One of the most underrated and overlooked groups found on the fringes of the Partner Ecosystem is that segment collectively recognized as “referral” partners.  Agents, affiliates, consultants/developers and those who deliver complementary products or services in your industry are all good examples.

    To clarify, they usually do not have a reseller relationship and their rewards for participation come from commissions or fees paid on closed sales.  They enjoy greater recognition through affiliation, access to SDK and/or NFR and now.. open participation in a lead rich community.

    Today I plan to show you why these nuggets of pure gold should play a greater role in your diversified partner portfolio and share some tips with you on best ways to find and manage them.  I should also point out that while this methodology works in hardware centric channels; because of the expertise and services laden opportunities, it’s far more effective in the software and services industry.

    How they add value to your channel:

    1. Trusted advisory position – Often asked to evaluate options and recommend products to their customers.  Decision makers.
    2. Low demand on sales and marketing resources – Independent lead generators and easier to manage.
    3. Self serving motivation – Driven by services opportunities resulting from implementation, training, integration and support of your product.
    4. Fast and easy on-boarding – Just need to know how to spot opportunities and initiate sales process with vendor assistance.
    5. Broad and deep industry reach.
    6. Margin based discounts do not exist – No VAR discounts for greater profitability
    7. Can align with Direct Sales Force or Partners to add unique skill set and niche or compliancy expertise.
    8. Open doors and penetrate targeted strategic markets.
    9. Expansion of product presence with SDK integration and OEM consideration.

    These types of partners tend to be more gregarious and less suspicious of one another than highly competitive VARs.  They generally flock to larger groups or associations where they can share their expertise and meet with other knowledge experts.  Find them at their watering-hole.

    For example, a recent successful effort involved establishing an Expert Advisory Council and placing an ad on another well known industry expert’s blog page seeking council members to participate in our open community of customers, vendor support staff, partners, 3rd party vendors, advisory council experts and prospects.  Dozens of qualified experts entered our community weekly and quickly joined in on discussions and product Q&A while completing the minimal on-boarding requirements to receive $1,000’s in NFR software and gain access to our project/jobs posting forums where our customers could seek and acquire project specific expertise from our qualified and approved partners.  In the future there are plans to add a rating system similar to eBay reviews along with expanded Bios and an online store for SDK developed products and phone apps.

    Access to our partner portal gave them a place to complete the required opportunity registration forms (the only way to cash in on their referrals) and download marketing material.

    This level of vendor/partner/customer interaction was unachievable before social media, and other collaboration software; and frankly, much effort was made to keep our partners and customers separated for fear of account poaching or unfavorable comments.

    Social Media provides us with a venue for reaching and managing 100s of referral partners in real-time and interactive ways that a monthly newsletter or mass emails could never achieve.

    Think of the last time that you made dozens of prospecting calls a day to finally speak with one VAR.  Weeks of demos and discussions to sign that VAR.  Months to train and on-board that VAR.  Hours of meetings to complete a business plan and marketing initiative.  Repeated calls to the VAR to check status of efforts and then close their first deal at 20-30% discount.

    What are your 2012 plans for partner recruiting and management?  How does your social media strategy help you grow and manage your partner community?

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