Business and channel partners are playing an ever-increasing role in selling to and servicing your customers as an extension of your sales and delivery teams. This dynamic is challenging many traditional partner relationship management (PRM) models as organizations find it increasingly challenging to identify, create and retain high-functioning partnerships.
Research Identifies the Problem
As Gartner research director IIona Hansen noted, “Managing channel sales is more complex [these days] and many organizations … [struggle to achieve] full visibility into sell-through channel sales [by] applying a mix of manual processes and self-made tools.”
Forrester principal analyst Tim Harmon echoes that sentiment in his recent report (paywall) when he lamented that, “Partner portal utilization in the tech industry hovers abysmally in the low teens … PRM systems must be able to support not just product resale but partners’ broader business models…”
Legacy Systems Can’t Keep Up
Bottom line: Whether your partners are dealers, distributors, agents, resellers or consultants, chances are that the traditional tools you’ve been using to attract, qualify and certify them to manage your sales and marketing activities are falling short in today’s increasingly competitive and digital landscape.
Partners Have Unmet Needs
Who’s to blame?
Through our work over the past six years, we've observed a recurring set of needs — and gaps in meeting those needs — from both the partner and channel management perspectives:
|New and Existing Partners||Partner Channel and Alliance Managers|
|Understanding partner program, navigating processes (training, sales, planning) and performance measures||Measuring partner revenue generation and ROI of channel program investments|
|Locating reps, registering deals and getting credit||Matching the right partners to leads|
|Opportunity management and collaboration (all stages)||Managing and coordinating marketing development funds (MDF) and co-op allocation|
|No single source of truth for partner resources (sales materials, training, marketing, templates)||Providing ongoing partner management, performance feedback and coaching|
|Timely access to the right person or content (to help close the deal)||Ongoing channel alignment, support and coordination on opportunities (end to end)|
Prioritizing Partners Over Content
A number of platforms, including PRM, email, websites, content management and file sharing solutions, have been attempting to address those diverse information and connection needs.
However, central to all of these legacy solutions is that content, rather than user needs, is placed at the center of the experience, making these solutions very transactional in nature. Most engagement on these platforms are engineered around a 1:1 interaction model that focuses on either pushing or pulling information, which can be time-consuming and inefficient. Examples include time spent navigating through confusing processes such as deal registration, product training, promotions and pricing.
Missing the Mark
It should come as no surprise that these content-centric processes often escalate to user frustration and confusion. Instead of creating opportunities to engage partners, what often happens instead is that frustrated users turn to disjointed solutions like spreadsheets or shared drives just to get their work done.
The end result misses the mark, not only by ignoring the opportunity to engage partners in mutually beneficial ways but by failing to capture vital analytics regarding what partners actually need and how channel managers can provide it. It’s ironic that these interactions occur outside of the very systems that were originally designed to be helpful.
Community-Based Partner Solutions
Deploying a community-based partner engagement solution offers a massive opportunity to transform the partner journey and ecosystem. By aligning disparate recordkeeping and data silos into a unified, interactive and streamlined experience, partner communities create holistic user experiences that are collaborative and engaging, data-driven and place the user at the center of an experience that integrates with systems of record.
Community Opportunity Across Partner Journey
Introducing Community-Centric ToolsWe’ve witnessed the success of partner-centric communities across a number of industry verticals firsthand. These solutions tackle the challenges of traditional practices by applying a much more social and collaboration-focused model that prioritizes partners and managers over content and facilitates both in a one-to many and many to many interaction model that creates operational efficiencies, streamlined processes and increase revenue potential.
What’s more, this approach extends the previous portal-based approach by leveraging feature sets like user profiles, groups, discussions, peer networking, crowdsourcing and integrated self-service and support.
Both traditional PRM use cases, such as training and deal registration, as well extended social use, come to life when new community-centric features such as activity streams, personalized dashboards, content ratings, gamification and member profiles become available.
Quantifying the Value of a Partner Community
Better enabling your channel partners benefits not only your organization and your partners, but your customers as well. Partner communities drive sales increases, better return on co-marketing spend, improved service, and better retention of your best partners. The table below highlights just a few of the ways that partner communities create value:
|Area of Improvement||Community Value Proposition / Success Measures|
|Reduced partner ramp-up time||Accelerates time to revenue through a guided user experience|
|Improved partner planning||Increases visibility into partner performance through dashboards|
|Targeted partner communications||Improves partner access to sales and support resources|
|Closed-loop lead management||Increase close rates through deal collaboration and reporting|
|Partner coaching and feedback||Reduces escalations through greater visibility and engagement|
|Onboarding, training and certifications||Equips partners to sell more effectively through personalized onboarding|
|Analytics and insights||Improve closed loop reporting and forecasting through digital motivation|
A recent study by Salesforce (registration required) of its customers quantified the immediate and measurable impact of putting the partner at the center of the experience.
- +43 percent increase in partner sales
- +29 percent partner win rate
- +33 percent deal registration
- +46 percent increase in partner engagement
- -33 percent decrease in partner ramp-up
- +35 percent partner recruitment
- +35 percent partner collaboration
- +30 percent lower partner support costs
Additionally VMware recently highlighted how its partner community played a critical role in managing their 75,000 partner network to increase their channel sales by 80 percent. While many companies are still just learning about how communities take partner relationships to the next level, the benefits above are significant enough for organizations to pull ahead in their sector.
As you evaluate your strategies for managing your partner ecosystem, creating and fostering a partner community could enable your channel organization to increase overall performance by providing your partners with more effective and efficient tools.