For many industries that rely on indirect sales channels, managing their partners effectively is a frustrating challenge. Most of these organizations develop partner programs to structure policies and procedures that enable them to scale revenues through these partners more rapidly and cost-effectively than building a direct sales operation. Technology solutions for partner relationship management (PRM) are rapidly solving the problems associated with scaling partner programs.
PRM software combines many channel management best practices for sales enablement, sales process management and partner performance management to automate an end-to-end business process. From channel partner onboarding, training and certification to lead and opportunity management, joint business planning and marketing development funds (MDF management), PRM tools have become essential in running successful channel management programs.
The basics of partner relationship management
Many industries rely on third-party (indirect) sales channel partners to take their products to market. Vendors, suppliers, manufacturers, independent software vendors (ISVs) in technology, manufacturing, distribution, financial services, real estate and other industries develop indirect sales programs to partner with companies such as solution providers, integrators, value-added resellers (VARs), distributors, resellers, agents, and brokers.
What does PRM mean?
Partner relationship management (PRM) usually refers to a system or collection of business processes and capabilities that allow a vendor company to communicate and engage with its channel partners.
In addition to providing access to a sales opportunity database and distributing product, pricing, and training information, the ability to collaborate with channel management teams has become increasingly important for partner engagement.
PRM applications help channel management strategize and support a healthy channel sales environment. These applications facilitate easier partner program management through contextual communication, transparent campaign and lead management, and secure access.
What is a channel partner?
According to Accenture, for most technology companies, the indirect channel has been and remains a vital part of their business. Some fortune 500 Companies such as SAP and Cisco drive about one-third of their sales through the indirect channel and generate upwards of 80 percent or more of their revenue through channel partners respectively.
Why? Indirect sales are more cost-effective - enabling faster growth than direct sales.
Why a PRM solution?
PRM software and solutions help companies connect with and support their partners, streamline business processes and increase revenue through sales enablement.
A PRM portal solution will connect your internal team with your partners - value added resellers (VARs), technology integrators or other developers/manufacturers etc. to gain insights on individual sales activities as well as data to create predictive forecasts and performance trends so your partners become a fully supported branch of your company’s sales team.
History & background
PRM arose from a trend of companies needing better communication and improved productivity with their partners. Over the last decade, there has been a huge movement to sell through and with channel partners by companies that need to grow rapidly without the high cost of a direct sales model. Many companies have developed partner programs to recruit, engage, support and incentivize channel partners to work with them.
In 2016, Gartner predicted, that by 2018, 20% of B2B organizations will be focusing on commercially available PRM applications.
But many of these partner programs relied heavily on staff resources from the channel management team to onboard partners, handle collateral requests and manually update forecast spreadsheets. “The majority of organizations manage their various channel activities with a mixture of outdated and homegrown processes (driven primarily by spreadsheets) and customized legacy systems” (Gartner, 2016). As partner programs grew, they rapidly became unwieldy and the resources (including staff) required to manage it manually became excessive.
In addition to high operational costs, companies began noticing a trend of lost deals with no insight available as to why an opportunity was lost until after it had gone sour. Emailing spreadsheets and resources back and forth was no longer cutting it. Ineffective lead distribution, rigid procedures, an unmanageable backlog of collateral requests and sluggish response times all acted as indicators that legacy software that had become a major barrier to success.
PRM v. CRM
The main difference between PRM and CRM technology is their functionality. CRM is concerned with a company’s relationships with their customers while PRM is concerned with managing a company’s relationship with their indirect sales teams and those partners’ customers. You could say that PRM is a specialized version of CRM focused on channel sales optimization.
A PRM system enables suppliers to exchange information and transact with their partners, as well as assist them in activities such as training, providing technical support and after-sales service to end customers (Varadarajan & Yadav, 2002).
“Sales-focused partner relationship management (PRM) applications are designed to improve an enterprise’s ability to market, sell and service end customers through channel partners. This category includes many of the traditional elements contained in a direct sales solution (opportunity management), but the solutions are configured for supporting a partner-driven environment. These applications consolidate data and transactions; set business rules and track activity; are typically used to manage channel partners, distributors, alliance or strategic partnerships; and often include a portal to enable bidirectional information flow and communications between partners.” - Gartner
In recent years, PRM applications have integrated with CRM solutions to eliminate data silos and extend the functionality of an integrated data source of record, Integrated processes between partners and channel management now benefit from a centralized database of customer data.
When does a company need a PRM solution?
