Dell Launches Social Media Training for B2B Channel Partners


Dell recently launched a social media training program for its B2B channel partners “to help our partners fully leverage social media tools to improve the lines of communication while elevating their own marketing efforts.” The first live session will be May 8 and will cover the following topics:

  • What is social media and how does it affect the channel
  • How Dell is using social media and lessons we’ve learned
  • How can partners can connect with Dell through social

I had the chance to ask Laura P. Thomas, of Dell Global Channel Public Relations, some questions about the program.

How did Dell decide to provide social media training for its partners?
We get feedback from our partners through a variety of channels, from town hall meetings to Twitter, and they told us it was something they wanted. With a platform of our own employee training, and several years of first-hand experience to build on, we were happy to oblige.

We know that smarter customers make better customers, but do more social customers make better customers?
We’ve certainly found that engaged partners make better partners, so those who take advantage of social media as an additional way to get involved with us are certainly on the right path to success. In fact, our partners who engage with us the most, grow their own business the most. Our partners who take training and become certified consistently grow their businesses faster than those partners who are not certified – in some cases, by more than 30 percent. So, we do our best to ensure our programs meet their needs and we have kept everything easy and simple for them to work with us.

Do you think other companies will follow suit? And how is this different than what IBM offered in 2010 and again earlier this year?
Other companies have offered similar training and probably will follow suit, as well. Dell channel partners aren’t the only ones grappling with how to integrate social media into their business strategies, but they are the ones who can learn directly from us – at no cost – knowledge gained through our years of experience on the front lines of new media.

Will there be live or in-person training sessions?
We will offer periodic live online trainings throughout the year that are available to our partners worldwide – currently in English, but additional languages are on the roadmap. And, we are also planning a special in-person training session at Dell’s upcoming Storage Forum 2012 in Boston, as part of a full channel program track. If the demand is there, we’ll continue to look for more opportunities to share this with our partners.

Has Dell considered a higher level certification program for partners, similar to the one for Dell employees?
Yes, that possibility has definitely come up. At the moment, our channel certification programs are focused on technology areas such as networking, cloud services & solutions, and storage. So, we will start with this introduction to social media and then make a decision regarding expansion or certification based on partner feedback.

How does Dell justify the cost for developing and providing this training across multiple industries?
We delivered more than 130,000 free training sessions to our partners last year and plan to increase that to more than 200,000 this year. We make the investment to develop and deliver these because we’ve seen our partners’ businesses grow when they invest in training, and that in return grows our business. So we don’t look at it as cost, rather as an investment in the partnership for mutual success. The more we can do to make it easy for our partners to work with us, the better it is for both of us.

What does success look like for this program?
Success initially will be measured by an increase in partner participation in social media that, in time, strengthens their relationship with their customers and with us – ultimately resulting in a stronger Dell Channel community, improved business processes and revenue growth.

Drive B2B Channel Sales With Social Media Content

Social media works best for B2B companies when people connect directly around topics they are passionate about. Connections work even better when no one in the group is pushing a particular agenda. This allows the focus of the communications to be around joint learning, which draws crowds, versus thinly disguised sales pitches, which drives everyone toward the metaphorical door.

There is no group better to foster these learning discussions than a company’s channel partners, especially for those companies lucky enough to have built out strong channel partner programs. Channel partners know the niche and know the clients. They also have an independence that provides both authority and authenticity. These partners looked at all the solutions they could sell, and with their reputation on the line, chose to include your offering. When they enter a discussion, and a prospect checks out the channel partner’s background, the fact that they didn’t create a particular product makes it easier for them to be established as providers of valued advice.

While this is still a relatively new idea, some of the most innovative channel marketing managers are starting to support these efforts. For example, Lisa Caratozzolo at VMware has put together a visionary offering to support channel partner’s social media efforts, being launched February 14, 2012 at the VMware Partner Exchange show in Las Vegas (disclosure: VMware is a client). When describing why she put together this program, she said, “VMware sees a huge opportunity to help mobilize their channel partners on social networks. After all, our partners know better than anyone the substantial savings end-users get from leveraging VMware’s offerings, so the more they are out talking about the success they’ve had and answering people’s questions, the better it is for everyone.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t some challenges to getting channel partners involved in social media. As anyone who’s been following this blog knows, the key to engagement is to provide value to a community, and that usually starts with quality content. The challenge here is how to have the budget available to produce something of quality. Most channel partners don’t have the resources to produce videos, white papers and articles that will draw in and retain the audiences around a particular topic. This is where a supplier like VMware can make a huge difference.

Part of VMware’s social media program is to provide content to their channel partners on an ongoing basis. Partners provide filters and appropriate content is automatically pushed out to their social networks, as if they had written it themselves. This allows larger B2B companies with the resources to produce engaging content and for their channel partners to share it and follow up on the discussions that ensue.

The key is to know the channel partner community and build the infrastructure so they can establish themselves as topic experts in the relevant social networks. Your channel partners are part of your core team of social participants and you need provide them with the tools they need to succeed.

Is your B2B company providing your channel partners with social media content to support engaging with their prospects?