Partner Relationship Management (PRM) is a system of methodologies, strategies, software, and web-based capabilities that help a vendor to organize and manage partner relationships. The general purpose of PRM is to enable vendors to better manage their partners through the introduction of reliable systems, processes and procedures for interacting with them.
The notion of employing a dedicated horizontal software platform across your business for the specific purpose of managing and integrating processes and systems used to operate your partner relationship’s came in the mid to late 1990’s but was, to some extent ahead of its time. Industries such as automotive recognized the need for such systems many years earlier but ironically, many companies within the IT industry chose to outsource or to try to leverage existing legacy / enterprise applications. In the latter case, often extending their use to cover their channel business or else adding channel business support in as an afterthought. In parallel, large ISV’s like Siebel and SAP recognized the opportunity and adapted their existing CRM packages to support some of the needs of customers managing indirect channels. Salesforce.com also added rudimentary partner portal extensions to its CRM offering. But the business processes and indeed the very purpose of PRM is fundamentally different to those associated with CRM. Few companies exist today who have both a detailed knowledge of and track record in the market, who possess a technology designed specifically for the job and who understand how to deploy the technology to bring the greatest value to both vendor and partner. PRM is itself an anachronism; superseded by evolving needs and new technology at the forefront of which is Relayware. In order to understand Relayware’s relevance and value proposition though, it’s important to consider the importance of and the role played by PRM in the hi-tech industry over the last decade.
A Strategy, Not Merely a System
The term “PRM” is meant to describe the whole business strategy oriented on partner needs and through them, the needs of their customers. The main misconception of PRM is that it is only software, instead of a whole business strategy and of course, in today’s increasingly challenging and competitive business environment, a successful PRM strategy cannot be implemented by simply installing and integrating a software package. A holistic approach to PRM is vital for an effective and efficient PRM strategy to succeed. This approach includes a modification of business processes based on the needs of partners and their customers. It includes the training of employees to enable them to understand and embrace the principles of PRM and inevitably, it includes the adoption of relevant IT systems to enable the organization or company to execute its PRM strategy. To be effective, the PRM strategy and associated processes and systems need to be integrated end-to-end across marketing, sales and service.
The benefits of PRM for the vendor are very clear. A PRM strategy implemented with robust systems, processes and procedures enables a vendor to manage partner relationships throughout the partner lifecycle:
The Benefits of PRM
But what are the benefits to a partner in working with a vendor who has a well implemented partner relationship strategy?
The first arises from their effective execution in partner selection and segmentation. These activities have long been driven by raw sales performance and little else. But this perpetuates an environment in which partners generating large revenues receive the greatest investment of time, effort, resources and funding whilst some smaller partners offering greater strategic value can often be overlooked and starved of the support they need to grow and drive vendor business development in key vertical markets or customer segments. PRM enables vendors to analyze sales performance in context with a partner’s size and company profile. By assessing a partner’s true value based upon qualitative as well as quantitative measures and applying automated analytical and score-carding processes, a vendor can assess which partners merit strategic partner status and the degree of investment and support appropriate to realize their potential. These same principles can be applied as effectively to ongoing partner performance management and optimization.
Armed with this analysis, vendors can firstly ensure that they devote energy to incubating or nurturing high-potential partners amongst their existing base before engaging in much more effective targeted recruitment activities aimed at complementing their base with new high quality partners.
Partner development, training and knowledge transfer has been revolutionized by PRM. Systems with integrated e-learning tools manage training curricula and tailor them to the personal profile of individual sales, marketing and technical staff in the channel. They deliver training in an interesting, often entertaining way via using the latest multimedia technology online via partner portals and facilitate online testing. By automating the subsequent certification process, they ensure accurate matching of test results to the qualification for training certificates and go on to map these personal qualifications against company accreditation for umbrella partner programs. Automation through PRM ensures that the most suitable training programs are promoted, managed and delivered to the most appropriate individuals within the channel community replacing costly and time consuming classroom training and managing the complex business processes and inter-dependencies between testing, certification and accreditation.
