuss frequently at SocialRep: how do you enable channel partners to market most effectively?
It’s a seemingly simple question with a time-honored answer: sales incentives! If you provide the right incentives, channel partners will move heaven and earth to close deals. What’s missing from that simple equation is the depth of disruption rocking the global IT channel, reducing the effectiveness of traditional incentive approaches. Continue reading
The Wall Street Journal released an article Monday hyping a Gallup report on the “Myth of Social Media”. The report and the article are so flawed it’s an embarrassment to both organizations. Half of the buzz making the rounds this week manages to find the one kernel of blindingly obvious truth in the article, that social media marketing is about quality of engagement, not likes and follows. But many people are blindly retweeting the link-bait title of Gallup’s report, that the influence of social media is a myth, and it’s Gallup’s report that deserves to be busted. Continue reading
Over the past couple of years, I’ve heard a growing drumbeat of complaints about marketing in the IT channel. I’ve heard it from channel managers, field marketers, partner marketing and sales teams. I’ve heard it phrased a dozen different ways. I’ve heard it applied to email, digital, events and telesales. But the message is always the same: “We’re not getting the traction from marketing programs we’ve always counted on.” Continue reading
For seven years now, we’ve been delivering social media intelligence to some of the world’s largest brands, and we’ve watched marketers struggle with the concept of segmentation in social media. Segmentation is one of the fundamental principals of good marketing–the idea of dividing customers with similar needs and attributes into groups for more targeted marketing. Demographics, psychographics and behavioral economics are all time-tested techniques for segmenting markets in meaningful ways, and marketers have done backflips trying to apply them to social media. Continue reading
Today, SocialRep is launching a new chapter. After years of engineering and product development on social data systems, analytics and curation, we’re bringing all the pieces together in a single platform focused on B2B channel marketing.
As we’ve previewed our solution with analysts over the past few weeks, we’ve heard it called Inbound Channel Marketing, Through-Partner Social Marketing, and Social Channel Marketing. Whatever label you put on it, we’re proud to deliver the first end-to-end platform that enables businesses to empower their partners to engage customers authentically through social media. Continue reading
My post blasting LinkedIn last week was a long time in coming. I’ve been working with clients for several years, strongly advocating LinkedIn as a powerful tool for engaging customers and prospects. But time after time, I’ve watched marketers get burned by poor planning, poor communication, and poor decision-making at LinkedIn. Last week I focused on LinkedIn’s seemingly arbitrary decision to wipe out Product Pages, after thousands of companies invested in creating them, only to replace them with “Showcase” pages, which seem like a really cheap imitation of GooglePlus. I now have customers for whom we built Product Pages and championed LinkedIn asking what they should do, and whether or not LinkedIn should still be a part of their content strategy. Continue reading
As Andrew Jones from Altimeter reports today on IBM’s entrance into the Cloud Marketing fray, I can’t help but thinking, once again, there’s too much focus on the technology instead of the real problem. Sure, it makes sense for CRM heavy-weights to continue the migration of marketing applications and infrastructure to the cloud, but the real challenge is actual customer engagement. The battlefield is not your CRM system, it’s the platforms and networks where customers are already engaging, like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
Once again, marketers are being led to dials and dashboards, Now in the Cloud!, when they’re struggling to figure out how to actually engage with customers in the constantly disrupted world of online media.
Markets today are creating and recreating themselves in loosely-knit web-based communities on social networks, where the tools and data available to help target and drive engagement are far more compelling than anything you’ve got in your CRM database. Yes, you have unique transactional data, which is invaluable for descriptive and predictive analytics, but that’s insight to help drive engagement—it is not engagement itself.
Beyond banner ads and sponsored updates, how do you actually engage with customers and prospects online? They’re already on LinkedIn, talking and debating the challenges in their business. They’re already on Facebook, talking about everything they love and hate. Better to be there, engaging in those discussions, instead of managing email blasts and registration forms and cross-channel mix strategies to try and “capture” prospects, so you can email them some more.
Personally, I think LinkedIn with the right vision and leadership would be a formidable Cloud Marketing contender, particularly for B2B companies. If LinkedIn had integrated CRM, the advantages would be tremendous:
- customer profiles are far more complete and up-to-date than your marketing lists will ever be
- behavioral analytics are more timely and compelling than your marketing profiles
- segmentation and targeting is far more consistent and accurate
- engagement doesn’t require registration forms
In this paradigm, marketing infrastructure is just the networking platform where your prospects and customers are connecting, leaving marketers to focus on the content and purpose of engagement—not just ads and updates, but participating in meaningful market dialog about customer needs and desires.
But LinkedIn seems to entirely miss the idea that they could be a serious Marketing Cloud contender, and are instead content to dink around the edges of marketing enablement while focusing more on pushing advertising sales. Meanwhile, despite all the investment going into the Marketing Cloud by companies like IBM and Salesforce, real integration with platforms where customers are spending their time is a pipe dream. Sure, you can automate your canned updates to Twitter and suck down your statistics, but that isn’t customer engagement, and it’s really poor marketing. But hey! It’s in the cloud!
Over the past several years, channel marketing has advanced tremendously with new techniques and technologies. The general trend line is driven by the imperative for manufacturers to enable partners to market more efficiently and effectively, and to gain better visibility into the performance and return on investment for those partner marketing efforts. But how does it apply to social media?
Through Partner Marketing Automation (TPMA) is a current manifestation of this trend and revolves primarily around marketing automation systems that allow partners to easily access and distribute a manufacturer’s marketing materials, and in some cases to seamlessly integrate those materials into their own digital assets. For example, a partner could host a web page for a product on their website in which the content is actually served up behind the scenes by the manufacturer, so that any updates to the content are immediately and automatically updated to all partner websites at the same time. TPMA streamlines the marketing process, and eliminates a lot of opportunities for errors and inconsistencies.
