Your Channel Partners’ Social Networks
A Gold Mine At Your Feet
by Hobart Swan
Olivier Choron is the CEO and founder of purechannelapps, a UK-based company that helps companies leverage the social media networks of their channel partners to dramatically extend their social reach, brand recognition and, ultimately, sales. Prior to founding purechannelapps in 2011, Choron founded purechannels, which now operates as a full-channel marketing agency, whose client’s include Adobe, Avnet, Citrix, Symantec, and Trend Micro. Choron spent his early career developing industry-first SMB initiatives in EMEA and globally with major IT companies including Nortel Networks and 3Com. He then moved into partner relationship management, working with Allegis Corp/ClickCommerce, where he was responsible for major accounts such as Microsoft Europe, GE Finance, Subway, and BT Ignite. In this interview, CCI asks Choron to trace the founding of the company, and the state of the social media industry as it applies to the channel.
CCI: You founded purechannelapps in 2011, a time when very few people were doing social media. Did channel partner organizations even have social networks at that time?
Choron: I didn’t know the exact answer to that question when I began. But I did quite a bit of research and found out that, even back then, many channel partners had some very large social networks in place. What these guys had done, unbeknown to everybody in the world, was convert their Rolodexes into social media contacts. I remember a very small company in Finland having something like 6,000 followers.
CCI: Did vendors not know that their partners had these networks? Is that why they didn’t leverage them?
Choron: They did. But since they didn’t have much marketing power, they had a hard time finding anything to be social about. One partner told me, “We have the contacts, but we don’t know what to do. We have nothing to say and no time to say it.”
CCI: That rings true today. Whether you’re talking about offline, digital, or social media marketing, many channel organizations still don’t invest much energy in social media. How is the market responding to your service offering?
Choron: We’re seeing adoption rates in the neighborhood of 50 percent, which, if you’re a channel marketeer, you know is a pretty big response for any channel marketing activity. Part of this high rate is because partner organizations don’t want to be perceived as being tied to one vendor. Instead of doing those large, short-term, mono-branded campaigns their suppliers are constantly asking them for, they like their social media to consist of a steady stream of small bits of information. If done well, and combined with industry thought-leadership content, these partners’ social networks become extremely active with very content-rich.
CCI: So now for the million-dollar question – where does all this social media content come from? Is it all from the vendor? Is all content appropriate for social media?
Choron: The raw content itself comes from the vendor. And remember, these partners may work with 10 or 20 of them. The content can be a short blog post – or a long blog post. It can be a very long white paper, a very technically-focused data-sheet, or a thought piece on technology or marketing or sales insight. In a way it doesn’t matter what form the content is in because you always have to put a front end on it. That could be a 140-character Tweet that points to a white paper, or a LinkedIn synopsis of emerging technology relevant to the industry. The social part is about alerting people to the existence of the content – it’s not the content itself.
CCI: But even there, doesn’t creating those Twitter messages take time?
Choron: Most vendor organizations have social media schedules put together by their PR or social media teams. These are the social messages that go through the vendors’ own direct social channels. The point is to re-use those messages. The partner may have to change to the language of the message from “We here at XYZ Technology Company believe that…” to “The XYZ Technology Company believes that…” So, yes, there may a bit of tweaking there, but it’s not huge.
Now what we do say when we train resellers is to make 90 percent of their social media content the things that they get from the vendor. But maybe once a week, create their own social media content that speaks directly to their own market and their own company in their own region.
CCI: And, generally speaking, are most partners good at doing that?
Choron: The most savvy resellers do, but not all of them. Our best partner organizations create a mix of both vendor-specific news and industry news. They know that you can’t just push data-sheet after data-sheet or technical stuff after more technical stuff. You have to communicate those messages, but you have to provide the right mix.
I want to really emphasize this. You can’t forget about product and go all in on thought leadership, for example. Because the thing about social networks is that you can never tell who’s paying attention to what you have to say. You’ll have some very technical people looking for some very technical information, and some marketing people looking for marketing stuff. You’ll have the business people looking for that, and procurement people looking for something else.
CCI: It’s very hard to measure the ROI of marketing. I’ve heard people say that social media is literally untraceable. How do you know if social media content leads to sales?
Choron: We operate in the IT sector, where sales cycles can be very long. So what is untraceable is how one piece of social media content has affected the whole cycle. That you can’t trace – or it’s very difficult to trace. But it’s interesting, because in some ways the market has evolved a bit. We used to have those discussions about hard ROI a couple of years ago. But I think people understand that it’s just very hard to connect the dots between any kind of marketing and a sale.
What we find the most useful to track is how well-engaged the partners are. Of course, the vendor’s end goal is to generate more leads and generate more interest. But they know that it’s also very good to get partners engaged. Vendors know that partners have choices too: there are lots of IT vendors out there and, with sales turning increasingly to the cloud, vendors need to have strong ecosystems of partners that can work together to deliver increasingly complex cloud solutions.
So what the vendors want – what they need – are partners that are very happy with the platform and the system, that are happy with the kind of social syndication results they’re getting. They want partners that are seeing their social networks grow, that are seeing an increase in interactions with end users – and that are building their own reputations as thought-leaders and problem solvers.
CCI: Where do you see social media going? Has it peaked? Will something new come along to take its place?
Choron: Well, there may already be something waiting in the wings to disrupt the market the way social media has. But for now, our main challenge is that there are so many vendors that don’t understand the value of social syndication through their partners. It’s still untapped. In fact, I have to say that many of these vendors’ own social media managers probably don’t understand the huge potential that they’re missing to grow their audience by leveraging their partners’ social network presence.
And I extend that statement to employees as well. When you’re an organization of a thousand, with a hundred sales people, these hundred sales people all have thousands of social connections. A large vendor may have a global channel network of ten-thousand partners, each again with a thousand connections. So that pyramid of connections – of feet on the street – that’s where the real growth can come from. And there are still people, some social media professionals themselves, who haven’t yet grasped the power that’s contained in these indirect social networks. But it’s there.
But whatever happens to social media, it’s important not put all your eggs in one basket. When it comes to lead-generation activities, email still works – if done properly. The same is true for telemarketing, paper-based communications, phone calling and trade shows and events. All these things still have their place.
It’s all about choosing the right form of communication – and the right content – for the right person at the right stage in the sales process. I just hope that nobody goes too far into social and forgets the rest. People are different. Social media is the perfect way to build relations with some people, and the worst for others. It’s all about knowing your audience and what works best for them.