Communities: Innovation vs. The Reinvention of The Wheel

I’ve had several conversations over the last few months with larger organisations looking to capitalise on various networks and communities in our Channel. What always interests me about them and particular individuals is their need to ‘create’ a community without fully understanding what they are trying to achieve or indeed whether they would be more effective trying to help improve one that already exists.

Communities in any walk of life tend to occur when there is a problem or situation that people share a connection with and feel compelled to solve or improve. Take for example when you have a boat load of one-man-band IT providers who are typically too busy* to stick their heads over the parapet but use one day a month to compare notes with their peers and basically feel more connected with the outside world. It’s not going to appeal to everyone and isn’t going to set the world alight, but a pizza and a few beers to chat over is all these guys need – not a thinly veiled ‘community’ that is essentially a convenient way to showcase product.

In the main, the communities we see cropping up in our Channel are created by larger organisations who want to capture their target market’s attention in a way that allows them to grow. Whether it’s to aid new sales, extract useful anecdotal feedback, or to promote new products and services, the larger organisations don’t necessarily think, or feel compelled, to understand why it is ‘partners’ join and indeed fall away.

So if you are a large vendor or organisation facilitating our Channel, unless you have a solid understanding of the business goals of the ecosystem you’re trying to create, you are destined to join the annex of communities gone by and find yourself at square one again.

It is so important to learn from previous communities of old to understand what works and more importantly, what doesn’t. Whatever you plan, you have to be doing something remarkable and consistent every time and not just when those initiating the programme are in the job.

Just look at the Microsoft Partner Programmes and in particular the Small Business Specialist Programme – since 2006, countless numbers of MS employees have been responsible for its growth and all have moved on without leaving any form of legacy. Instead, it’s left to the familiar few to keep the pilot light on until someone in a more senior position realises that to increase sales they need to revisit the great unwashed who patiently sit their wondering when they get a return on their investment.

There are at least 55 Partner Programmes that we know of and all try and offer practically the same audience the same message with the underlying goal of their ‘partners’ selling more of their stuff.

What would make a great Partner Programme or Community would be for one of their creators to realise that their Partners don’t always think about them. In fact, I’m sure most are only considered when it comes to the latter part of their sales process. If anyone thinks about the bigger picture, it would be an exciting opportunity to attract new and larger partners by appeasing some of the other challenges they face such as cashflow, new business development, and people (employees, and customers for example).

StorageCraft were clever enough to have a workshop that featured a legal advisor, others, such as Computer 2000’s TechSelect Partner Programme will be bringing along a motivational speaker later this month. But whatever it is that features, must be relevant to not just the same old faces, but to their bosses, and to those larger companies who can then justify a day/half day or more out of the office.

Until something changes, the bigger guys won’t come out of the woodwork and they will fail to see the point of attending multiple communities and events to receive multiple messages. Joining up the dots as a larger organisation will make you more like MSPs and VARs than ever before… you effectively become their one stop shop.

But don’t go thinking that by doing it yourself you’ll be any different because chances are high that you won’t. Just look at the 10 year+ trail that lays behind you and realise that you are going to have to think more like your partners than you have ever before. Organisations looking to create a community tend to overlook the obvious and that is that they’ve already created one quite naturally because they have a customer base that is united by a common cause – them.

Communities will create themselves quite naturally and because they want to resolve a problem or improve a situation. They will not function effectively or in the long-term if the only reason they start is to solve yours.

For our Channel to grow, we need Communities that become the backbone to the development of ideas, knowledge exchange, and the bottom line of mutual business growth. Real relationships need to be created and nutured and agendas need to be relevant to the majority to keep momentum driving for the long-term.

And the only way to do that is for us to rework what already exists, much of which will already have budgetary sign off from the powers that be and to help turn them into what we all hoped they would be in the first place – a Community.

*this is not necessarily the same as being ‘productive’.


One thought on “Communities: Innovation vs. The Reinvention of The Wheel

  1. Susanne – great points, and I especially agree with the statement that “Communities will create themselves quite naturally”.

    The best communities I’ve observed and participated in are one’s where that community has grown organically, perhaps around a certain product or vendor, and then been supported (but not co-opted) in it’s growth by a sponsor.

    The reality is that most vendors don’t have the patience to support a community in this way though, and instead think short-term. There are exceptions though, and they are worth seeking out!

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