The advantages of TPMA are compelling, but while TPMA works very well for content like data sheets, white papers and campaigns, the same approach is very problematic for social marketing. Social marketing is based on the idea of building rapport with your market community—it’s based on businesses participating in market dialog and debate about everything from product features to government regulations.
To succeed in social marketing, businesses must be authentic participants in the conversation. Sure, social networks are full of businesses grasping for “likes” with a stream of canned PR Tweets and social updates, but these are not successful tactics. Successful social marketers offer links to objective content that is relevant to their customers, they offer their own insights on articles they read and share with the community, and they respond to the discussions that are driving engagement without relying on automatic responders. In short, they are real, authentic players in the discussion.
How do you enable partners to be authentic participants in market dialog by pushing them a stream of canned Tweets to reshare to their social networks? You don’t. In the first place, you’d be sending your partners the wrong message—asking them to be little more than parrots squawking about your products to the market. In the second place, you’d be sending the wrong message to the market, filling their feeds with tone-deaf messages that are replicated many times over. If a prospective customer searches for mentions of your product in social media, and comes up with a stream of verbatim updates all coming from different partners, it just looks like spam.
The way to enable your partners for social media is to provide them with the fuel for participating in market dialog, while empowering them to put their own simple spin on what they share. For example, if you’re a telecom manufacturer selling firewalls, you can provide your partners with access to a never-ending stream of the latest real-time news and content about security, and give them the tools to share that content easily to their own social networks in their own voice. In that way, you eliminate the biggest hurdle to social marketing—the time it takes to source good things to share—while ensuring your partners stay on message with content that is relevant to both you and your customers.
Technically this is still Through Partner Marketing—you’re enabling your partners to more efficiently and effectively market on your behalf. But adapted for the requirements of social marketing, it enables partners to bring their own voice to the conversation while sharing the content that helps you tell your brand story.
This blog series explores topics laid out in our free white paper: 12 Essential Tips for Socializing the Channel
Monday I made the claim that socializing the channel—leveraging social media to turn your channel from a collection of 1-to-1 business relationships to an engaged community of partners—delivers tangible benefits for marketing.
Simply stated, socializing the channel offers:
- New ways to engage and motivate partners
- New ways to differentiate and promote your brand
- New ways to measure partner potential and performance
- New ways to drive leads and grow revenue.
Today I’ll elaborate on the first claim and explore the partner motivation problems social media can help solve.
Engage and Motivate
One of the biggest challenges in channel marketing is competing for the attention and energy of partners. Good partners are in high demand because they sell product and deliver revenue. Manufacturers entice partners by providing Market Development Funds (MDF) and lead programs to help partners promote and sell the manufacturer’s products. This produces an arms race that manufacturers with deep pockets tend to win.
Although everyone plays the MDF game, most channel managers will tell you they’re frustrated with the lack of accountability for MDF program performance. And if you talk to partners, they’re often frustrated with the cookie-cutter, flavor-of-the-moment predictability of MDF programs, which often boil down to churning leads. Everyone wants something different, they just don’t see alternatives.
Good partners—especially growing partners—don’t just want to be fed leads, they want to learn how to drive leads themselves. Partners aren’t just a boiler room of sales reps jamming phone lines with cold calls; they’re businesses working to build their own market position and their own brand. Their marketing teams are typically small and overworked, but good partners have bright and resourceful marketers on staff who are eager to apply new techniques and are hungry for success.
If you feed these partner marketing teams with up-to-date social marketing programs that help them build their brand and generate leads, you can often gain an outsized effort to run your campaigns compared to run-of-the-mill MDF programs at a higher cost.
One program we developed for a customer included a package for Lead Engagement on LinkedIn. We provided everything the partner needed to establish a LinkedIn marketing presence, including graphics and copy for their company page, as well as a co-marketed Product Showcase emphasizing the partner’s unique offering featuring the vendor’s product. We set the partners up, and then provided them with the training, direction and content necessary to explore LinkedIn as a marketing platform. How to post updates. How to attract followers. How to identify prospects to engage.
Although we were ultimately disappointed with the lack of direct Lead Engagement options on LinkedIn (you can’t create a compelling call to action on your company page), the program significantly increased the vendor’s branded visibility on LinkedIn and was a hit with partners. Today, there are better engagement options with sponsored updates and targeted ads that we add to programs, and there are other platforms and networks that can be used for Lead Engagement campaigns.
Another program we called a Managed Interest Group (MIG). Similar to a Special Interest Group (SIG), in which participants discuss a shared interest, a MIG provides specific tactics and objectives for partners to explore. Each week we’d post a social marketing objective—for example, increasing followers to expand message reach—and provide tactics for marketers to execute. Many partners discussed their successes and failures, and even posted examples of emails and updates they used for others to review.
As long as the focus remains on tactical execution and learning, and not on strategic positioning and competition, partners are more than willing to engage and share. MIGs can be executed on forums, LinkedIn Groups, Google+ and even private Facebook pages. The platform doesn’t matter.
Differentiating Yourself as a Partner
There are countless ways to leverage social media for partner marketing with creative MDF programs. Although social media is not a solution for overnight lead generation success—it takes time to build the network to distribute a message and promote an offer—the investment pays dividends in partner engagement and visibility as your brand is shared to their networks. The investment returns will improve as your partner’s social media presence grows and produces lead engagement opportunities. When you support your partner’s efforts to improve their marketing capabilities, you differentiate yourself as a solution provider and not just another vendor with an off-the-shelf MDF campaign.
To see all the posts in our Social Channel series, click the Social Channel category at right.