Not sure if your company needs a PRM portal? If you already have a partner program, then here are a few signs it’s time for a PRM solution:
Partners are registering leads or deals via email or with spreadsheet files
Maybe partners aren’t registering leads at all, or if they are, the channel team is probably chasing partners to follow up on qualified leads or to manage deals. As deal volumes increase and this workflow rapidly becomes unmanageable, limiting visibility into the pipeline - it’s time for a PRM community. Optimizing how leads are “pushed out” or distributed will have an immediate effect the strength of a channel sales strategy.
Tracking down collateral takes forever
If your organization is wasting time tracking down collateral, responding to partner requests, and sending the same material repeatedly, it’s a sure sign to implement a PRM community. Effective asset distribution will allow your channel team to quickly send collateral and promotions to relevant recipients easily.
Engagement with remote global partners
With the rise of the digital workplace the world is shrinking. It is much easier to expand your organization outside of your physical vicinity and with new locales come new challenges i.e. currency, time-zones and language as well as communicating remotely. A PRM community will allow you to cater to a larger range of partners - some big and some small organizations that have unique needs and processes.
Optimizing communication process with channel partners
Effectively communicating with all of your partners can be difficult. A PRM community portal that enables partners with self- service while offering a slick user experience that allows them to easily accomplish what they need will foster open discussion and mindshare with partners. Your partners can share insights, feedback and valuable experience with you and each other easily which will strengthen your channel sales team.
When on-site training, phone calls and even webinars become an unsustainable way to disperse information and training to your growing channel ecosystem due to scale, time constraints or associated cost (renting space, paid training time, etc.), forward-thinking companies need to consider replacing traditional training methods with self-guided training. Mobile-friendly, reportable, integrated learning management systems support easy course assignment, timely course material updates and keep partners fully up to date with certifications all with one login.
Setting your partners up for success is a priority regardless of your channel program’s size or performance. Once the decision to supplement this initiative with technology consider how you can best streamline your internal processes like marketing development fund requests and approval workflows with integrations with the software you’re currently using.
How does partner relationship management work?
From partner onboarding through online training and certification to deal registration and sales enablement we've broken down all the components of an effective PRM solution to help you decide if a partner relationship management software is what your channel sales strategy needs right now.
According to Gartner, partner relationship management applications are designed to improve and/or streamline the four core processes of the indirect sales channel. The features of PRM solutions usually fall into one of these 4 main buckets: Partner lifecycle management, channel partner marketing systems, sales execution, and service.
|Gartner Channel Ecosystem|
|PRM Core Process||Common Features|
|Partner Lifecycle Management||Partner locator, partner recruitment, partner onboarding, partner contract, partner profiling, partner incentive programs, partner territory assignment, partner certification and online training, joint-business planning, and partner analysis and planning.|
|Channel Partner Marketing Systems||Partner portals, content management, collaborative marketing, lead nurturing, deal registration, email marketing, direct mail fulfillment, print collateral, social marketing, content syndication, landing pages and microsites, webinar marketing, event marketing, search engine marketing, and market development funds management.|
|Sales Execution||Features to support the lead generation process, opportunity management, partner forecasting, sales configuration and proposal generation.|
|Service||Approval management, order management, returns management and escalation management functionalities.|
Source: Gartner Channel Ecosystem
Components of PRM
Choosing the right partner relationship management solution
Before you invest in a PRM solution - make a checklist of requirements your channel program needs to be successful. What should you include on your list? How do you figure out your requirements? We created a sample one for you to customize to suit your business processes.
One of the challenges with PRM solutions is that there is no one-size-fits-all for partner programs. Even though there are best practices for many aspects of partner relationship management, partner programs include many variations in business process and unique requirements. Consequently, when evaluating PRM solutions, it is important to balance out-of-the-box features with the flexibility to configure or customize the solution to adapt to the company’s processes.
When evaluating any PRM solution, you need to begin with defining your channel program. Who are the stakeholders? What are the goals? Do you offer different partner tiers and are there different priorities and/or goals based on those participation levels? Once you have clearly established and documented the foundation of your channel program, you need to define the capabilities needed to service each of these groups.
One way to approach an evaluation is to begin with user journeys. First, define the user roles that will participate in the PRM solution. For example, you may define 3 or 4 key roles such as:
- A “public” user that is a potential new partner visiting your website and filling out a partner application form.
- An “authorized” partner that has been approved and has access to certain content or business processes.
- A “certified” partner that has achieved certain results that give them permission to access restricted content or business processes.
- A “channel manager” that can access some, or all, partner accounts and has permissions to create content and upload files.
For each role type, the user journey will detail that user’s experience in the PRM solution. For example, as a partner user I am able to access a homepage which provides me with the following items:
- Banner/welcome message
- Quick links to sales resources and lead registration
- Dashboard of leads and opportunities in this quarter.
