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The days of first class travel and five-star hotels are over. So how do you connect with potential partners and "make the sale" when you've only got a few dollars to spend?

Through the power of the Internet, you can connect with potential customers and partners, check in on relevant industry news and share your thoughts, all from the comfort of your office. Online B2B social networking is a great first step. And given all the tools available and the multitude of different platforms, there is bound to be a way to connect to your demographic.

Traditional partner portals have become static and stale. There's also the problem that with the information explosion, it becomes harder to get your message to stand out above the noise and to get the attention of the partners you are trying to reach.

In addition, the cost of enabling partners is very difficult to scale, meaning as you try to increase the number of partners, you need more partner account managers and more marketing budget. Within most enterprises it's an "80/20" rule, where 80% of the resources and attention are put towards the top 20% producing partners. The problem is that the remaining 80% of the partners still represents a significant source of potential revenue. But with the advent of online communities and social networking, there is now a transformative technology that enables the reach of this "long tail of the channel" in a cost-effective fashion.

Let's take a look at some recent B2B social networking trends in the industry. Many companies are experimenting with Facebook fan pages, LinkedIn groups and Twitter, social networking sites where individuals can chat and share ideas. For most companies, the ROI is often not clear and efforts are ad hoc. There's also a general lack of integrating a social networking strategy into a community that drives business for your company.

Instead of simply posting content on social media sites, business managers need to look to purpose-built online communities to engage business partners and drive sales. Leverage ones that are focused on B2B communities around business partners, and contain the right processes and tools to enable and collaborate with partners to drive business.

But simply having a B2B partner community does not ensure success. Creating a successful online community requires the same discipline and approach as does any other business endeavor.


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