Congratulations! You are gaining traction with channel partnerships. The number of partners in your partner program is growing. And best of all, partners are now contributing to a significant portion of overall business. On the other hand, you may be finding the complexities of partner relationship management a challenge. Never more so than when each partner has its own way of doing things. Not to mention the continuous emergence of new partner types.
Technology is now a critical factor in the success of partner management and your partner program. Bringing with it good news – Partner Relationship Management (PRM). PRM, providing a combination of software, methodologies, and workflows for companies to effectively manage partner relationships, has matured vastly over the last decade. However, companies often rush to invest in a solution only to find they have selected the wrong tool. Or they have chosen the right tool but implemented hastily without proper considerations. In short, the benefits of PRM are never realized.
Selecting a Partner Relationship Management (PRM) platform is an important decision for a company. It’s a significant investment that includes not only the cost of implementing the PRM software but the human resources involved to drive the project. With the proper considerations, companies can define a solid project charter; functional requirements that will further help to define the selection criteria and narrow down the PRM options that best fit the company’s needs.
End-customers no longer buy point products. Thus, companies need to shift their focus toward solutions that deliver business outcomes. This is where channel partners can play an important role as “trusted advisors”. They are in a position to recommend additional product or service layers to transform the business from transaction oriented outcomes to value based outcomes. A channel strategy needs to be defined that identifies the product focus for the channel, the ‘right’ partners, sales motion, and the channel objectives. Consequently, a Partner Relationship Management system should be designed to align to and support that strategy.
A CRM system works great to give sales leaders visibility into the pipeline of their direct sales force. As indirect (channel) sales’ contributions start to increase, it’s important to keep sight of that part of the business forecast. To facilitate this, the PRM system should integrate with the CRM. Not only does this integration give companies a holistic view of the entire business, but it can also make partner centricity the focus across the business. This focus is achieved by enabling collaboration with partners to win in customer opportunities where partners bring value.
A company may have a feature-rich PRM that automates partners’ activities, along with a well-designed UX making it very user-friendly. But if the PRM is not integrated with the other corporate systems that enable critical data and content to be accessible, partner relationship management may be highly inefficient and error-prone. Take stock of the digital assets across the company and consider their integration with essential systems such as; Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP); marketing automation; and learning management systems that speed up and streamline workflow, data, and information sharing.
Many companies neglect to fully capture and understand the types of partners they have or wish to recruit. Instead, they simply rush to implement a PRM system that may not address the unique requirements of each partner type. However, the way each type of partner does business is different. Therefore, PRM design should take the engagement approach of each partner type into consideration to provide the right mix of features and the right mix of support. To illustrate this, the myriad of Partner types includes: Distributors, DMRs, Master Agencies, Marketplaces, VARs, Resellers, OEMs, Technology Alliances and Global System Integrators, Consulting & Advisory firms, Referral and Affiliates – and this list is not exhaustive!
For companies with channel partners spanning multiple countries and continents, and expanding their geographical coverage through partners, multi-language and multi-currency support within the PRM system must not be overlooked. The lack of multi-language support often results in the need for human resource support to help partners navigate the system. Such support will hinder rather than enable the productivity and efficiency that PRM was designed to achieve. Supporting the contract currency of each region and the real-time conversion of sales-related data to a common currency for reporting, based on the company’s exchange rate, is also essential, especially for global and regional partners for ease of doing business.
Successful companies aim to expand their partner programs and grow their partner ecosystem. As such, it is important to have a Partner Relationship Management system that is flexible, scalable, and agile. Implementing a PRM that enables the company to grow with it will ensure its business is future-ready.
In relation to flexibility, the benefits of platforms is that they are multi-purpose – like a “swiss-army” knife. They should offer the company options for use in different scenarios that may not have originally been foreseen.
Scalability is a must-have to operate in today’s global business environment. As such, many PRM platforms are hosted on public or private cloud infrastructure in order to allow “growth-on-demand”.
In addition, agility is critically important as we’re seeing in today’s rapidly changing economic climate. Most importantly, companies need to provide new marketing and sales offerings to their partners in quick-step time. Having a platform that allows fast design, deployment and rollout of these, enhances competitiveness.
Implementing a PRM system that is capable of ‘going big’ does not necessarily mean companies need to make a massive investment from the get-go. The cost to implement a PRM typically depends on the functionalities required. Some providers have a pricing model that charges per user, per partner or per transaction. As a result, the true cost-of-use calculations can be very difficult to predict. As such, it’s imperative to look carefully at the options available and the transparency of the charges/usage fees. Therefore, companies should consider the pricing model as they plan the PRM implementation to ensure the system scales according to the business needs and user-adoption. This will derive the maximum ROI in every phase of the deployment.
