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Social media and the channel marketing Fear Factor

Around half of resellers swerve Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn Campaigns

Are your favourite vendors helping you to market successfully? We just published a report for our clients where we highlight best practices in marketing enablement, based on a series of interviews with 10 channel partner marketing executives.

The majority of these were companies with over $10bn in revenues - so they could afford their investments - but if you’re a channel partner wondering about the effectiveness of your partnerships, you should consider a few points in your vendor scoring. Firstly, are they doing this for you? If not, consider switching to a vendor that does - because the product alone will no longer make you successful.

As a summary, we found that events, incentives, and online advertising are the three most popular forms of co-marketing activities employed by partners today.

The contemporary marketing mix is expanding, with the adoption of emerging technologies (ie, social media, webinars, video, online events). Innovative vendors are incentivising partners to blog, tweet, produce video, and participate in communities to evangelise the vendor’s brand. Marketing certification — similar to sales or technical training certification — is becoming a key differentiator for vendor marketing-enablement programmes.

Co-marketing best practices were:

  • Encouraging partners to incorporate webinars into marketing campaigns. This can increase partner campaign response rates by 17 per cent to 20 per cent, one of the vendors claimed.
  • Video is a key new marketing medium. “Video is the new white paper.” Animated videos are also a big hit.
  • Online events also resonate well with end users. But partners need help with this; some vendors are providing network coaching (ie, assign them an event engineer).
  • Partner-featured video case studies work well. Successful vendors now include partners (and customers) in as many case studies as possible, aligned with corresponding video on YouTube.
  • Vendors who provide a “virtual marketing director” for partners, as a self-service or as a custom offering.
  • Deploying vendor-sponsored location-based search advertisements to promote local channel partners (eg, Sam in Wisconsin searches “networking equipment”, Cisco displays an ad for its “top Wisconsin VAR”)

Vendors are quickly focusing on what works from the partner point of view with fewer and fewer “one-size-fits-all” campaigns. Some vendors even claim that they tailor a marketing plan for each individually targeted partner.

They also reported that they were diligent about only investing in partners that evidently invested in them (identified through certification training seats, MDF utilisation, and quarterly business reviews). Some also commit to a 90-day partner on-boarding incubation period, handholding new partners with a personalised 90-day fast track to provide best practices, programme support, and tools.

Social Media is increasingly important for marketing. This is especially true for social media marketing, where many partners are afraid to get started and require a lot of support. Forrester estimates that just 55 per cent to 65 per cent of channel partners are already involved in social media. Some vendors now train and even incentivise (Canadian vendor Asigra has social media activities in its incentive metrics) partners to blog, tweet, produce video, and participate in relevant customer communities. Some also even incorporate partners into their social listening ecosystems and provide reports based on partner brands.

At Forrester, we know that this is important. In fact, our technology buyer research shows that customers value the input and participation of channel partners in online communities and discussion forums more highly than that of tech vendors directly. A good test of the vendor is to see if they practice what they preach — if they want you to conduct live Twitter feeds, etc, during their events, do they do the same during their partner conferences? Other social media highlights include:

  • LinkedIn training — nearly all partners want training on how to launch a LinkedIn campaign.
  • Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are the cornerstones of most channel partner social media strategies.
  • 56 per cent of the channel partners doing social media are working with social media or marketing agencies.
  • 96 per cent of all companies report that they are growing their spend on social media over the next 12 months, with key priorities including
- hiring full-time social media employees;
- investing in services provided by partners; and
- creating more marketing content to be deployed in social media.

It's worth asking these questions of your vendors - they are key indicators of a commitment to a marketing strategy that will include you, the channel partner.

  • Do you have a customer life-cycle relationship certification and/or a marketing certification process?
  • What are your channel investment plans?
  • Can you help us to improve our marketing skills and resources and how would you do that?

What do you think? Are there other shining examples of vendor channel marketing strategies we should know about? Please let me know. As always, I’d love to hear from you on this and other topics. ®

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