One thing we all have in common – we’re consumers. And as consumers we behave similarly and share many characteristics. We research online before buying things – like visiting Trip Advisor to check out what others are saying before we book our holiday. We probably then purchase that trip online through an e-commerce website that we have grown to like over the last 12 months.
Most of us participate in social media for work and play and pride ourselves in our publishing skills in our own little way.
Also it’s fair to say that we all seem to have less free time than ever and are less forgiving when we part with our hard earned cash! We expect anytime, anywhere, always-on information, thanks to the one thing that none of us can live without – our mobile phones.
My second bold claim is that most of you reading this article you are, in some way, part of the IT industry – more specifically you have an interest in indirect channels. That’s probably why you’re on this website in the first place. So far so good…
The question then is why tech companies operating channel programs often overlook or dismiss what is right in front of them: the hundreds or thousands of channel partners enrolled in your programs who are also consumers and therefore share a lot of the same habits and values. So, why is that familiarity of the consumer experience forgotten when you try to build a dialogue with your channel?
It is fair to say that when it comes to communicating with channel partners and driving real engagement, most companies are well behind the curve. Forrester does a good job of explaining the breadth of consumerization in the following quote: “At first glance, a vendor strategist might think consumerization is simply about using personal gadgets and online services for work – but it’s more than that. Payment models, self-service, intuitive user interfaces…” (Forrester, 2012). All of these aspects can come into play in a channel program. Who is providing a truly great online experience (that comes anywhere near what a consumer might expect)? Who provides anytime, anywhere communication accessible via a smartphone or tablet? And where’s the fun and creativity?
Channel teams (not just marketing people) need to start thinking of their channel partners as individuals, as consumers – instead of as sales reps or sales engineers, or worse still, treat them all the same.
Start by putting yourself in your reseller’s shoes. See how comfortable they are and then multiply that by 10 or 15 (other vendors trying to do the same thing)! Feeling inspired, motivated? I thought not. This is a great first step, not a comfortable one, but an important one to gain perspective. You’ll have a list of 10 things to change about your program right away.
Ask your partner contacts what they want from you and how they would like to be treated. Chances are you are doing a lot of things right but you’ll also discover 1 or 2 things that might make a big difference if they are changed. If 50% of your base say your MDF and co-marketing is too complicated, then you better give it your attention. If sales reps need to access content on the phone when they’re out with customers, then that might be a good use of your channel budget. Listening to your partners and acting upon their suggestions will go a very long way in building valuable relationships.
Finally, take note of the methods some of the big consumer companies are using to acquire, engage and retain customers, while turning them into real fans. Maybe you are even experiencing these things first-hand outside of the office. One trend that I’ve read about and experienced is gamification (applying techniques used in the gaming world to drive greater engagement with their customers). Adobe, IBM, Microsoft, Dell and others are already using it in their B2B marketing but it has great potential for the channel, as well.
Partner programs, like everything else in the world, need to keep up with the times. Thinking like a consumer and leveraging new approaches like gamification can help keep your channel program from feeling stale.Those that keep up, or better still, take the lead will be winners in more ways than one.