Tough Times? Time to Partner

When times are tough, as they are now, business-to-business (B2B) companies look for every available option to build their businesses. One of those options is partnering. Watch the news: Unfortunately, you’ll see daily reports of stocks plummeting and layoffs. But you’ll also notice an increased incidence of reports about partnerships and strategic alliances.

When it comes to partnering, B2B companies must employ the Internet with care, because a company’s Web presence can create the ultimate in channel conflict. There have already been reports of manufacturers alienating their distributors, resellers, or retailers by selling directly via the Web. This is the fastest way to fail at partnering.

For the traditional B2B company, channel partners are integral to the success of that company’s entire selling model. In some cases, as with companies distributing products through distributors or master resellers, channel selling could be largely responsible for the company’s profit or loss.

For these companies, the Internet is being used to facilitate communication and interaction between the company and the partner. In fact, for B2B companies, this application of the Internet is even more significant than affiliate marketing programs, which have long been regarded as Internet partnering.

Important to realize is that the Internet itself will not compensate for any partner program that is unstable or poorly run in the first place. However, if your partner program is on solid ground to begin with, then using the Internet can have a major positive impact on the relationship you form with any type of partner.

There are several ways you can combine the traditional principles of partnering with the benefits of Internet marketing:

  • “Web-ize” the partner relationship. Whether you are the company with partners or your are the partner, you can quickly begin to make the Internet an integral part of your business relationship by collaborating on the Web. Encourage partners to either link to your site or pick up entire pages of information from your site and incorporate them into theirs. Provide partners with information from your Web site that you have repackaged for their use, or offer to customize Web content for their sites. Give partners a graphic button or small banner they can use on their sites to link to your site. If you are the originating company, offer partners a place on your site where they can post their information, perhaps in a “partner showcase” section of your Web site. Provide partners with their unique order page to facilitate e-commerce.
  • Link your communications electronically. Encourage email communication between your organization’s employees and your partners’ employees. With major business partners, you may want to agree on using portions of each other’s networks selectively to facilitate communications.
  • Promote your partners in a special area of your Web site. B2B marketers with significant partner relationships may want to promote these relationships on their corporate Web sites. The most common way to do this is by creating a special area on the site. This section typically describes the company’s partner program (so the company can potentially acquire new partners), highlights new partner participants, features news about partners, and provides links to partners’ sites.
  • Establish a partner service extranet. A partner extranet is a Web site that you establish especially for the use of one or more partners. There are two possibilities: You can create a private access area of your company’s Web site just for partners, or you can establish a private extranet that uses a separate URL to “hide it” from public view. In both cases, the primary objective is the same: to provide a site that services your partners. This site can be as simple or as sophisticated as you wish. You can start by using it as a central repository of all partner information: program details, agreements, promotions, and so on.

Ultimately, however, the greatest value of a partner extranet is service. You can use the partner extranet to offer a full range of promotional and marketing services to your partners. By establishing an order, delivery, and monitoring process up front, you will be able to offer partners a complete, one-stop resource for support.

You can also use the extranet to service the partner relationship by transferring paper-based systems to the Internet. For example, consider moving program and product ordering, lead distribution, results tracking, program monitoring, invoicing, receivables, and inventory tracking to the Internet over time. Create a self-service center where partners can resolve their own problems to cut down on telephone and face-to-face support. In other words, use the Internet to conduct business with your partners, not just as a marketing support medium.

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