Part 11 of the Social Business For Real Work series

The Challenge

Many businesses are dependent on sales partners to widen the distribution channels for their products. But keeping these partners up to date with the latest sales intelligence can be hard work, resulting in potential customers being presented with out-of-date material or missed opportunities for the partner. And managing discussions with a network of partners can be time-consuming; some of these partners may be in competition with each other, meaning that discussions need to take place in private, leading to the same information being repeated time and time again.

The Social Business Advantage

Using an enterprise social network to power a partner network enables companies to keep sales and marketing material up to date, keep the partners informed, and create private communities for any confidential discussions. Raising awareness of the importance of partner activities helps align the whole organisation behind supporting the channel. Feedback from partners’ dealings in the market can help inform product direction and sales strategy.

Example

Carol is responsible for managing the Mobile1to1 sales partner network and keeping the sales materials updated. This has been established as a separate social extranet, independent of the company’s own employee social intranet. This enables a balance of sharing some information with the entire network, while still being able to have private discussions in invitation-only communities set up for certain partners.

When Carol updates a product overview presentation, the new version immediately becomes available to all partners.

 

Many of the sales partner organisations operate in different countries or industries, so have no competitive concerns. The partner network allows open discussions between these companies, enabling them to provide feedback to Carol, and to discuss best practices.

However, some discussions are not appropriate for such an open forum. Brad manages the relationship with two sales partners who sells Mobile1to1′s products to UK telco companies. As these two partners compete with each other, discussions around sales strategies need to be kept separate. These take place in a private communities within the partner network.

 

Make It Real

  • Consider the most appropriate social architecture for your partner network. Do the partner companies compete with each other, or will they support each other? Or both? This relationship will dictate the best way to determine how open or closed the network will be. In the example above, a separate partner network was established; in some cases it may be more appropriate to create a series of private, guest communities in the main company social intranet.
  • Establish the network as the definitive “source of truth” for all partners. The effectiveness of the network will be reduced if some partners continue to ask questions and request material outside the network. Changing this behaviour may take time and persuasion, so make sure the partner managers can clearly articulate the benefits of the network.
  • Establish procedures for granting and revoking access to the network. It is easy enough to find out when employees in your own company leave and revoke their access to company networks, but it can be much harder to gain similar information about partner employees.
  • Encourage as many employees as possible to participate in the partner network, rather than channelling all communication between partner managers. One of the key benefits of the partner network should be direct access to the knowledge of the whole company.