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Tips & Guides — 28 Mar 2023
What is Partner Relationship Management?
Rather than building a direct sales operation, many businesses are finding it easier to develop partner programs to help them scale revenues more rapidly and cost-effectively. According to Gartner, 65% of organizations in high-tech industries have adopted Partner relationship management programs (PRM) in the last 15 years.
Those companies, however, that do rely on non-direct sales channels are finding it more and more difficult to oversee their partners effectively. And that’s where effective partner relationship management comes in.
Partner relationship management (PRM) comprises the software and strategies companies use to streamline business relationships between themselves and the partners and distributors who market them and sell their products.
PRM ranges from simple ways to manage co-marketing relationships, to more complex programs involving high level software and data management.
From onboarding channel partners and training them, to joint business planning and market development fund (MDF) management, PRM tools have become an essential element of the successful channel management and partner programs.
Partner programs have multiple formats and purposes depending on the type of business involved and the goals a company has for partnering with others. Commonly, partners are resellers who sell or promote products and services in exchange for commissions or credits.
Alternatively, partnerships may be more focused on marketing. Companies team up with other businesses or individuals to carry out content creation, guest blogging, webinars, lead distribution, or any other marketing activities. Whatever the work performed, the aim is to provide value for both parties.
SaaS companies in particular use partner relationships in order to seek out new, innovative ways to gain traction in their marketplace and reach new customers. Partnerships can enable brands to scale and take advantage of marketing opportunities they may not otherwise have been able to.
Companies including Oracle, HubSpot, Slack, and Zendesk rely on partnership programs to expand into new markets and scale their sales efforts, rather than going through the expense of scaling a sales team. So, no wonder adoption rates of PRM software are predicted to rise considerably.
While it has many similarities (such as the importance of lead management), a PRM program differs from CRM (customer relationship management) in that it’s designed to manage an entire partner ecosystem.
PRM systems cover end-to-end business processes along with channel management. Their features usually include those to facilitate sales enablement, partner sales process management, and partner performance.
Dedicated PRM solutions can also help with selecting partners. The marketing automation such solutions provide assists brands in advertising to the right partners and find trustworthy performance agencies to team up with.
PRM systems are usually web or cloud based and have a partner portal, customer database, and other tools to enable businesses and their partners to manage leads, opportunities, sales metrics, and revenues.
Partner relationship management software should also be able to track inventory, pricing, operations, and discounting. A PRM platform’s functions can vary between solution providers and be customized to each customer’s requirements.
However most PRM solutions will have the following functionalities:
This isn’t an exhaustive list of functionalities, and PRM solution vendors are adding new capabilities all the time, as well as developing new integrations with third-party business applications. The actual PRM platform you choose needs to be tailored to your business model.
A PRM system brings a host of benefits to an organization. It’s become a necessity for companies in the emerging growth stage in particular, as they expand their indirect sales force.
A PRM platform strengthens the relationship between vendors and indirect sales channel partners and provides them with proven tech to enable improved workflows. They allow companies to manage the entire channel partnership relationship from onboarding to partner relationship optimization (or worst-case scenario, dissolution).
Core benefits can be seen in terms of:
Marketing to the partner is a core activity and PRM can help advertisers reach out to potential partners online, via email, or on social media. PRM solutions are also able to help with partner onboarding, a critical step, with PRM automation that helps you set up and track partners as they move through various stages of the onboarding process.
Most organizations work with many partners to take care of their sales and marketing. Given the number of partners involved in selling and distributing products it’s not feasible to provide dedicated channel managers for every partner in the network. There simply isn’t enough time or resources.
PRM enables smaller partners to quickly locate and order products, leaving channel partners to focus on bigger deals and more strategic relationships.
Effective PRM cuts down on the time partners need to perform routine activities, such as ordering products or parts. When a customer orders a product from your channel partner, that channel partner can also order the product from your company just as easily and efficiently as the customer, via the PRM portal.
It makes sense for companies to grow their businesses across indirect channels while having a 360 view of the customer at all times. PRM creates a digital presence to boost customer awareness and demand, and creates a single vision of order histories and all customer-centric information.
A PRM solution enables you to collaborate remotely with channel partners so even if you can’t travel to meet with partners you can use channel automation tools to communicate seamlessly in real-time.
