Engaging Channel Partners with Social Media

Good partners—especially growing partners—don’t just want to be fed leads, they want to learn how to drive leads themselves.

April 4, 2014 // Chris Kenton

This blog series explores topics laid out in our free white paper:? 12 Essential Tips for Socializing the Channel

Engaging Channel Partners

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 a community of engaging channel 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.

Some Examples

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.?


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