“Cool Vendor” Takes B2B Social Media Mobile

Two years since its inception, ChannelEyes is ramping up its mobile platform, enabling channel partners to access vendor and distributor sales tools, deal registration, resources, and even sales tickets. By Alex Anderson

When ChannelEyes.com first launched in 2011 it looked like a channel-oriented social network, and it was often introduced as “Facebook for the channel.” But the vision of its creators was for it to be more than that. Today that vision is coming to fruition with the addition of a dynamic mobile offering - and the industry is taking notice. In April ChannelEyes was dubbed a “Cool Vendor” by research analyst firm Gartner Inc. for the way it is changing the nature of conversation in the channel.

“This puts us in some really good company,” says Jay McBain, one of ChannelEyes' four founders. Past companies that have earned Gartner's “Cool Vendor” moniker include Instagram, Flipboard, and DropBox.

The team that founded ChannelEyes - Autotask founder Bob Godgart, his sister Shari, Dave Geoghegan, and McBain - recognized a communications weakness inherent in the channel, or as McBain says, “a lack of communications.”

To stay up to date on what was happening with all their vendors, MSPs had to keep abreast of dozens of partner portals, read corporate newsletters, and attend vendor-run events. But that just doesn't actually happen. According to ChannelEyes, only one person at a given MSP will attend a partner conference, and other communications opportunities fair even worse. Information is passed on very rarely, leaving a huge gap between the vendor and the user, and that hurts sales throughout the channel.

STREAMLINING COMMUNICATIONS
ChannelEyes streamlines the communications process by providing a secure, focused forum where MSPs can get everything they need from all their vendors. This is where the idea of Facebook for the channel comes in. Built as a social network, ChannelEyes features a role-based, filtered set of relevant vendor feeds on the member's wall.

Now the ChannelEyes team is taking that innovation mobile and has launched a second platform called ChannelCandy that delivers the features and access offered by the ChannelEyes site to the user's smartphone or tablet.

“We had roughly 500 vendors we were working with [on ChannelEyes.com],” says McBain. “They were telling us that very few of their MSP partners were going to their portal. We had research that showed that number was 5 percent.” It was also more challenging for partners to read newsletters and attend webinars, he notes, but “more and more people have a smartphone or tablet.”

ChannelCandy uses those devices to push relevant apps and data to the channel, including sales tools, education, and resources. ChannelCandy is built on five pillars that deliver critical elements of its overall value proposition to subscribers: security, segmentation, communication, engagement, and enablement.

The first two pillars are fairly straightforward - the social media experience is personalized for each partner and is not going to expose the partner company's back-end, to which ChannelCandy needs access to provide mobile access to important data such as client information in Salesforce.

The third pillar, communication, poses a new set of challenges when moving to the mobile platform. “In mobile you want to deliver things in bite-sized chunks,” says McBain. “You can't pile on hundreds of white papers. You want to be able to access information with just a couple of taps on the phone.”

That easy access was applied to PowerPoint presentations, which are very difficult to view on a mobile device. “So we've created something called a Card Carousel that allows files to be formatted for the size of the screen, so you can tap the screen to flip over the card,” explains McBain.

DRIVING CONVERSATION
If it is to truly be a social media platform for the channel, though, ChannelEyes must drive conversations. And to enable those conversations, the platform must provide the ability for channel players to engage the greater channel community through secure groups, messaging, private messaging, and live chat.

Of the final two pillars on which ChannelCandy is built, engagement and enablement, McBain says enablement is the “real secret sauce” behind both ChannelCandy and ChannelEyes.

“[We are] providing the ability for vendors, distributors, and associations to share tools they have to drive sales, education, or service,” says McBain. “Examples are things like deal registration, calculators, configurators, and even service tickets. This also integrates directly with their back end - things like SalesForce.com, Netsuite, or whatever they have already built.”

So far ChanneEyes has signed up dozens of channel organizations, including Cisco, Verizon, HP, Axcient, Storagecraft, Ciena, CompTIA, and the Managed Print Services Association. ChannelCandy is also off to a good start with its app store, and is now approaching 50 apps, from what McBain describes as a “good mix of vendors and associations.”

Plans for the next four to six months include getting 100 customers in the market internationally and building upon its platform.

“Our customers are doing a lot of neat things around the channel. We're kind of [at] that stage in mobile now, where everyone is carrying these cool [technologies] in their hands,” says McBain, noting that we are barely scratching the surface of what these devices can do. “It's more than just phones.”

And from the sound of things, the team at ChannelEyes plans to be at the forefront of leveraging whatever new capabilities become available.