A PRM makes it easier for you to interact with your partners, as mentioned above. The central communication system gives you improved insights into sales data and activities to help you assess sales performance.
This enables you to develop a strategy to support partners with their methodologies and boost their sales cycles, which has the knock-on effect of strengthening your partner relationships.
PRM portals provide key indicators around performance and accountability between partners, leading to important insights that point to actions and better results. Apart from it, partnership marketing platforms can offer tools to help partners reach these KPIs. For instance, Affise offers KPI automation – the feature that allows marketers to focus on traffic channels and audiences that deliver the best results.
While PRM offers a host of benefits, there are some stumbling blocks to look out for:
Control over employees or consultants is generally higher than that over partners. That’s because channel partners are often not individuals but companies.
It’s not possible to manage a partner as an individual because this would be too complex. This is where a PRM portal can help by giving individual partners a central view of your company’s data.
With a direct sales force there’s a hierarchy that everyone acknowledges and follows. Not so with partners since they don’t report directly either to you or your vendors. Because of this, there can be a lack of visibility in sales and process which can lead to significant drawbacks over time. This can result in poor performance and sales from channel partners.
Since so much data comes in from multiple partners things can get overwhelming, and this dispersed data can take a lot of time to analyze, as well as bringing in the risk of manual errors.
A centralized dashboard allows you to view channel marketing activities and marketing development and to update partner details, track performance, and perform many other tasks. A PRM solution provides you with the ability to allow partners to log in and individually access relevant data as well as update it.
Poor forecasting is common in companies that lack the right tech stack. It’s essential that you understand your partners both in terms of their sales strategies and speed, and ensure they use the right technologies to drive accurate forecasting.
Without the right tech in place, collaboration between your company and partners is time-consuming and tiresome, especially if partners have to call or email you for every little query. A PRM can help you eliminate this problem by providing partners with their own login.
Bear in mind that you can sign up too many partners leading to over-distribution, channel conflicts, and ultimately unhappy customers. Only use as many partners as you need to hit your goals.
Software like CPAPI can be a useful tool for companies when they’re advertising for partners. This software can help to quickly widen traffic sources, not to mention simplify the integration process and boost brand awareness.
Unlike your own direct salesforce, partners need time to understand your market, product, and company. They may work for a number of other vendors. Be clear about your training policy and plan how to budget for it. Decide, too, on the incentives you’ll be giving partners beforehand.
Sometimes partner relationships don’t work out, so if partners aren’t delivering, rethink your relationship.
It’s important to make sure that channel partners are logging into and maximizing their use of your PRM portal, otherwise all your research and planning will go to waste.
Your PRM solution should be user-friendly and make for a welcoming, time-saving experience for partners. It should add value to them so they naturally adopt this new software into daily workflows with your organization. This is critical to the success of your partnership.
When you’re ready, make sure to notify all stakeholders about your new PRM system and encourage them to sign up and log in. Try to stick to all these best practices as you go along:
Regular communication is a key success factor when it comes to adoption of your software. Announce the launch and tell users your plans so they know what to expect. Use as many ways as possible to get the word out, including adding portal links to email signatures.
Your aim is to get users to go to the portal first, after which you can make follow up announcements along with tips and questions and answers.
A sure-fire way to ensure users make the PRM portal part of their everyday working practices is to make certain processes exclusive to the system. This can be highly effective since specific tasks must be completed on the portal.
The portal can become the “go-to” hub for sharing documents, communications, and other essential routine processes including support (ticket submission and tracking) and lead registration and distribution. It can also be the place to head to in order to update profile and contact information and prepare quotes.
If you show users how valuable the PRM portal is, the more inclined they’ll be to use it. If they don’t see it as useful, they’ll ignore it since it represents extra burden and complexity for no payback.
Make sure you define clearly and communicate the benefits of all aspects of the system. For example, when a partner needs information or content they can find all they need (e.g., manuals, documentation, help tickets and other collateral) in one place.
Users get direct access to a knowledge base with helpful articles so they can solve issues quickly. The portal provides them with a straightforward solution to managing and registering leads and deals without the need to trawl through endless email threads. Ultimately a PRM platform should optimize their partner experience.
