In our previous post, we introduced the challenge that is the Partner Engagement gap. Like all marriages, relationships between vendors and partners need work. In our final of five articles, we’re exploring how to continue growing your partnerships, while maintaining healthy relationships with those you have. It’s time to take your partnership program to the next level and go full-on community mode.
In our first article, we discussed what entails a great partner program by focusing on the wants and needs of your partners. Then, we sketched out the three main types of partners for you and how to speak to them.
You recruited. Worked hard to onboard and train your partners, to keep them engaged every step of the way. Implemented all the steps to keep the marriage happy. Some failed. But ultimately, you’ve ended up with 50-100 partners and counting.
Building a partner community
Why build a community?
Forrester principal analyst, Jay McBain, outlines that there are currently 31 partner communities across 50,000 MSPs, globally. Each with their own divisions and sub-divisions. Partners want to be in communities as a way to connect, engage, and exchange knowledge. They’re democratic groups that encourage active participation. Exactly what you’re looking for in your partnerships.
In addition to partner communities, you’ll find communities through associations, distributors, and vendors.
So, should you build your own community?
And if so, how do you go about converting all these separate partnerships into a community?
What does a vendor community look like?
As a vendor, you are in a great position to build a community. Especially if you are working in a niche market segment, already have a large portfolio or a popular brand. Your partners will want to interact with you and with each other. Discuss product launches and releases, upcoming events, training, marketing and sales opportunities, co-marketing, etc.
Traditionally, we have seen a lot of this done through partner portals. However, these are very one-sided and don’t offer any interaction between partners and vendors, and partners among themselves.
Your community should include representatives from your organization, manufacturers, managed and unmanaged partners, distributors, systems integrators, etc.
If you’re a larger vendor, a well-known brand, or an extremely niche provider, chances are, there’s already a community dedicated to you. Be sure to do your research.
However, owning your own community is always favorable. It means you are in control of what gets shared and how. Any updates can be shared through your own community, making you a more reliable source of information.
A little give and take
Identify your influencers
Like a pastor, coach, or neighborhood busybody, it’s important to be active within your community, but if there’s one thing we all lack, it’s time. So you’ll need to find others to help you manage the community
If you look at Facebook and LinkedIn groups, and even places like Reddit, you’ll see that there are often a number of moderators. For your community, that could be the most active users. It allows for more autonomy as you’re focusing on actual use, not sales numbers or leads.
Channel account managers become community managers with personal brands
You’ve probably seen them in your LinkedIn feed lately. More and more vendors are appointing channel community chiefs to help build and nurture their channel communities.
They post knowledge articles, host webinars, offer free invites to events they speak at. They’re often nominated for prizes related to their community management. This is a great tactic to build a personal brand, while strengthening your corporate brand.
Use information shared within communities to your advantage
Once you have identified a number of key figures within your community, make sure to catch up with them regularly. They can help you identify where the needs are coming from. You will be able to get all kinds of information your competitors lack, here are a few examples:
Your partners from EMEA as a whole might be facing a different set of challenges than those in the Nordics specifically. Get insights into individual countries, clusters, and regions as a whole.
What do Entrepreneurs, SMBs, and enterprises have in common? They each have members in your community. Can you find trends in what they are saying? Are there ways to have them help each other?
A complicated product, unclear manuals, feedback from end-users. All of these issues can be discussed within the community, giving you valuable input for your next launch.
Within communities, partners will be able to identify great co-marketing opportunities and make the best use of marketing budgets.
Building your corporate brand
Having an active community is great for brand preference. It will build trust. Giving you the edge next time you’re recruiting.
A more predictable channel
With everyone sharing knowledge and data with each other, you’ll be able to create a more predictable channel
The power of the partner ecosystem
In our second post, we discussed the three different types of partners that you need to consider. In an ideal situation, you will have partners from each of the three categories. They are:
Influence partners promote your products or services and come in the form of ambassadors, referral agents, affiliates, and advocates.
These partners sell and distribute your products and services. They know your portfolio inside out and should be able to find a solution to any end-user need.
Partners that help you retain customers are indispensable to your business and include service providers, installation, maintenance, cross, up, and resell partners.
Within a community, these partners can help each other. Not only by providing answers to questions. They can also help each other find new business. Influencers can recommend customers to transactional partners, who can share new customers with retention partners, who can, in turn, become influencers.
It’s a powerful partner ecosystem.
This is our final of a five-part series on Bridging the Partner Engagement Gap. If you missed any of our previous posts, make sure to browse them:
p.s. Want all the blogs in one handy, downloadable format including a step-by-step checklist?