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What it takes to sell enterprise social networking software

Channel partners will have to show customers how to integrate enterprise social networking tools into their existing communications applications in order to make a sale.

Channel partners will find a role in selling enterprise social networking software, but they’ll have to show customers how the technology can be integrated into their existing communications tools and how it can make them more efficient.

For partners who can make it work, the market opportunity is projected to be big. Forrester research expects the market for enterprise social apps and related services to reach $6.4 billion by 2016 up from $600 million in 2011.

But simplicity is key. Businesses are already drowning in communication tools, including IM, collaboration, blogs and video conferencing, and employees are  swimming in consumer tools such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest. So it's not likely that customers will want to make  disparate investments in standalone social apps.

Customers will also want to see how these technologies can be weaved into business change management and corporate culture.

About 50 percent of respondents to a Forrester survey have either deployed a social platform or capability, are in the process of a deployment or are planning a deployment within the next 12 months. The other 50 percent are waiting for the market to mature, says Rob Koplowitz, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.

“The real business interest is figuring our how enterprise social works and how it fits into business processes to make companies work more efficiently,” he says.

Leverage existing tools with enterprise social networking tools

Part of showing how enterprise social networking can fit into existing busines processes will be about weaving it into existing technologies. Microsoft Gold Certified partner WinWire Technologies, a solution provier focusing on collaboration and analytics, is doing just that.

“Given the choice, companies want to leverage existing investments,” says Raj Badarinath, vice president strategic clients and marketing at WinWire.

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To do this, WinWire partners with enterprise social networking vendors NewsGator and Jammer, which offer products that integrate with Microsoft SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2007.

For clients with regulatory concerns, the solutions partner integrates with NewsGator for on-premise implementations. Companies not restrained by regulations are more open to cloud solutions such as Jammer, says Badarinath.

For Microsoft partners, SharePoint is a smart way to ease into the enterprise social networking market, but integrated with other software can make it more robust or more social.

NewsGator’s Social Sites, for example, integrates with Microsoft SharePoint, leveraging its social network capabilities while adding features such as communities, spheres, microblogging, questions-and-answers, social profiles, activity streams, and more.

“We chose to leverage the Microsoft stack including SharePoint, Dynamics and Exchange, because companies don’t want separate systems,” says J.B. Holston, president and CEO of NewsGator.

Companies like Yammer work on the same idea, adding features, such as feeds, private messages and notification tabs to SharePoint in order to facilitate team and company-wide conversations.

Budding channel for enterprise social networking tools

Some vendors, such as Cisco, IBM, Microsoft and, are  tapping into their existing channel partners and offering new incentives to expand the social aspect of their offerings. IBM, for example, recently announced it’s launching new channel initiatives around social. Meanwhile third-party enterprise social networking vendors are newly developing their channel strategies as a means to tap into a this burgeoning market.

Moxie Software is one that will announce a channel strategy this year. “It’s definitely a priority for us and we’re beginning to develop partner relationships,” says David Spitzler, vice president of business development at Moxie, who notes that today, Moxie works primarily with its direct salesforce.

Channel partners like WinWire and Slalom Consulting, aren't waiting for specific programs to launch. Instead they're gaining early traction in the enterprise social networking market by integrating products into what they've already sold, such as SharePoint.

Slalom, a national company with 1,500 employees, attributes its success in enterprise social networking to its ability to tie social networking software into its organizational effectiveness practice.

In fact, industry players agree that enterprise social networking ROI, reduced costs and increased productivity, is driven by pervasive adoption, something that doesn’t grow organically.

“Our strength is user adoption and getting people to change their behavior, says Todd Sink, vice president of business development at Slalom. Slalom, Microsoft’s 2011 Partner of the Year, Online Services Solutions, integrates NewsGator’s Social Sites with SharePoint 2010.

“These are not tools that an organization can drop on its employees. This is where a partner can help take the organization along the technology and organizational change path,” says Holston.

What that involves its helping companies identify the business problem they want to solve; defining use cases to solve business problems, selecting the correct tools and technologies, publishing best practices for usage, identifying obstacles to participation and identifying the desired cultural transformation.

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