Bring Manufacturing Into the 21st Century With Partner Engagement

If you’re in the manufacturing industry your customers buying journey can easily become complex. The amount of time and consideration dedicated to these investments is critical to your organization and your channel partners. Partner Relationship Management helps improve the communication between companies and their channel partners. In the first-year of using Impartner PRM (Partner Relationship Management), companies have seen a rise in partners by 46 percent and a bump in revenue by 31 percent.

Your company relies heavily on the success of an indirect sales channel to market and sell. It’s time you thought about increasing your partner engagement and how it will help streamline your manufacturing operations.

  1. Automation will create an effective and efficient interaction between your company and channel partners. Partner Relationship Management software will increase productivity, loyalty and engagement, thus creating greater consistency and profitability. By automating your systems, you increase the value of your partner interactions, ultimately making it easier to do business with you. This also frees up your sales talent from mundane manual processes and allows them to get back to selling and building relationships.

  2. Amplification of your message to more people. Impartner’s PRM integrates marketing into your business strategy. Channel management software will allow your partners to market their unique value-added solutions and distribute complete and accurate content. In the meantime, we suggest including all your partners in your digital marketing campaigns. Targeting specific titles and industries will ensure you are getting the right message to the right person, and it is a great way to start managing your channel partners. They have reach that you don’t, taking advantage of this asset is a great way to generate more leads that close.

  3. Optimization of your channel strategies. The time is now to move your data from spreadsheets; which can be error prone and time consuming, to a cloud based CRM. Optimizing your systems will allow you to close business quicker and increase accuracy. If you are currently running your channel from spreadsheets and email, you can almost guarantee that you are leaving money on the table. Keeping an organized, trackable digital record is a great starting point and will help you move towards a full functioning PRM.

As we begin to see more and more manufacturing companies become clients, they soon realize the benefits of ditching the spreadsheets and emails for a full functioning channel partner/distribution channel eco system. For more information about PRM software solutions, check out The Ultimate Field Guide to Starting a Channel.

The Secret to Accelerating Indirect Sales Is Out: PRM

The term PRM seems to be everywhere. You may be hearing it helps you accelerate your indirect sales, maintain your brand integrity, drive more value out of the leads you provide to your partners, and create a better partner experience that helps you attract and retain the best partners.

Those things are all true and more. The PRM (Partner Relationship Management) industry, while not new, is fast emerging as one of the most critical technologies for companies wanting to ensure they’re accelerating their indirect sales.

As the industry gains traction and more and more companies search for a solution that best fits their business needs, we’ve partnered with sales tech thought leader Beagle Research to offer a new handbook on PRM. In this comprehensive guide, “The Secret Sauce for Accelerating Indirect Sales; A Definitive Guide to PRM,” Beagle outlines what PRM is, who it’s for, what the selection pitfalls are, how to buy it and how to implement, including the following key reasons why companies need a PRM including to:

  • Distribute sales leads
  • Enable partner to market their unique value-added solutions
  • manage sales and discounts to the partners
  • Train and certify partner staff
  • Distribute complete and accurate content
  • Assign and regulate lead flow in territories so that partners are not necessarily competing with each other in a price competition that leads to a death spiral.

“Channel operations offer a unique business model that relies on free and secure information flow between vendors and partners. In 2015, if you’re selling through the channel and not using a PRM solution, you risk leaving partners unsatisfied with their experiences and leaving money on the table,”

said Denis Pombriant, managing principal at Beagle Research.

For your comprehensive guide to PRM, download the digital handbook.

Transaction and Process

Transaction and process are a couple of words that are often used interchangeably though they mean different things.  They’re not opposites like jumbo and shrimp that would make an oxymoron.  Transaction and process are a pair more like data and information.  They’re related not as synonyms or antonyms but through a hierarchy.  You can cultivate data into information and a transaction frequently happens at the end of a process — for instance, a sales process yields a sales transaction.

I believe that vendors think in terms of transactions but that customers think more about the process.  "How many closed deals can I expect this quarter" is a vendor thing while, "how does this product solve my business problem," encapsulates the customer.

Much of this could be applied to the channel.  As we’ve observed before, sometimes partners look and act like equals in business while at other times they behave more like customers.  So it’s good to ask ourselves if our partner-facing systems meet our partners’ needs for processes such as education, marketing, or lead nurturing, or are we treating these processes more like transactions focusing on our desired end result instead of their ongoing needs?

