Are you pulling your hair out trying to process channel partner rebates? Or the criteria performance that may qualify them for a partner tier upgrade? Manually, on spreadsheets and all whilst ensuring the data is error-free? And just when you think you’re figuring out the best way to manage these tasks, everything gets tossed in the air when channel targets and measurements change.
If so, then it is time to rethink your digital transformation strategy and ensure channel automation is part of the game plan for partnership success.
For many companies that leverage channel partners as a route to market, managing partners effectively can be a ‘huge’ challenge. Further complicated by a market that is continuously evolving. With new partner types emerging and partner programs changing to make them more relevant and ‘richer’ to attract and retain partners. Therefore, to successfully manage this large undertaking, it is necessary to deploy a ‘best of kind’ technology stack that includes a Partner Relationship Management (PRM) platform.
Partner Relationship Management (PRM) is a combination of software, methodologies, best practices, templates, and workflows that manage and automate the business processes and relationships between companies and their channel partners. Some refer to PRM as a Channel Management or Channel Automation software. It is web-based, and usually centrally hosted and delivered in the form of Software-as-a-Service (Saas) on a subscription basis.
There are comparisons between Partner Relationship Management and Customer Relationship Management (CRM). But the reality is – managing partnerships that are more complex, multi-faceted and dynamic, is beyond the capabilities of CRM systems. While PRM includes the methodologies, templates and best practices of partnering, companies will require some level of customization. This customization involves configuring and aligning the system to the structure of the company’s partner program. This includes the partner tier definitions, the benefits eligibility by tier, and the workflows. All of which are unique to companies. NOTE: customization usually requires little or no code changes to the underlying PRM platform.
In addition, PRM is a platform that interconnects with other business applications in the company through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Furthermore, it interconnects with the sales and marketing systems of partner organizations. As a platform, PRM is scalable and flexible. Therefore, vendors can easily add functionalities, customize them as their business goals and partner program changes, and add partners/users as the ecosystem grows.
Technical definitions aside, PRM can be viewed as a ‘virtual’ experience center, where partners want to visit for a self-serve and hands-on experience to access vendor updates, product and solution information, and program offerings. In this virtual center, there are different rooms for different partner personas (e.g. sales, presales, marketing, post-sales), and each room features the relevant content and engagement that would ‘wow’ the partner individuals. Above all, it represents a new model of attracting and engaging with partners. It allows for a truly collaborative experience that addresses partners in every stage of the partner life-cycle. This virtual center is accessible by any device – desktop, tablets, and mobile. A well-designed experience center develops a high-impact partner experience, one that would differentiate the vendor and drive a successful long-term partnership.
The functionalities of PRM vary across solution providers and further subject to the customizations that are made to meet customers’ requirements. Nevertheless, the most common functionalities of PRM solutions that address partners’ interactions are as follow:
This list of functionalities is not exhaustive as PRM solution providers continue to innovate, add new capabilities, and enable integration with new business applications. Whether you are starting small with just a few key functionalities or going ‘big’ with a full suite of features, the functionalities in the PRM that partners may access should be tailored according to the:
– Partner’s business model: as the partner engagement, compensation, and support required would differ as a result.
– Partner Persona: e.g. sales, presales, marketing, and post-sales users should have access only to the functionalities that are relevant to them.
– Partner Type: the type of partner and selling model will define how to structure the PRM. For example, the platform should be capable of extending some of the functionalities to Distributors’ tier-two resellers.
– Partner Tier in the partner program: different partner tiers have different program benefits. Thereby requiring the PRM platform to be configured differently so as to give partners access to their relevant benefits.
A well thought out PRM system, delivers a host of benefits:
– Optimizes Business Operations by providing methodologies, templates, and workflows designed by following industry best practices.
– Improves Partners’ Productivity as partners self-serve to content, information, and data. Automated workflows can track turnaround time and trigger reminders that facilitate and expedite approvals and escalations.
– Empowers Vendor’s Employees as PRM allows them to execute partner communications and marketing campaigns with little dependency on external agencies.
– Provides Transparency through a dashboard or scorecard that gives partners real-time visibility into their funnel, performance, achievements, and other metrics.
– Transforms Products and Business Models as a PRM helps vendors and partners create a multi-channel digital ecosystem that transcends business silos, product silos and delivers co-created value to customers.
– Improves Engagement as an integrated PRM can make partner centricity the focus across the business.
– Increases Collaboration by enabling two-way interactions between vendors and partners.
– Promotes Trust as partners gain visibility to critical information, business metrics, and deal protection (with deal registration).
– Enables Data-Driven Sales and Marketing among Partners when vendors share market insights and competitive information with partners.
– Increases Partner Mindshare by improving collaboration and engagement.
– Saves Cost when ‘time is money’ by increasing productivity and allowing scarce resources to focus on higher-value business activities.
– Improves Partner Experience as PRM enhances ease-of-doing-business with you. Good partner experience drives good customer experience.
– Moves the Business Faster with more Flexibility when the PRM is organized around a set of ‘modular’ channel programs that are managed by accountable teams (e.g. sales, finance, marketing, sales operations, renewals/customer success). Each program can innovate and evolve concurrently along with integrating to form a robust channel commerce platform that propels indirect revenue growth.
The benefits of a PRM platform are manifold. But before you jump onto the bandwagon of automation and start investing in PRM implementation, think of the partner experience and work back to the technology you choose — not the other way around. For ‘true’ digital transformation, you need to think about the outcomes first as opposed to just automating tasks.
Stay tuned for the next blog – “Channel Automation Blueprint” that discusses the key factors for consideration and the approach to PRM implementation.
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