Social market engagement and the Canadian channel

Working as an IT industry analyst/consultant has some real benefits. I have regular access to unique, research-based insights spanning many technology segments and geographic regions, and regular opportunities to discuss new developments and their implications with the corporate IT leaders, channel executives, vendor sales and marketing managers and other subject matter experts who are tasked with bringing these new offerings to market. It’s always seemed a little odd to talk about any technology as “sexy,” but when speaking with evangelists about new offerings and the options they unlock, it can be easy to get swept away by what’s happening on the leading edge.

The downside to this perspective, though, is that the reality of today’s environment can get lost in the buzz around tomorrow’s hot new market. If one’s diet consists primarily of views of the future, it can be difficult to retain an appreciation of the present. I see this often in my work on cloud: a single number, along the lines of “business-grade cloud systems other than email are used by 40%-50% of SMBs” can draw ire from two directions: from experts immersed in the technology who insist that the number is too low, and by SMB IT managers (and the sales staff trying to promote cloud solutions to them) who struggle to find evidence of that many of their peers operating in environments where cloud and on-premise technologies are integrated into a harmonious, ‘future-proof’ infrastructure.

When I’m engaged in discussions of the potential associated with new technology, I often like to draw an x/y diagram featuring three lines. For the first – “the ability of technology to effect change” – the line begins at an arbitrary starting point above the midpoint of the Y axis, and climbs steadily up to the top right corner of the graph. The second line, “the ability of people to absorb change,” starts lower on the Y axis and climbs more gradually across the graph. The third line (dotted in the figure below) is labelled “the actual pace of technology-enabled change,” and is drawn directly parallel to the “ability of people to accept change” line in the middle of the graph. The net result represents the technology evangelist’s dilemma: while it’s necessary to offer a better mousetrap, and reasons why using a better mousetrap yields business benefits, compelling technology and business cases generally don’t create opportunity at the pace that their proponents believe they should; the reality of lagging adoption means that most ‘revolutionary’ ideas appear ‘incrementally’ in practice.

TechEvanglistsDilemma

A recent research project illustrated the way in which this diagram applies to real-world activities. While I was writing The Death of Core Competency, I undertook a brief side project looking at how the leaders in the Canadian IT channel use Twitter as a means to effect social interaction with their customers and prospects.

The motivation for the research was a theory that today’s customers self-educate to a large extent before initiating a discussion with a prospective supplier. There is a great deal of evidence to support the idea that this is the case: I generally quote a Forrester blog post stating that “today’s buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90% of the way through their journey before they reach out to the vendor,” but other informed sources, such as Sirius Decisions, quote similar figures. The Forrester post adds I’ve linked to adds, “this buyer dynamic changes the role of B2B marketing in a fundamental way. Marketing now owns a much bigger piece of the lead-to-revenue cycle. And B2B marketers must take responsibility for engaging with the customer through most of the buying cycle” – and this view, too, is widely held within the IT industry.

Generally, and especially in solution markets (where the buyer needs a complex system incorporating a configured set of technologies – as opposed to ‘product markets’ where the buyer is only interested in acquiring one or more easy-to-deploy widgets) discussion of these points leads to two concrete action requirements. The first is content marketing: IT suppliers need to educate buyers and position their offerings so that buyers don’t exclude them from their independently-created solution definitions. The second requirement is for social marketing: if buyers are looking to the web for ideas, proof-points and validation, sellers need to find ways to connect into the online debate. Most major IT hardware and software vendors focus a great deal of energy on developing content that can be used in the first part of this equation. The question InsightaaS was trying to answer was, how effective is the Canadian channel in addressing the second aspect?

To answer this question, we did some online research on the top 100 Canadian resellers (as ranked by CDN). We began by looking up the Twitter accounts of the top 50 companies. We captured the date that they joined Twitter, the number of accounts that they follow and that are following them, and the number of tweets that they have sent out. From these figures, we were able to establish some core data points:

  • Social longevity – is the firm a newcomer to social, or did it establish its presence when social was still an emerging marketing option? More than half of the top 50 firms have been on Twitter since at least 2010. Another 28% joined Twitter in 2011 or 2012. Nearly 15% either listed no dae or had no account.
  • Reach – how many followers does the channel firm have? From this perspective, Compugen is a star: it has more than 23,000 followers, and no other Canadian channel Twitter account has as many as 10,000; over 60% of these accounts have fewer than 500 followers.
  • Interaction – there’s no foolproof method of quantifying interaction, but we considered the ratio of follows to followers as a good means of evaluating the extent to which the firms we studied have an interactive approach to Twitter. Firms were divided into five groups: very outwardly-focused (follow/follower ratio in excess of 150%), outwardly focused (125%-150%), balanced (roughly the same number of followers to follows – a ratio of 75%-125%), somewhat inwardly or ‘broadcast’ focused (a ratio of 50%-75%), and very broadcast-oriented (ratio below 50%). By this measure, just over 20% of the top 50 Canadian channel members are very or somewhat outwardly-focused, and another 25% are balanced; one-third are “very broadcast-oriented.”
  • Tweets and tweet frequency – Twitter lists the number of tweets that have been issued from each account. In cases where the start date for the account was also listed, it was possible to get a sense as to how regularly each top 50 channel firm posted new content for its followers. Eight of the top 50 companies could not be evaluated on this measure, because they lacked a posted start date and/or because they had not tweeted. Of the remaining 42 firms, 31% tweet once a day, and another 19% tweet at least once every other day; 17% tweet once or twice a week, and one-third tweet more sporadically than that.

Of course, tweet frequency isn’t the only measure of a Twitter account’s output; content quality matters as well. Using a manual (and slow!) approach, I reviewed 20 recent tweets from each of the top 10 Canadian channel members, assigning them to one of five categories: poor, fair, good, very good/excellent, or self-promotional. A scale using a weighted measure across these categories found that Metafore and Long View rated highest for content quality; both provide real value to followers. Compugen and Softchoice provided a mix of “good” and self-promotional content, and Hypertec and OnX issue mainly self-promotional tweets. The other top 10 firms either offer weak content or no Canadian content at all.

So – what was the bottom line? At the end of the exercise, I assigned each of the top 50 firms a letter grade ranging from A (excellent) to F (poor or non-existent). Five of the top 50 received an A or A-, seven others received a B+/B/B-, and twelve got an “average” rating of C+/C/C-. Another eight firms were rated as ‘barely passing’ with a D+/D/D-. Those of you keeping count as you read will know that there is one other category: 18 firms, or more than one-third of the top 50 channel members in Canada, were given an F for their Canadian Twitter presence. The bottom line as reflected in this research, then, is this: while social may be important to the evolving Canadian solutions market, most Canadian solutions providers have a long way to go before they are able to use social as a means of engaging with insight-hungry customers and prospects.

The spreadsheet-format Canadian Channel Social Scorecard, 2015 is available from InsightaaS for $199 plus HST. Please email us at sales@insightaas.com if you’d like to acquire a copy.

 

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