Familiar faces look to get (business) social with ChannelEyes

Godgart and McBain

ChannelEyes' Godgart (left) and McBain (right)

With high-profile leadership and a big splash in the social media space, ChannelEyes is looking to establish itself as the social networking site for the channel community.

The brainchild of former Autotask chief executive and later chairman Bob Godgart, ChannelEyes’ goal is to provide an outlet for the information and resources developed for partners by vendors – content that Godgart asserts is only ever accessed by a small minority of any given company’s solution providers.

“After ten years in the channel, helping reseller automate their business processes at Autotask, now it’s time to focus on the other side of the channel lifecycle, the vendor and solution provider communications side,” Godgart said. “The giant problem we see is that vendors create wonderful information and resources and stick it in their portal, and nobody goes there.”

Here are some thoughts and analysis on what’s behind those ChannelEyes.

Godgart and his team use the Facebook analogy themselves. Like Facebook, the site will allow users to stay connected with topics that interest them, which will be essentially “feeds” of information streaming to them from vendors, distributors, industry associations – basically anyone who wants to connect with solution providers.

And like Facebook, the hope is that ChannelEyes will thrive based on the social interactions of its members. Aren’t you more likely to check out a new program or promotion that’s already been given the “thumbs up” by a respected peer? The ChannelEyes crew bets that you are.

Also like Facebook, making connections will be a two-way street – you can’t just “follow” a vendor’s feed(s) without being approved to do so, creating a level of privacy and security that should encourage vendors to share more of their information than they can in social circles where information is accessible to the public, and worse still, competitors.

But that sense of security and privacy runs deep in the message too, setting it apart from Facebook, which can most charitably called a nightmare on both fronts. In many ways, the site seeks to marry the social interaction of Facebook with the business-to-business interaction of LinkedIn.

The site has a familiar Canadian face behind it as well; with veteran channel executive Jay McBain serving as an advisor to the site. The challenges of producing partner-facing content that’s not getting consumed within a partner portal is a familiar one, McBain said.

“We invested millions into our portals, and had dozens of people building channel programs, but we had only a single-digit percentage of our partners would ever log on,” he said. “Something like ChannelEyes solves the very big problem of engagement.

The plan is for vendors to have the freedom to offer multiple feeds around multiple topics as they see fit, allowing them to cater the messages being seen by their channel partners. Technical folks can get product updates, while sales folks get the latest promotions and incentives. And of course, vendors can create separate feeds for different product categories or regions.

The core vendor/reseller connection will carry over across individuals on both sides – meaning that once a solution provider’s staffer is recognized as part of that organization, he or she will have access to any and all feeds of interest for which the partner organization has been approved.

The company’s business plan involves a freemium model, with the site initially free to both vendor and resellers, and Godgart said it would remain free at some level on both sides. Ultimately, ChannelEyes will charge vendors for premium services, although exactly how is not entirely clear yet. Godgart hinted at the idea of vendors getting a number of feeds for free, with the ability to purchase additional feeds as well as additional capabilities like scheduling and in-depth analytics.

The site is slated for mid-November launch, but is welcoming both resellers and vendors to the site now – part of the chicken-and-egg challenge of starting a community like this that requires action and interaction from both resellers and vendors that will likely not be attainable from either without the inclusion of the other.

By getting VARs signed up early, Godgart said he hopes to get good feedback on who the top vendors, distributors and other industry players are the VARs want to stay in touch with, making it easier to secure those parties’ involvement in the site. The interest seems to be there, as McBain said that more than half of the parties signed up to its current preview “teaser” site are from the vendor community, including everyone from small local players to the largest names in the industry.

ChannelEyes is not the first to make the foray into building a social network for the partner community. Partnerpedia was launched years ago, and continues to offer its free social networking platform to VARs and vendors although its corporate focus is now largely on the development of branded stores for mobile applications.

Godgart said the company has “a different approach” to building the site than Partnerpedia took, focusing on the social business nature rather than content. And no doubt the company is going to take advantage of the high profile of its leadership, including Godgart’s experience building Autotask and working his way within CompTIA to his current role as chairman, as well as McBain’s high profile in the community from his time at Lenovo and Autotask.

In the future, the company said it plans to develop and launch a “social widget” for ChannelEyes that can be embedded in a VAR’s (or vendor’s) favorite platforms, whether it’s a PSA or RMM tool, Facebook or Outlook.