Most vendor loyalty programs comprise the same predictable collection of umbrella-branded program deliverables, poorly administered and little valued by partners. A partner relationship strategy ensures that vendors align their partner-facing programs with the needs of their partner community implementing only those deliverables that bring tangible value to the partners and their customers. Loyalty programs should aim firstly to provide partners with the infrastructure, tools and resources to support their selling, marketing and customer-supporting activities and then, once the foundations for loyalty have been built, to reward that loyalty.
Similarly, many vendor sales incentives tend to be hastily crafted, poorly coordinated, tactical programs aimed at driving short term sales in exchange for rewards. Timescales often fail to take into consideration the duration of sales cycles, rewards are commonly poorly targeted and vendors typically end up paying out for sales they would have made anyway. PRM automation ensures that incentives can be better planned and managed. Targeting can be much more effective and associated messaging, communication and rewards can be better tailored to the participant. Rewards can be selected by the individual to ensure better motivation and retrospective sales trend analysis makes sure that they are awarded against incremental sales only. PRM then ensures that tactical incentives and promotions can be aligned and managed as a series of connected campaigns as part of a larger strategic loyalty program in conjunction with other added-valued initiatives.
PRM supports improved vendor and partner collaboration too. Automated lead management programs can help to ensure that properly qualified leads are delivered directly to those sales people in the channel who are best able and best placed to close them. They ensure that such leads are supplied rapidly, as soon as they are qualified and that vendor and partner can work collaboratively to progress them through the sales cycle. Automation through PRM ensures that the right leads get to the right people in a timely fashion and facilitate proactive two way communication between vendor and partner to ensure that leads are closed followed up and closed. What is more, PRM goes on to facilitate deal registration programs allowing partners to register their own opportunities with vendors – minimizing channel conflict, ensuring sales, marketing and financial support and bringing a variety of benefits and rewards for the registering partner.
Collaborative marketing programs and associated processes can be greatly enhanced through PRM automation. From the sharing of campaign strategies, schedules, media plans, collateral and assets to online content creation tools for brochures, proposals and web assets, PRM provides vendors and partners with the means to develop and execute joint up integrated marketing campaigns right to the point of sale.
PRM combines vendor-facing partner management application systems and processes with a detailed partner database offering greater partner intimacy, an integrated content management system for online content sharing through content-rich portals and a broad array of partner-facing sales, marketing and support tools and resources. PRM provides partners with the very highest quality and consistency of support tailored to their personal needs and available 24×7 and provides vendors with an easy to use yet sophisticated automated solution for optimizing the performance of their complex partner eco-systems – all on the same technology platform.
Why PRM is No Longer Enough
As its name suggests, PRM as a business strategy and software genre is focused on managing relationships. But the relationship management paradigm is being challenged by a dramatic change in the way people communicate and interact socially and commercially. Social media, social networks and the technology used to participate have led changes in behavior:
- Facilitated communities versus managed relationships
- Many-to-many versus one-to-one communication
- Collaborative conversations versus push-communications
- Networks versus audiences
Consequently people’s wants and needs have changed in accordance with changes in behavior:
- Enterprise and beyond-the-enterprise collaboration
- Multi-channel communication
- Opt-in (Follow, Like, Share) versus opt-out communication preference
- Activity streams, push-updates and notifications versus email
- Mobile is the preferred user experience
So conventional PRM systems are no longer sufficient. While they do provide some form of B2B extension to CRM, they fail to meet the needs of the market today and the evolving needs of the future. Relayware uniquely provides customers with the most comprehensive solution for indirect channel revenue performance management, program automation, collaboration and multi-channel communication and represents the future of PRM but for a much wider audience and offering substantially greater benefits to companies and their indirect channels.
As the industry continues to endure its third significant downturn in 12 years and vendors struggle with the dichotomy of maintaining or growing their business whilst lowering their costs, indirect sales channels represent a significant opportunity. Vendors will try, albeit with limited budgets to secure partner loyalty and increased mindshare with new programs and as before, channel partners will view these moves cynically. The vendors who will emerge from these difficult times with a stronger channel will, in our view, be those who re-engineer their processes, systems and procedures and indeed their culture based upon a carefully thought out and well-executed holistic collaboration and multi-channel communication strategy rather than a conventional PRM strategy.
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