There will always be a need for some manual entry when you’re managing and tracking marketing campaigns. But you should aim to reduce this as much as possible. If processes revolve around users having to type in data for every action, they won’t be keen to use the system.
Reduce data entry to essential fields and use tools to import and update data automatically. Create forms with lookups or picklists to keep data entry levels low and create buttons for batch actions. Functionalities like Data Import can create new and update bulk records.
Test your PRM platform with a sample of sales reps before rolling it out to everyone and use this feedback to ensure a smooth data flow from your PRM system to any device.
When users have to take several complex steps to action a process they will eventually start to skip some of them. As with the burden of manual entry, when processes are too complex they reduce the chance that users will actually use the new PRM system.
Keep the number of steps required in processes to a minimum and use wizards or buttons to guide users through processes and break them up into shorter steps.
You need to drive PRM transformation from the top and ensure everyone understands that they need to comply with using the system. The new processes will benefit their work and the work of the team with access to important information and metrics.
Assign a leader to take charge of your PRM initiative and publish guidelines for users to help boost adoption rates. Frame this as a necessary business action.
Not everyone will be up and running with the new system right away, and it would be unreasonable to expect this to be the case. Allow users to get used to basic usage regimens before assigning more advanced layers on top. Change is best achieved when it’s done over a period of time and with a great deal of positive reinforcement. Start with the basics and move on to advanced functionalities.
Get users motivated with pre-launch announcements and in initial training sessions focus on one important function at a time. Repeat training by focusing on more advanced topics. Create topical help files and send users tips and recommendations post training.
You also need to manage the change and avoid overwhelming users with too much information at once. Make your transformation incremental.
Start with a reference library where partners can access sales and marketing collateral when they need to. Then, bring in lead registration for accurate monitoring of the sales pipeline. Once partners know how to submit, track, and update leads, roll out additional capabilities, such as a knowledge base or MDF.
While there are plenty of PRM platforms on the market, there’s no one-size-fits-all PRM solution for partner programs.
We’ve already discussed best practices in partner relationship management, however, there are lots of variations in terms of business processes, and each company has its own unique requirements.
It’s important to balance customizable configurations with standard features so you can adapt a referral marketing platform to your company’s specific workflows and processes.
Your evaluation criteria should begin with defining your channel program. Determine who your stakeholders are and whether they offer different partner tiers.
The software should be easy for employees and partners to use. Sales and marketing should be able to add ideas and update content directly, while partners need to be able to find the content on your portal easily without having to trawl through endless pages.
The best PRM tools offer intuitive interfaces for both employees and partners, and allow for access on mobile devices. Affise makes partnerships easier for companies, with configurable dashboards and smooth onboarding packages making the transition to PRM effortless.
Your PRM provider should offer you training resources for both internal staff and partners to help them get up to speed with using the tool.
Since marketers use a lot of different tools for various purposes, it’s essential to choose a PRM solution that integrates with well-known advertising and mobile attribution platforms.
AppsFlyer is a popular tool used by marketing teams to collect and measure marketing information across a range of platforms and via any device. It’s highly recommended to choose a PRM that integrates with this valuable app.
Affise’s business intelligence (BI) software collects data from AppsFlyer via API, and delivers reports in Affise’s Statistics section. Metrics including clicks, impressions, installs, and in-app events can be mapped.
Apart from it, Affise provides its users with smooth integration with the majority of marketing services via API. Those, who are looking to streamline processes, can find more valuable solutions on the Affise marketplace.
Selecting a PRM provider is an important decision that should not be taken lightly. With some due diligence and proper consideration you should be able to narrow your search to a short list. From there take some time to see the software in action via a demo.
PRM channel automation takes away the huge challenge of managing partners—especially in a world where new partner types and programs are emerging all the time.
Forrester predicts that managing a partnership ecosystem in a consistent and productive way will be key to successful business expansion. Over the next few years, brands with strong partner programs will be able to pinpoint a greater number of routes to market. PRM systems will be invaluable in helping companies find and engage with new partners, as well as increase efficiencies and ensure a higher quality of data.
By automating the processes involved in managing partnerships, you’ll have more time to concentrate on your business and achieve the best customer experience possible.
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