User journeys can be developed by asking specific questions such as the following:
- Do partner users need to agree with terms and conditions the first time they access the portal?
- What information should be summarized or highlighted for the partner in the first page after login?
- What content and files should be shared with partners?
- Do partners need to take courses and receive certifications?
- Should partner users be able to do deal registrations? What information does the partner need to provide? Who should be notified? What reporting is required?
- Should partner users be able to access opportunities? What information on the opportunity should be made visible to a partner user? Can the partner user update some values on the opportunity record? Should they be able to attach files such as P/O to the opportunity?
Once you have created user journeys, it’s a lot easier to define your requirements and evaluation criteria. The following table is an example of criteria that might be used for evaluating PRM solutions:
|PRM Requirements Checklist|
|Requirement||Must Have||Nice to Have||Magentrix Out of the Box|
|Look and Feel|| || || |
|Custom Branding|| || ||X|
|Custom Domain URL|| || ||X|
|Layout Designer|| || ||X|
|Multilingual|| || ||X|
|Mobile Device Support|| || ||X|
|Identity Management & Security|| || || |
|Single Sign On (SSO)|| || ||X|
|Multi-factor Authentication|| || ||X|
|Role-based Security|| || ||X|
|Content Management|| || || |
|Drag and drop content uploads|| || ||X|
|Rich-text editor|| || ||X|
|Forums|| || ||X|
|Knowledge Base|| || ||X|
|Document Management|| || || |
|Drag and Drop File Uploads|| || ||X|
|Ability to Embed Video|| || ||X|
|Permission-based Folders|| || ||X|
|Version Control|| || ||X|
|Search|| || ||X|
|Audit Log|| || ||X|
|Document Viewer|| || ||X|
|Case Management|| || || |
|Knowledge Base Integration|| || ||X|
|Email to Case support|| || ||X|
|Collaboration|| || || |
|Follow, Like, Share|| || ||X|
|Newsfeeds|| || ||X|
|Groups|| || ||X|
|Integrations|| || || |
|Bi-directional CRM integration|| || ||X|
|RESTful API|| || ||X|
|Platform Development Tools|| || || |
|Integrated Development Environment (IDE)|| || ||X|
|Form Builder|| || ||X|
How to turn your partner relationship management solution into a sales machine
Implementation & deployment
There are a few steps you can take to make sure your channel partners are logging into and making the most of your PRM community. All your research, planning and implementing will go to waste if you don't make it attractive for your channels sales partners to use your partner relationship management solution. Creating a welcoming, time-saving, value-adding experience for your channel partners to adopt a new software into their daily workflow with your organization is vital to the success of your sales channel digital transformation.
Critical success factors for adoption
The initial and continued promotion of your new PRM solution is crucial for its success. When it’s time to make it official, notify all of your stakeholders about your new initiative and motivate them to sign up and log in by sharing the benefits they will enjoy by doing so:
Repeated communication is an important success factor for adoption. Announce the launch and your plans so users know what to expect. You can also use other forms of communication to reinforce the message, such as adding portal links to email signatures. Always provide links to the portal to encourage users to go there first and make follow up announcements with tips and Q&A.
One way to ensure your portal becomes part of your day-to-day practices is by making certain processes exclusive to it. This is particularly effective when specific tasks must be completed on the portal. Make the portal the go-to hub for document sharing, communications, support and other essential processes such as lead registration and distribution, submitting and tracking support tickets, updating contact/profile information and preparing a quote.
Another key success factor is to make it useful and show the value. Users need to know how it will make their job easier. Otherwise, the PRM portal represents a burden and additional complexity in their work life. Start by clearly defining and communicating the benefits of each use case. For example, when partners need information or materials, they can go to one place to find all manuals, documentation, collateral and help tickets. They can quickly access knowledge base articles to solve an issue. They can get immediate sales assistance by registering leads or deals. They can easily track and manage all their cases in one place – no more email threads to search through.
Minimize data entry
Some manual entry always will be necessary but to drive successful adoption, minimize data entry. If your processes center around having users type in data for every action by hand, they won’t reliably use it. Try to reduce data entry to only the essential fields — then use tools that automatically import and update data so there’s a lot less typing. For example, create forms with picklists or lookups to minimize text entry. Create buttons for common batch actions and enable cloning for quick record creation. Use functionality like Data Import to create new and update bulk records and use Mass Enable to bulk activate users. And most importantly, test it with a small number of users before launching to everyone. Use their feedback to make data on the portal flow smoothly from your CRM and easily on to any device for seamless consumption.
