Partners are the face of brands that work through the channel model in the region. Increasingly they are also evolving to the role of consultants for their end customers. In such a scenario, it is critical for partners to be in a position where they are available for the customers 24/7. And what better way than social media to be closer to the customer.
Manish Punjabi, Channel Marketing Manager, MEA, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise says, “In a two-tier or indirect go-to market like that of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, we rely on partners to touch end-customers for lead generation and project execution. As a result, partners are connected via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter with end-customers more than our own teams. By working with the vendor’s social media team, partners can establish themselves as ‘thought-leaders’ with their end-customer.
“Combining content between vendors and partners also provides SEO benefits for both parties involved. As per a research study from Sirius Decisions, 40 per cent of buyers say the top thing sales can do to earn trust is demonstrate deep expertise in their industry. Social profiles are rich with contextual information about companies and individuals you do business with,” Punjabi says. “It can be used as a research vehicle for personalising business conversation. Then among the individuals who are very socially active online, interactions can improve the personal connection individuals feel towards the partner’s brand.”
Elham Alizadeh, Channel Marketing Manager at ESET Middle East believes that when it comes to B2B relationships, social media is yet to develop in the region. Today, only few players are extremely active in this regard. “However,” she says, “This is related more to pushing content rather than being a two way channel. But of course this will change as more customers become comfortable with leveraging social media as a way to connect with their business partners. Today an estimated 40 per cent of ESET’s resellers are using different social media platforms.”
While that’s certainly an encouraging figure, not everyone is keen to talk and be talked about on social media. And that is primarily because of the open nature of these mediums and also due to the fact that one cannot control what is being said. All the more reason for partners to have a business strategy to be effective on these platforms.
Another challenge when embarking on the social media route is ownership, which department is really responsible for it? Is it a marketing, PR, customer service or sales function? Ashish Panjabi, COO, Jacky’s Retail, says, “In honesty, it covers all of them and is all-encompassing.” Partners needs to first evaluate the objective they are looking from the social media
Alexandra Pisetskaya, Marketing Manager, Help AG says, “The time it takes as well as the understanding of how social media really works are other obstacles. I see many companies trying to utilise social media for conventional advertising, which does not engage or inform the audience. If a partner makes an adequate investment in social media, it will bring its benefits.”
Not having seen a massive adoption of social media in the regional partner community yet, she attributes it to two reasons. “Adapting and effectively using social media is a full time job and it requires the participation and effort of the whole company rather than just one individual.”
Social media gives channel partners an opportunity to address customers’ issues immediately and build their brand online through active participation. In an age of sharing everything from pictures and moods to experiences, channel partners need to be on their toes to cater to the demanding customer profile.
Alizadeh from ESET says investment is a key challenge for partners in building their presence on a particular social media platform.
“For certain partners, this platform might be Facebook while for another LinkedIn would yield better results. The problem is when partners take an overnight decision to establish a presence on multiple channels simultaneously and then spread themselves too thin across each of these. The danger of doing this, apart from not being able to make a sufficient impact on any single platform, is also that the mismanagement of the account also becomes a possibility. And with social media, a single wrong post can have a disastrously bad impact on the company’s image.”
As is with any other form of marketing, organisations must understand that social media also requires investment.
“An organically grown list of followers is far more useful from a business perspective than a broader set of people who wouldn’t feed the sales pipeline,” she explains.
Punjabi from Alcatel-Lucent points out that these challenges do not vary vastly with the different stakeholders of the channel. When hiring dedicated personnel for social media, channel players should look out for those employees that are comfortable with the social concepts and etiquette, for example, ‘giving to get’. Also listening and engaging in a time efficient fashion are necessary skillsets.
“Employees also need to feel comfortable with the corporate content and messaging if some of their personal sharing will be as brand advocates or thought leaders on work topics. It’s even harder when trying to advocate for another company’s brand,” he says.
Now the important question is can partners gain a monetary value by utilising social media platforms? The short answer to that is yes. However partners must take into account that social media is not a short-term ROI tool.
“People have to first build their reputation by sharing or discussing topics that make them thought-leaders in those fields. Social media will not get you the USD 1 million deal immediately but over a substantial period, it can increase the share of voice on the internet,” adds Punjabi.
“The ultimate point of a long or short term social media campaign is to drive sales and grow revenues. So yes, it must at the end of the day have some correlation to driving monetary value. At ESET, we regularly conduct inventive programmes for our customers. For example, currently we are running a scheme that offers our partners 20 per cent more licenses when they purchase any of our business products. We have been promoting this via social media and are seeing a number of inquiries being generated from this effort,” says Alizadeh.
All in all, investment in social media is a growth opportunity for the channel players. Although the rules of the game are different on these platforms and constantly changes, it is worth the time and efforts to delve into it more seriously.