Never mind CRM – what about partner relationship management?

The idea of customer relationship management, or CRM, has been around for years and companies such as Salesforce have built billion-dollar businesses around managing the direct sales relationship. But a recent Impartner survey shows that nine out of ten hiring managers are finding it difficult to recruit direct sales professionals and as a result, companies are increasingly turning to indirect sales to deliver business growth.

However, when it comes to managing the channel, CRM platforms, designed for the direct sales force, don’t translate well to support the complexities of multi-tiered, multi-national partner relationships. That’s where Partner Relationship Management – or PRM – comes in. Like CRM, PRM got its start in the late 90s, but has not enjoyed the same rise to fame as CRM. This is somewhat surprising as some 75% of B2B sales are indirect. Instead, many companies still rely on spread sheets, home grown portals or myriad of point solutions to manage their channel programmes.

Early PRM was all about opportunity management, lead distribution and deal registration, while the partner portal quickly evolved to meet the needs of knowledge transfer and content management. But today’s PRM solutions include support for MDF, training and certification, incentive programme management, onboarding, communications, channel-specific business intelligence and analytics.  Other ‘chantech’ functions either delivered by PRM vendors or other providers to create a PRM ecosystem, include CMA (channel marketing automation), CPQ (configure price quote), CDM (channel data management), CIPM (channel incentive program management) and LMS (learning management systems).

The growing role of PRM is highlighted in a new report from technology analyst firm Nuvoce called, “Forging the Modern Go-to-Market Architecture”. The report recommends that sales, marketing and channel professionals need to go back to first principles to create a single system-of-record (SOR).  If you do this, you end up with three core technology platforms; CRM for customers, customer interactions and customer opportunities; Marketing Automation (MA) for marketing campaigns and digital assets; and PRM for channel partners, partner-enablement/support programmes and partner activities and interactions.

“In 2017, the martech solutions space alone grew by about 40 percent, to a total of over 5000 solutions, and it’s simply paralysing for business buyers to figure out what’s important and what the priority is in their purchase decisions,” says Tim Harmon, managing director of Nuvoce. “This report is focused on clearing away that confusion, by helping customers understand that the winning, go-to-market technology landscape for every company starts with three critical platforms – CRM, PRM and MA.”

These CRM, PRM and MA platforms act as the go-to source hubs, providing a ‘single version of the truth’ for the data that applications and point solutions says Tim Harmon in his report. But they also support regulatory compliance and underpin intelligence systems that help sales, marketing and channel professionals to understand customer journeys and partner journeys.

PRM in action

While PRM is gaining a solid footing as a core go-to-market technology with leading tech companies, channel management software is only just making its way into more traditional manufacturing industries. Take for example, 87-year old fluid management brand, ARO®, of Ingersoll Rand, which makes pumps and other fluid handling products that move nearly every fluid in general use today, from chocolate to fuel. ARO set out to reinvent its service and support of its global channel partners, many of whom have been partners for several decades.

When we thought about what we do and the mission that we're on, it was certainly about growing our business, but it was also about the hundreds of thousands of families that rely on our business in what they do,” said ARO® Global Marketing Leader Liz Cope. “We were looking to create a space for partners to have an easier, unique business experience, and not only continue to position us as the most reliable brand in the industry, but also as the brand that's thinking about our customers first in a demonstrable way.”

ARO wanted to bring the best-possible experience to its customers so a key feature of ARO®’s new partner portal is the asset library, which makes accessing sales collateral and training easy and fast for partners. “Our partners are in a competitive marketplace. Everything we do now in our portal is designed to give them that edge that their competitive distributor does not have,” Cope said. 

Cope says the new PRM solution from Impartner has transformed ARO®’s ability to track leads, pass them to partners, and monitor their performance. “In 2017, I put together a stretch goal to increase our pipeline influence 30 percent over 2016, and thanks to efficiencies, our ability to broaden our partner base receiving leads and onboard new partners, we were able to increase that nearly 200 percent,” Cope said.

In the rollout to partners, Cope said one of the most powerful moments came when previewing the portal to a new partner. “The marketing manager looked at me, and he said, ‘Liz, this is the holy grail. No other manufacturer we carry is doing this.’ That’s a powerful statement for our business. Implementing a PRM solution for your partners lets them know that you are listening to them.”

In a business climate where qualified sales professionals are costly and in short supply, companies can’t put all their revenue eggs in the direct sales basket. Companies that already have a channel need them to work harder, while those without a channel need to create one or risk of being left behind. Either way, PRM as key component of a go-to-market architecture will help to get the most out of your channel.

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