When it comes to Digital Transformation, a lot of what is currently happening is just task automation. According to Harvard Business Review1, $900 billion out of $1.3 trillion spent on digital transformation in 2018 went to waste because people lack the right mindset to change, or their existing practices are flawed. Digital transformation is merely going to magnify these flaws. So for digital transformation to be a worthwhile investment, companies need to think about the outcomes first, as opposed to just automating existing processes. Some of these business processes may have to change depending on the types of transformations and the desired outcomes.
The types of transformations include:
Today, the objective of a partnership is no longer just about making products and services available in markets where companies are unable to reach. More importantly, a partnership is about creating new business value that combines the complementary value of the two entities. This also means that the old way of doing business needs to be replaced, and digital transformation should be the enabler of new business models.
With digital advancement, the types and amount of content required to train partners and enable partners to generate awareness and pipeline among their customers is increasing exponentially. Besides, there is a need to communicate targeted and relevant information regularly to partners to gain mindshare, further adding to the complexities of information sharing. When implementing a PRM system, it is important for companies to transform how information is shared, in a manner that ensures the information is relevant, up-to-date, effective and easily accessible.
A PRM platform, integrated with additional corporate systems, gives internal stakeholders and partners the power to connect the dots between different kinds of data – point-of-sales (POS), marketing, training data, and more. Consequently, companies should take advantage of this integration to transform the approach to data analytics and reporting that will improve business intelligence and enable data-driven decision-making.
Engaging with partners has often been perceived as an expensive affair that involves a partner relationship manager spending much time with partners in two-way conversations. As a result, many companies narrow their focus on a set of top-performing partners and cut off the less active long-tail partners. With a PRM system, companies can now transform the ways to engage with partners – enabling partners to self-serve information and give their feedback anytime, while still providing partners shoulder to shoulder support when necessary. Long-tail partners will also benefit from the low-touch support made possible by PRM and potentially bring in the bigger deals and become the next revenue drivers.
By identifying the transformations, companies can conduct a thorough review of their existing business processes. This determines the ones needing change to support the new way of doing business and the ones that are flawed and inefficient, requiring a course correction.
While the functionalities of a PRM platform differ from one company to another, the following diagram illustrates a typical PRM solution architecture.
Channel Applications: software that provides the functionalities, templates, and workflows designed to manage the unique requirements and processes of partner management.
Enterprise Applications: software that manages customer interactions, corporate business functions and data. These applications may need to be customized to differentiate and support the indirect channel business when integrating with PRM.
Partner Portal: web-based interface that enables partners to login and access the relevant functionalities and data in the PRM.
To ensure the PRM implementation gets off to a good start, project planning and management are of utmost importance. From preparation to implementation and go-live, the activities, key stakeholders, and the output of each phase of implementation are outlined below:
Activities: Firstly, get executive buy-in. Define the objectives and scope. Identify the key stakeholders. Build a project team. Evaluate and select the PRM solutions and providers. Define and prioritize the requirements. Lastly, create the project plan and budget.
Stakeholders: CXO sponsor, Channel executives, Functional leaders, Project team, Key users, Procurement, and PRM solution provider.
Output: Requirements document, Project plan, and Scope of Work.
Activities: To begin, understand the solution provider’s PRM functionalities. Enable the solution provider to understand the company’s business requirements and existing systems. Develop the platform user stories and technical integration design. Develop the solution and implementation plan. Setup and configure. Complete the integration. Design the portal. Input test data, testing, and issues resolution. Finally, complete user acceptance testing.
Stakeholders: Channel executives, Functional leaders, Project team, Key users, PRM solution provider, and IT.
Output: System documentation, the PRM and Partner Portal, and Project sign-off document.
Activities: Firstly, map and migrate the data. Prepare training materials and train the trainers. Prepare users’ guides. Develop launch materials and go-live communication. Go-live and issues resolution post-go-live. Finally, get feedback and plan the next phase.
Stakeholders: Channel executives, Functional leaders, Project team, Key users, PRM solution provider, IT, Trainers, Marketing, Partners.
Output: Training materials, Users’ guide, Next phase plan.
To conclude, a PRM implementation may involve additional project phases, stakeholders, and activities. This will depend on the project charter and the complexity of the company and its enterprise systems. Once the system goes live, it is time to on-board partners to the platform and utilize the system to manage the activities of partnering.
But the reality is, even if the PRM system is well designed and addresses the business needs, all too often, user adoption is a challenge. If users do not accept the new system, then it will fail, despite all its efficiencies. Therefore, stay tuned for the next blog. “PRM Adoption and Utilization” which will discuss the critical success factors and how to drive adoption and utilization.
1 Harvard Business Review (2019) “Digital transformation is not about technology” [Online]
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