Despite the popularity of social media at the street level, many channel organizations have been holding back. Slowed by a potent mixture of financial, organizational, cultural, and intellectual impediments, some partnering professionals have not been willing or able to present a compelling case for social media investment. Instead, they have been hunkering down and hoping that they can be successful by working harder with familiar programs and tools.
There are exceptions. Social Media for resellers is now all the rage at some companies who have been smart enough to envision the potential of thousands of channel partners Twittering away about their products. They are not hunkering down. Quite the opposite. These corporations have incorporated channel partners into their social media plans and are moving ahead with social media training and program support.
There are reasons for these initiatives, of course. Good reasons. From our research, Gilwell has found there are three important social media benefits that channel managers are beginning to understand and quantify.
#1: End-users are already using social media to get information about products. Depending on which study you read, 60-90 % of customers begin their purchase process online by gathering information and looking for current customer comments. Increasingly aware of this pre-sales activity, channel managers want to make sure their products are well-represented.
#2: Communication between vendors, resellers and customers is noticeably improved using social media. Messages, attachments, and links are sent and received more quickly (usually getting through all those pesky corporate firewalls) from smart phones, netbooks, and other devices. And using social media drives down the cost of communications, sometimes by as much as 80%. It’s just cheaper to post a video on YouTube and send out a link than to maintain/expand a usable partner portal or distribute (and redistribute) a bunch of PDFs.
#3: Social Media is extremely effective at building and maintaining more intimate relationships. A reseller can maintain weekly contact with 50 customers in just a few hours by connecting with them at their online spaces. This replaces the 50 phone calls and scores of emails flying off into the ether. Most important, social media is personal in a way that good salespeople and their customers appreciate.
With social media, the issue of customer intimacy comes up a lot both in positive and negative terms. Some channel managers worry about exposing too much of themselves to their resellers and customers, thinking that there should be a line drawn between their personal and professional lives. They view social media as potentially intrusive and sometimes describe social media as a waste of time.
Others view the sharing of personal information as an important step in building productive long-term relationships. For them social media is a natural extension of the restaurants, bars, gold courses, and sporting events where they have long spent time with customers. These channel managers think that the time they spend on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and other sites is an investment in future success.
In the end, customers will make the decision about how they want to interact with resellers and vendors. If they decide it is through social media (and there is a lot of evidence that this is happening) then the organizations and channel managers that are already engaged will have a big advantage.