Some of the world's most successful social business strategies don't revolve around employee collaboration or tracking customer behavior in social crm systems. They are online partner communities.
Many of the technology companies that you know by name host online communities for their partner networks. These private online communities help to strengthen several types of partner relationships, including:
According to a conversation that I recently had with B2B technology research firm, SiriusDecisions, over 50% of their customers' revenue comes through their partner channels. That is a significant chunk of their business that relies on motivated and informed partners.
Many user groups, associations, and other membership organizations rely on partner communities to create lucrative sponsorship packages in their gated online communities. The flexibility and added features of these vendor programs provide more value to both their vendor partners and their members than traditional sponsorship packages.
Though helping customers find more success with your products or services is the most well-known use of online community technology in the enterprise, partner communities have long played an important role in business growth. Sometimes partner communities are included in an organization's online customer community platform. Other times, they stand alone.
Segmentation built into most online community software is designed to handle multiple sub-communities accessing the community at once. For instance, you can have channel partners that sell you product through their sales and marketing channels accessing one area of the community and vendor partners that rely on your company to help drum up business by giving them exposure to your customers in the community as well. Their paths may never cross if your strategy calls for it.
While partner and supplier communities have different audiences, strategies, and content than online customer communities, many of the same community management principles apply. You still need to create value in the community so that partners have a reason to visit. Communities need to be private and exclusive. And you need to have community management processes in place to bring partners back the community consistently.
Partner strategies can be one of your most effective approaches to growing your business. The people in your partner organizations like you, know your products, and have a vested interest in seeing your market share increase. If you manage your partner community correctly and treat them well, partners offer an army of educated and energetic supporters that can reach deep into your market to promote your products and services.
I have seen companies engage partners to impact many different business goals, including:
As with all social business platforms, online partner network communities vary greatly from ecosystem to ecosystem. With online community software having hundreds of features, businesses are able to shape their partner communities around their specific strategies and goals, now and as the community evolves.
However, there are common themes of successful online partner communities. The three major ingredients are below.
Vendors, suppliers, and other companies mainly invest time and resources in a partnership with your organization for one reason—to generate revenue.
Although they may love your people and products, partners cozy up to your company to make money. Your online partner community is like a Swiss Army Knife for making sure that your partners have the tools, techniques, and information they need to successfully bring your product or service to market.
Some of the ideas that I have seen in practice include:
If you partner network is part of your online customer community, you can also provide:
The main business development focus behind managing channel relationships in a private partner social network is to identify what your partners need to sell you solution and provide relevant and insightful information to meet that need on a consistent basis.
Your customers are not the only stakeholders in your ecosystem that need product support. Though it is a different kind of customer service, a thriving partner network might need just as much support as your customer base to be successful.
Along with traditional support ticketing systems, customers have online customer communities to share solutions and get help from their peers. Though it is much less known, partners need a similar level of support. Here are some of the most common channel support features in online partner communities.
Even if those in your channel are fierce competitors, they will often help each other solve product challenges and offer advice on specific market problems—all while building loyalty to your company and products.
Customer Community Tip: Partners are also a great source of support for your customers. By hosting your customer community and your partner community in separate (sometimes overlapping) areas on the same online community software platform, you have the opportunity to enable partners to help customers solve their problems. Both the nature of self-policing online communities and security settings in your social technology permit partners to help support customers without becoming a spammy nuisance.
You partner network can be one your company's most important product management tools. They exist outside the walls of your company and are often closer to the market than your product development team. Partners can not only deliver a vast amount of product input from existing and prospective customers, they have ideas for improving your distribution strategy, messaging, and channel processes.
Tips for using your online community software to get market data and feedback from your partner network include:
It is important not to overlook your partners' understanding of your customers' problems and preferences. While partner relationships often take a backseat to customer engagement strategies, many businesses gain a competitive advantage by looking to partners to be their eyes and ears in the market.
Channels and partner relationships are a major tool for businesses to grow rapidly and control operational costs. In the same way that online customer communities are a big part of the future of customer relationship management, online partner communities are proving to be a critical part of building stronger and sustainable partner networks.
While you will configure your private partner social network to your specific partners and company during the online community software implementation process, you can build from the framework of business development, support, and feedback. This outline is also an excellent aid in communicating your partner strategy to stakeholders.