Partner Relationship Management

Partner Relationship Management (PRM) Challenges

Effective Partner Relationship Management presents unique sales management challenges. Overcoming them requires both strategic and technological solutions

Resolving Channel Conflict

This situation occurs when multiple channel partners or multiple sales reps within a single channel partner assume they have authorized access to call upon and provide services to a customer account.

The situation can become even more contentious if the account is one that the vendor sells to directly. The complexity grows further in cases where a customer has multiple offices, divisions or subsidiaries spread across a region, an entire country or internationally. Customers may become confused or even angry if they are called upon by more than one sales rep offering the same solution. A channel partner that feels it has rights to the account but gets shut out of the sale could become upset as well.

To eliminate this pain, vendors are best served by creating a process that allows channel partners to quickly identify whether the rights to a customer account has been reserved, and if the account is open, the partner must be able to easily reserve the account. Behind the process, the vendor should have a clear set of rules that defines how accounts are designated as vendor accounts and how they are assigned to channel partners. The rules should also address how customers with multiple offices across a wide geographic spread are to be handled.

Eliminating Portal Clutter

Online portals that provide channel partners with key information and allow partners to submit updates on channel activity are critical in allowing vendors to manage their channels. However, many vendors have created multiple portals over time as new requirements and new programs have emerged that earlier portals are not able to address or are too cumbersome to change. Having to deal with multiple portals creates partner confusion and frustration. Partners may waste time navigating through a portal only to find they are using the wrong one. In the end, they may give up and not submit information the vendor needs or be able to retrieve information the partner needs. The answer is to create a single portal for all product, campaign, collateral, partner communications, incentive payment requests, account reservations and deal registration. This requires a software solution specifically designed for PRM with intuitive layout and easy navigation. The key is to utilize a consistent and intuitive portal with easy to locate sections that partners can then drill down into for specific information.

Gaining Visibility into Partner Activity

Channel managers that are able to create reports on channel performance (pipeline, sales, margins, ROI) often have to do so by manipulating their own private spreadsheets and manually importing data from various systems or other spreadsheets. By the time the data is collected, the information may be old, and the manager has probably invested time that could have been spent on more strategic efforts. The information they have collected also most likely lives in a silo on their desktop—isolated from other managers.

The solution to this problem is to deploy a centralized solution that automatically takes feeds from other systems and generates performance dashboards to view partner, product, and campaign performance as well as ROI. Data is updated in real time and can then be viewed by all managers at the same time. This makes the management team much more nimble and able to make changes when partner activity needs to be modified.

Identifying Partner Skills

Every solution provider partner has its own special set of skills depending on the personnel that they employ. Furthermore, the skills of each partner change over time as its staff takes training and experiences new projects as well as when new staff comes on board or existing staff leaves the partner's business. Without a system that accurately identifies the current skill sets of each partner, channel managers are unable to effectively match customer opportunities to the right partner. In the end, this could lead to a frustrated customer and perhaps the need to switch to a new partner.

The resolution is to create a process that requires partners to regularly maintain and update their skills inventory by creating a business social network as part of each partner's profile. Partners that don't provide timely profile updates can be prevented from receiving leads. And once the channel manager has this capability, it's possible to conduct real-time searches on skill sets and geographic presence so that the best partner can be assigned to a customer quickly

Communicating with Partners

Many channel managers do not communicate with their partners on a regular basis. In some cases, communication does not occur until a problem arises. This approach can strain the relationship since most communications occur under stressful conditions.

Channel managers should take an active approach and contact their channel partners on a regular basis through a combination of group messaging, such as newsletters, as well as individual phone calls and e-mail. The first step is to maintain a current contact list. Channel managers also need an automated messaging system that provides reminders on when to reach out to each partner and enables access to all partner contact information. Doing so helps maintain partner interest in solutions and creates stronger personal relationships. A system capable of automating routine and periodic messages can reduce the effort needed to accomplish this level of partner communications.

Measuring ROI

Channel managers spend a lot of money on programs in an effort to incent partners and increase the sales of the vendor's products. But many find themselves unable to measure the ROI performance of specific programs due to the lack of integration with the system that tracks product sales.

By integrating program spending with product sales tracking by partner, channel managers can more easily track and calculate ROI performance data across their partner networks and by campaign in real time. This in turn will allow them to adjust program spending for the next quarter when there's still time to modify the program properly.

Complying with Accounting and Legal Requirements

In addition to making sure products sell and partners perform well, channel managers also need to concern themselves with accounting and legal requirements. Both areas need to be scrutinized to ensure channel activities are not causing financial or legal issues. But by automating the process of tracking and saving acceptance of terms and conditions as well as agreements, deal documentation and contracts—and by automating the accounting and legal approval process—channel managers can take this concern off their plates completely. Such a system will link automatically to accounting and legal personnel who can monitor and alert channel managers if problems arise.

But by automating the process of tracking and saving acceptance of terms and conditions as well as agreements, deal documentation and contracts—and by automating the accounting and legal approval process, channel managers can take this concern off their plates completely. Such a system will link automatically to accounting and legal personnel who can monitor and alert channel managers if problems arise

Integrating Channel Programs with Corporate Systems

Data that channel management systems collect can be very beneficial to other vendor corporate systems, such as accounting and CRM, and vice-versa. Systems that are not integrated force vendors to re-key information or import data into spreadsheets for manual manipulation. This creates a lot of double-entry work and is highly inefficient as well as error prone.

Integration of the channel management system with other corporate systems speeds up workflow and data sharing not only for channel managers, but also for personnel in other company departments. Added benefits of seamless integration with corporate systems include reduced redundancy, improved business intelligence and easy access to data.

The Ultimate Answer to All Channel Management Challenges

Given the wide range of all these pains that channel managers have to address and the massive amount of data that needs to be automatically stored, retrieved and presented in easy-to-understand dashboards, vendors face a major challenge in designing a solution that will handle all of these aspects.

The first key is to create a system with a single portal for all vendor users as well as all partner users and any other third-party users that play a role in the channel ecosystem. The second key is to integrate this system with other corporate systems so that key data flows into and out of the system automatically. Only then can channel managers view the information they need in real time in order to run their channel programs more efficiently.

Given the complexity and cost of developing such a comprehensive and integrated partner portal, available third-party systems such as EcoSoft 5.0™ should be evaluated to determine if these needs can be met more cost-effectively and quickly through purchase than through development from scratch.