Compared to ten years ago, products are more complex, channel business models have evolved (think SaaS), channel relationships have become more complex, and customer buying behavior has changed radically. Yet, even with all the changes, many vendors cling to the same basic channel marketing programs and sales models they introduced a decade ago. To be sure, these traditional programs are more automated and easier to use than they were in 1999, but they are also increasingly undifferentiated, outdated, and unproductive. They just don’t work anymore!
For channel managers it’s time to forget partner web sites, email, PDF attachments, and lead generation programs; move away from webinars and breakfast meetings; and, kick traditional marketing support activities to the curb. Old channel marketing programs delivered in the traditional manner to support outdated sales processes are suddenly and obviously not going to cut it anymore. The successful next generation channel program will be built around Web 2.0 and its virtual communities, social networking, video-file-sharing and web-based collaboration.
Web 2.0 is a game changer for the channel and channel managers have to embrace it. Innovative (and mostly free) sites like Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Digg, Technorati , and many more are shifting the way people (end-user people) use the Internet to communicate, collaborate, and purchase products. All of this is fueling the use of Blogs, Video on Demand (VOD), Really Simple Syndication (RSS), podcasts, interactive web sites (wikis), and virtual communities by partners scrambling to meet the changing needs of their customers. Every level of the value chain has been impacted.
Reseller sales people increasingly complain about getting swamped by vendor emails (many of which contain presentations and big promotional files) on their Blackberries and PDAs. Reseller sales executives protest more loudly about the time spent on formal sales education when their employees rely on chat rooms and forums instead of webinars for most of their information. Partner Marketing managers expect links, box ads, electronic customer newsletter feeds, and encouragement to develop their own local brands.
Everyone in the channel is starting to understand the potential of group collaboration – as opposed to vendor domination of the sales conversation. Channel Communities (long a buzz word) have formed in places like Yahoo, Google, LinkedIn, and even Facebook as a way to provide information, networking, and even sales support to small groups of like-minded professionals. Now these early virtual communities are shifting to newer, more specialized (and secure) platforms like Xeequa and Partnerpedia that provide more social networking functionality and easier collaboration.
These virtual Channel Communities are becoming the natural replacements for partner portals, but with all the benefits associated with “groupthink,” as opposed to vendor controlled knowledge transfer. Next Generation partner marketing is collaborative, responsive, and focused on the needs of the reseller and customer, not just on the fastest way to win the deal.
The next two years are shaping up to be a period of experimentation and radical change. There will be winners and losers. The keys to success will be speed, flexibility, reaction time, and the willingness to make mistakes. Going into 2009, all major vendors already have a social media strategy and most have begun using next generation communications tools with their channel partners. Communities and electronic marketing programs are appearing everywhere. And why not? They are easy to use, cost almost nothing, and, most important, they meet the needs of channel partners and customers better than the outdated marketing programs they are quickly replacing.