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Facilitating Channel Community

Excerpt from, It Takes an Individual

By Scott Karren

Channel Ventures has been hired to facilitate a small channel community. Since the group meets face-to-face only a couple times a year, we have been using web forums, teleconferences, and one-on-one phone calls to facilitate interaction. Because the group was hand picked by the vendor and all members have significant common interests, we were surprised at how hard the process was. Some community building principles have come to light through this process over the last few months.

First, the facilitation team must have a member who is obsessed by the topic and issues. The team must have an individual who is not only super smart and experienced, but also endowed with boundless enthusiasm; someone who wakes up at two in the morning with valuable insights that must be communicated. This person can be a customer, an employee, an analyst or even a consultant, but has to have an unstoppable obsession for the group and for the topic.

Second, the communications within the group need to be open and interesting. Conversations cannot be overtly censored or even covertly managed. If members get the sense that they cannot speak openly, they go mute. Although communication should be respectful, the objective is not to restate the party line or reiterate the program benefits. It is simply to explore, refine and document critical issues and their solutions. Because the issues are important, expect (even encourage) disagreement and strong feelings.

It is not unusual for attendees to my workshops to tell me afterward that my workshop was the most captivating and valuable of any that they have attended. Having seen myself on tape, I know that it is only because the topic is interesting and not in my delivery. The thing that makes them interesting is that I talk directly and openly about marketing, marcom and channel instead of hiding behind slogans and programs. I frequently start the workshops by stating that "As an outsider, I will definitely say things that are blasphemous or considered wrong by corporate insiders. When I hear you gasp, I know I am discussing the right issues."

Third, most people what to know that there contributions are significant and that they make a difference. Communities can suffer from two kinds of failures: one is caused by lack of direction and the other is lack of motivation. One is like being lost and the other is like being in a storm. Leadership is the ability to deliver both of these elements at the right times.

Without clear objectives, the individuals that make up a company, channel or community question whether or not they are in the right place. Loss of faith in a channel takes a long time to dissolve a community, but if it gets momentum, it is often fatal. I wanted to write a book in the nineties called 'Microsoft Didn't Kill Novell.' I remember Novell's channel saying they hated Microsoft. But in the absence of any leadership from Novell, almost all of them switched within a couple years. Once they lost faith, they were gone for good.

More sudden, and more violent, are the outbreaks of frustration that are manifest when community members feel disenfranchised or ignored. While they may still believe in the strategy and vision, they stop contributing because they are unrecognized. I had an employee years ago, a young sergeant who after a particularly futile day in the army would quip "If only I could die in vane for my country." While most employers understand the need for providing recognition for contributions, channel managers often take the morale of their channel for granted.

Regardless of whether it is lack of direction or pent up frustration, both are fatal to channel community and loyalty. Worse yet, the apostate often is not satisfied with departure, but looks for revenge. One way or another community members demand to be noticed.

Scott Karren, The Channel Pro

The Channel Marketing Experts
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