Is Your Channel Too Much to Handle?

A few weeks ago, I read an interesting blog by Jay McBain from Autotask about a World with 100,000 channel vendors and started thinking about how the channel landscape will change with more vendors emerging in these upcoming years. We have already seen increases in vendors in the channel with vertical specialties like Healthcare, Pro AV, Digital Signage and the boom of cloud computing.  This trend, which has started to occur over the last few years, will continue as new business practices lead the way for emerging vendors while barriers to entry continue to decrease. We have even begun to see some solution providers in the channel creating their own products and building their own channels. Not only will these new vendors and solution providers need to develop themselves in the market, but in order to do so, they need to build their channel programs and establish partnerships to drive indirect sales.

The channel is constantly changing, and will continue to change. The challenge that we face is how to accommodate and maintain the larger networks of partnerships and communication across the channel when it is expanding with each emerging vendor.   As each vendor grows, its system to manage their partner’s needs has to be scalable to accommodate the growth. Communication becomes increasingly more difficult and companies struggle to keep up. The traditional methods of personally managing partners using spreadsheets or separate CRM databases to maintain contact information and respond to all partner’s requests are inadequate with the growth of channel programs. The same way a CRM helps to track and streamline direct sales engagements, it is equally important to have a system for managing indirect sales operations and partnerships.

But these challenges are not limited the only new vendors, existing vendors face them, too. Not only is it hard to manage a rapidly expanding partner network, but it is equally difficult to maintain proper communication with an extensive network of partners. On both the partner’s end, and on the vendor themselves, there is a lot of time and money that is going into managing these channel programs – it seems like this is an area for automation.

Today, successful vendors have exceeded the number of partners they are able to manage manually – they need a software solution to manage their influx of channel information. With the predominance of cloud applications, it’s easy to implement a SaaS based portal, or Partner Relationship Management system (PRM), where both the vendor and its partners can access the information they need to manage the channel. A PRM is specially designed to manage the complex ecosystem of partnered companies and organizations to align both the vendors and partners on the same page.

While these solutions have been readily available on the market for the last decade or more, few companies have opted to implement a high-end, enterprise level PRM, in their business. Most have been running their channel programs from spreadsheets and emails or have tried to mold a CRM; however, this does not do the job effectively or scaled to meet the needs of today’s vendors. New solutions have emerged, such as Channeltivity (Partner Relationship Management for emerging size vendors) and Relayware (for enterprise level vendors), which leverage the cloud to make it affordable to deliver a powerful PRM system. Now, any vendor, regardless of size, can implement a PRM to manage their channel.

In a world with 100,000 vendors, or even in today’s channel, it’s going to be hard to stand out in the crowd. At the end of the day, vendors with the strongest channel programs will ultimately have the most opportunity to get in front of end customers. So, how do they do this? Simple, the vendors that automate their business processes and are able to manage the channel most effectively have the best chance. The winners will be the ones that have the strongest channel program and implement a PRM to manage their partners. And, the most successful will implement it before they need it.

So… is your business ready?