In two articles I have read recently, both point to the fact that process and data (accurate and available data, that is) along with dedicated PRM software are essential to properly managing your channel and seeing it succeed. So, why are these critical topics for managing today’s channel? The primary reason is that the channel is changing (or at least needs to change) to meet the new focus of cloud-based solutions. These new solutions are causing channel partners to change the way they operate, market and sell and from the vendor perspective, how they incent the partners to achieve the maximum ROI.
In the article “Removing the Blindfold” by John DeSarbo, he writes “Data is the Achilles’ heel of the channel”. He explains by saying “While numerous high-tech companies are making great strides mining customer data, they fail to tap into the wealth of information they receive from channel partners. As a result, many are missing tremendous opportunities.” He goes on to state (based on an IDC report) “there will be a turnover of 25,000 to 50,000 infrastructure partners in North America by year-end”. With this much change happening and the fact that channel partners can provide such a wealth of information, why are vendors not collecting data that can help them? DeSarbo reasons that most “channel chiefs” recognize the shortcomings but are having a difficult time trying to identify ways to fix the issue. Until now, many were still relying on “anecdotal information and rules of thumb”. In effect, they are still blind to what the channel is doing.
Managing Channel Data with PRM Software
As mentioned earlier, many companies do invest in the necessary tools to mine customer data and to track that information along the sales and post-sales cycle. What do they do for the channel? While Partner Relationship Management (PRM) software has been on the market for a number of years, most high-tech companies are still not utilizing it. They often will build their own makeshift partner portal to collect simple deal registration information or provide sales / marketing tools to their partners or they utilize their CRM (i.e. Salesforce.com) to manage parts of their channel business. Neither of which are built to fully manage the channel program, the relationships with partners and the information about opportunities and other channel activities that PRM software can provide.
With PRM software, you can finally see the data that your channel provides and use that data to manage your partners, your program, and your eventual destiny. If you think about why you engage with the channel, it is for a few reasons: (1) to extend your reach into your target market, (2) tap into opportunities with complimentary solutions, and (3) generate additional revenue. All three really point back to uncovering opportunities that you would not normally have found with your direct sales force. As this is the case, imagine the amount of market data that your partners have that can help you generate revenue, gain insight into new verticals or use cases, etc. The amount of data you can get from your partners is mindboggling. You must have a system that can gather that information—PRM software that is built to manage that type of data.
Data Gathering Requires a Process
The second article that I read was from our partner Relayware, entitled “Why Process and PRM are More Critical than Ever”. Part of the focus of this white paper was to discuss why having solid processes that are supported by strong PRM software are essential in today’s channel environment. Not only does process help you manage the wealth of data you can acquire from your partners, but also it gives you a method by which to analyze the data. With this ability, you can make the decisions you need with the data that is available, rather than a blind approach as was suggested in the previous article.
Within a partner program, you need a process by which you identify partners that you would like to recruit and then how to onboard them. You need a process for deal registration (what gets accepted, rejected, how each party engages on the opportunity). Lead distribution requires a process so you can quickly determine whom you provide leads to and how you expect those leads to be handled and reported back to you. MDF requires an intricate process involving fund distribution, approval of programs and eventually reimbursement to the partner. All of these processes result in a series of data points on how your partners are working in the field, where you may need to provide extra help or change direction. Without a solid process backing up each of these specific portions of your program, the data you receive (if any) will not be understandable in a way that helps you take action.
Your PRM software is the system that will allow you to collect data and the ability to analyze it. With this analysis you can quickly make the change you need to your program and your partners to achieve your revenue goals. Without PRM software, you would rely on a) spreadsheets, which are not only manual but also don’t help you draw conclusions on the data, or b) a CRM, which is not built to support the intricacies of the channel environment.
As part of the closing of Relayware’s article, they state “…if you use a PRM application to automate [your partner program] and provide reports about the program’s success…you devote less energy to administration…it helps you boost your return on investment by allowing you to make adjustments on the fly; it allows you to understand how partners are responding…and it gives you the opportunity to fine tune…” With the right process and actionable data and a PRM software solution to back those up, managing the channel can be easy!