Complex processes that meet business needs often require so many steps that users usually end up skipping the ones they deem as inessential. Just like the burden of data entry, this complexity effectively crushes the chances that users actually will use the new system. Reducing the number of steps required in any given process is mutually beneficial and critical to the success of the portal. For example, use wizards or buttons to guide the user and break up complex processes in shorter steps. The automation of these tasks is advised wherever possible.
Strong leadership during the rollout of the new system is critical. Businesses often make the mistake of not leading the transformation from the top. Users need to understand that using the community portal is not optional, that the new processes will enhance both their work and the rest of the team, that the metrics from the portal matter, and that accountability does exist. Start by assigning a leader at the outset of the initiative and create a project vision. Creating adoption milestones and publishing guidelines for users will help boost adoption and frame it as a necessary and supported business action.
When it comes to training, it’s unreasonable to expect people to learn and use every element of your community portal at once. Set basic usage regimens in place before layering more advanced ones on top. Ongoing change is best achieved when done over time, with lots of positive reinforcement. Start with just the basics, and gradually educate users on the more advanced functionality over time. For example, make a pre-launch announcement – get some excitement going. In the initial training, focus on one important function and introduce the others. Then repeat training with a focus on advanced topics. Create contextual help files and send tips and tricks to reinforce the training.
Finally, manage the change. Users won’t master a new way of working instantly. Yet, many businesses employ a big push approach for an IT rollout and overwhelm users with everything at once. Transformation is always incremental. Start with a collateral library where partners can get all the sales and marketing materials when they need it. Then introduce lead registration to monitor the sales pipeline and forecast accurately. Once partners are submitting, tracking and updating leads, it will make sense to roll out additional capabilities such as a knowledge base, preparing a quote or MDF.
Major vendors in partner relationship management
When it comes to partner relationship management (PRM), the key players according to Gartner are:
|Allbound is a channel collaboration platform that connects people, content, technology and data for accelerating channel sales.||Magentrix provides a collaborative cloud-based platform for end-to-end PRM for rapidly growing organizations (SMB and Enterprise) that need to extend their CRM (Salesforce, MS Dynamics, HubSpot and more). Increase engagement, collaboration and communication with channel partners.|
|Salesforce Partner Community is part of the overall sales supportive applications of Salesforce and helps to strengthen the performance of indirect channels by accelerating sales of products and services through connecting distributors, brokers, agents or resellers to an organization's critical data, files and business processes. ||LogicBay offers its cloud-based PRM application to increase indirect sales channel partner revenue and productivity while driving down costs of supporting their partners.|
|Channeltivity is a PRM solution for tech companies and provides editions for SMB and Enterprise.||Mindmatrix provides a sales enablement and CMM platform. Best for SMB for basic functions with sales enablement and marketing automation.|
|Oracle offers a comprehensive and fully integrated stack of cloud applications and platform services, including a PRM application.||Impartner is a responsive SaaS PRM technology that integrates seamlessly with any CRM system.|
|Webinfinity is a SaaS portal that weaves existing systems and content together to drive greater revenue, increase productivity, maximize deal flow, and enhance partner/channel satisfaction.||Zift Solutions is in the business of providing the technology and services to improve channel sales and marketing for clients and their resellers, dealers and distributors. Merged with Relayware (2017), their combined offering is best for sophisticated partner programs and internal PRM support resources, integrations with existing systems.|
|ZINFI provides a SaaS Unified Channel Management automation platform that streamlines and manages the entire partner lifecycle through three core SaaS applications—partner relationship management, partner marketing management and partner sales management.|| |
Boost sales with a partner relationship management solution
Today, manufacturers looking at commercially available PRM applications want to merge all customer data in their ERP and CRM systems. Since end-user data is submitted by channel sales partners as well as direct sales teams, integration between PRM and CRM solutions will be increasingly important as manufacturers seek to manage indirect sales channel end-users and maintain a single source of record.
According to Gartner:
“65% of organizations in the high-tech industry adopted and implemented PRM applications, over the last 10-15 years. Even though these supportive applications were self-developed and only provided "to the point" management in those early days, their primary target was (and still is) to extend market reach and to deliver a significant percentage of company revenue. It is anticipated that 20% of midsize and large organizations will have changed their PRM application approach to focus on commercially available PRM applications in 2018.”
PRM solution providers will continue to enhance capabilities for end-to-end partner relationship management across multiple segments and there will, no doubt, be consolidation as the segments overlap. However, technology platforms are sufficiently advanced that organizations can achieve shorter sales cycles, increased lead conversion rates and higher percentages of channel partners achieving quota with a supported, collaborative partner relationship management strategy including an integrated PRM solution.
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