The IT channel is a people business. The relationship between vendors, partners and customers is at the heart of this very successful business agreement. Face to face meetings, conferences, networking and social events have traditionally played a significant part in building and maintaining these relationships. However, COVID-19 has changed all that. So, how can vendors continue to build and maintain successful partner relationships in a virtual world?
Interestingly, the move to digital has exposed holes in the way channel management has been conducted in the past. This is because ‘doing business’ has focused on the connection between the partner and their account manager.
The social aspect of this has been considered pivotal, with vendor account managers often found entertaining their valued partners, wining and dining them or perhaps playing a round on the golf course. As previously noted in how to measure partner success, partner business models reflect that people, ultimately, like to work with people they like.
The current approach to measuring and maintaining successful partner relationships is unscientific, at best. So, while they may develop great personal relationships, it falls a long way short of professional business engagement.
At the same time, quarterly business reviews (QBRs) often fail to provide an accurate picture of the state of the partner’s business. Or equally important, highlighting their potential for generating additional revenue. Not least because out of hundreds or even dozens of partners, it can be difficult to pinpoint which partners have the most earning potential. In addition to what they’re doing differently to other partners. Maybe only a handful are generating significant revenues for the vendor, so it is important to focus resources and energy in that direction. A failure to do this is a principal reason why channel marketing programs can fail.
During this global pandemic, in-person meetings have not been possible. Therefore, vendors have been forced to re-think how they manage their partnerships. On the social side, both vendors and distribution have been forced to innovate, coming up with new ways to maintain their relationships with partners that still keep that human connection. These include online gigs, cookery and even cocktail making classes.
This has also prompted discussions within vendor organizations as to whether they can better serve partners without spending days out of the office or clocking up air miles. They realize that virtual interaction is more sustainable, cheaper and can be a more effective way to communicate.
This includes a shift to automation and channel automation platforms. Vendors increasingly understand that staying on top of partner relationships via manual spreadsheets is no longer a viable option. Instead, they recognize the need for systems that can measure, track and report on meaningful items such as deals registered and demand creation initiatives, such as MDF, that have previously been limited to face-to-face QBRs.
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Partner relationship management (PRM) platforms deliver the same level of insight and analytics into the vendor’s channel as they do into their direct sales organizations. They enable vendors to more effectively and efficiently manage activities related to sales, lead management, deal registration and opportunity management. They optimize partner productivity and accelerate sales by improving communications, streamlining tasks and providing a better partner experience.
“Managing these growing ecosystems in a consistent, predictable, and productive way is critical to the success of organizations looking to expand their go-to-market strategies,” notes Forrester.
Automation of indirect sales processes, workflows, and partner programs is becoming increasingly critical to a brand’s ability to win, serve, and retain its customers and partners. Just think about the enormous impact that Salesforce.com’s software had on the CRM market 15 years ago. PRM has the potential to do the same for the channel. The days of relying on spreadsheets or other informal methods to maintain successful partner relationships are numbered. The shift to digital has significantly highlighted the inefficiencies associated with ‘the old way’ of doing things.
Channel Automation enables the move from tactical to strategic. PRM and broader channel management systems will be crucial for maintaining professional – and – profitable relationships in the ‘new normal’.
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