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Relayware Partner Relationship Management

The Partner Management Problem: the Channel is a Two-Way Relationship

Posted on December 12, 2013 by Chris Bucholtz

Relationships work best when those in the relationship understand their responsibilities within it. We know this from our everyday lives. For example, in my relationship with my wife, I know I’m responsible for taking out the garbage, and she knows she’s responsible for telling me when to take out the garbage.

When you sell direct, that understanding of responsibilities is easy. The customer has very few obligations within that relationship; the onus is on the seller to deliver a product or service and to support that product or service properly.

Selling through the channel, however, is a lot less simple. Of course, you as the vendor need to provide good products and support for them. You also need to provide training materials, help with marketing and collaborate on lead qualification and generation.

On the flip side, your channel partners need to do some things, too. They need to take your marketing assistance and put it to use (especially when you’re sending MDF money their way), they need to act on the leads you send their way, and they need to take advantage of the training and education opportunities you provide to them.

This mutually-dependent relationship needs to be tracked, ideally in an automated fashion. If you don’t monitor how well both sides of the relationship are working, reality will sneak up on you in the form of partner defections – or worse, partners who do a poor job of selling and representing your company. You may also miss signs that your channel efforts need to be bolstered.

CRM does a great job of handling data and organizing sales activities when the relationship responsibilities are all held by the seller. When unique responsibilities are owned by each end of the relationship, CRM is not enough. It’s true that extensive customization can nudge CRM toward effectiveness in managing channel relationships, but it’s also true that the costs are intimidating, to say the least.

The trick here is to identify what your needs are. If you sell direct only, CRM will do the trick. If you sell through the channel, you need a channel management solution. If you do both, you probably need a CRM application integrated with a channel management solution It’s not an either-or scenario; it’s a matter of using the correct tools for the job.

The good news is that CRM and partner relationship solutions work well in tandem. For example, CRM may prove most useful in cultivating leads, while your partner management solution may be the way you get those leads out to your channel. CRM can help you understand, through customer service, where your end customers need additional understanding of your product; partner relationship solutions allow you to build that understanding into your training and allows you to see which partners take those courses.

Trying to sell direct and through the channel with CRM alone is like a carpenter trying to build something armed with only a screwdriver – it’s a fine tool for many things, but it’s not enough to handle all the things the job requires. 

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