How social is the channel?

Opinion Nov 08, 2012

Spiceworks’ Caroline Tipton examines the potential of social networks as a sales tool for resellers

Let’s take a trip back in time five years. Remember 2007? It was the end of Tony Blair’s reign and the summer we had Rihanna’s Umbrella stuck in our head; the year we said goodbye to Harry Potter in the Deathly Hallows, and the announcement of the world’s first iPhone.

For many, it was also the year we started using Facebook. All of a sudden we were catching up with old friends and foes, sharing photos, and watching our world became just a little bit smaller, and a lot more connected.

Over the years, brands have been actively investing in social strategies as they work to engage directly with potential buyers. Companies leading the way, such as trend-setters Coca-Cola and Red Bull, were quickly followed as nearly every brand targeting consumers moved to the digital world to actively engage with Joe and Jane Bloggs on Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +, Twitter and the like.

But what value can social networks and professional communities provide to the technology channel – or even B2B vendors? Are communities the right place for the channel organisations to engage with their customers? And, most importantly, how can engagement impact the bottom line?

From IT pros to electricians

There have been major developments within the social landscape, especially within B2B communities. Channel organisations have always faced the challenge of marketing their products and services, but new B2B networks have emerged that are changing the way people do their jobs and how they interact with peers and suppliers. These communities offer professionals a platform to communicate with colleagues and other industry experts to stay on top of rapidly-changing trends and new developments.

These niche platforms also provide a perfect environment for channel organisations to gain unprecedented insight and opportunities to troubleshoot, market, upsell and inform specialised target audiences.

One example is Spiceworks, a community that connects more than two million IT professionals with the technology vendors and channel organisations they buy from. With more than 200,000 channel partners present, the Spiceworks community spends nearly $400bn on technology products and services each year. They communicate openly with each other about issues they’re experiencing, best practices and their day-to-day responsibilities and interact with potential customers through community forums and personalised pages that are designed to help them market, sell and support solutions directly to customers.

Another example is Element 14, a design engineering community based in Leeds. Similar to Spiceworks, the community is comprised of both customers and suppliers, with a global user base of 50,000 engineers and vendors. Within the community, engineers can share industry knowledge, take part in webinars and connect with one other. Once a week, Element 14 hosts the ‘Ben Heck Show’, a webisode that displays the latest innovative engineering products available for purchase through Element14. This provides a cool way for businesses’ products to be advertised to this niche community.

In both of these cases, channel partners have a unique way to gain insight into the target professionals’ needs, understand the market for and experiment with new offerings, and address problems community members are having with their products or services.

Engaged marketing

Beyond just selling to targeted professionals, resellers active on these B2B networks have a unique opportunity to show their true colours as well. Through actual conversations, the relationships developed are beyond just a mailshot and advertisement. They are human and real, able to challenge assumptions and take conversations to a deeper level. For channel partners this is key to building trust and loyalty. It provides opportunities to sell entire solutions that may require components from several different brands.

Socialising in style

As technology advances and profession-based communities become a standard part of our daily lives, these meeting places offer channel organisations an opportunity to engage directly with receptive ears and eyes. Vendors and resellers not engaging in these communities are missing the party, because when executed with style, finesse and pizazz, engagement can drive sales.

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