Everyone needs the insight and knowledge that a process provides when dealing with something new.  That’s certainly true for partners that are betting their futures on a relationship with your company.  That’s why any partner program has to have a balance of components that appeal to both needs — transactions and processes — and I mean that in both directions.  Partners need transactions like getting paid and vendors need processes like understanding the pipeline.

But here’s the thing.  You can manage partner level transactions with not much more than spreadsheets to keep lists of various things that are important to the relationship. But even with this you’ll top out and either have to hire more people to manage the spreadsheets or decide to get a Partner Relationship Management (PRM) system.  Without a PRM system, you’ll still just have a lot of data and not much understanding of how your channel works, i.e. its processes.

When you get a PRM system the big benefit will not simply be headcount reduction or more accurate record keeping, though both are useful.  The biggest benefit you will discover is your ability to expand your relationships with your partners by better understanding the processes they use to get results.  The ability to know more about what drives partners, and most importantly, to understand which ones need a little help and that starts when you collect partner data within your main business processes and analyze it. 

Business itself is a process not a transaction and a process orientation helps everyone better understand needs on the way to the transaction.  Understanding process can enable businesses to trouble shoot transactions for bottlenecks too.

The fact that a business expects to be ongoing for the indefinite future speaks volumes about the importance of process.  Without a firm process orientation there’s always a danger things could grind to a halt.  I’ve seen many companies with channel operations that have built their own PRM systems.  The thing that many have in common is a focus on transactions with the partner base.  When these companies ask me what they can do to improve business flow through the channel I invariably tell them to investigate the efficiency of their processes.  At that point the confusion about transaction and process becomes clear and often the vendor discovers that there’s a lot unknown about how the channel works.

When you cross over from transaction-oriented spreadsheets to process driven channel management, you inevitably step into your customers’ shoes and that forces you to see the world as they do through processes rather than only through your eyes that tend to look for transactions. 

This is less rocket science than common sense.  I see the same thing happening in CRM as businesses migrate from pure transaction oriented CRM to process orientation.  The reality is that we live in a hyper competitive era when multiple vendors might be able to supply the same needs.  The vendors that do best are the ones that put on a pair of their customers’ shoes.

Managing Your Channel Partners Like a Baseball Team?

Running a partner channel is a bit like running a baseball organization. In baseball you primarily see the big league talent, but that’s the tip of a big mountain of ice. The minor leagues constitute the majority of any good organization’s baseball effort for the simple reason that the big leagues have an insatiable need for talent. The more talent that an organization can develop in-house without going to the veteran free agent market, the better.

A channel organization is like that in some respects. The vendor has an unquenchable thirst for talented partners who can take the vendor’s products to market, implement and service them, and generally represent the organization and the brand in a credible way. Also, the channel, like single A baseball, is a great proving ground for emerging talent. A vendor might not expect a small new partner to provide significant new revenue right away, but as in baseball, the emerging talent is the future of the organization and a good reason to offer programs that nurture it.

So how do you accomplish this without alienating your established partners who are generating the lion’s share of revenue? Offering the same discount levels to emerging partners who might buy limited quantities would only upset the established partners and it probably wouldn’t do lot of good either. Without the headcount and infrastructure to add appropriate value to the vendor’s goods, a small partner might simply resort to wholesaling the goods, which would likely further alienate the major partners.

Regardless, a wholesaling arrangement isn’t even what a new partner is typically looking for. These prospects—to use a baseball term—are trying to build new businesses and assistance along that dimension is more likely to help both the vendor and the new recruit. This means almost everything but big discounts are important. To be fair discounts may be important too, but they are at the end of a long chain of events that require marketing development funds, co-branding, product and sales training, leads, deal registration, and more.

In baseball new recruits can expect to join a team and to be cared for and nurtured 24/7 as they develop their talent and play games. This is a good place to disconnect baseball and the channel because no vendor no matter how benevolent can afford the time and resources needed to build up partner prospects. This being capitalism, it’s reasonable to expect the partner to shoulder most of that responsibility.

This is another reason why building and maintaining appropriate and adequate partner relationship management systems matters. PRM is not just for managing your big and successful partners, it’s also a mechanism that implements your procedures and processes for developing new ones efficiently and economically. The PRM system helps make developing new talent affordable to the vendor. It’s also an important sales tool for the vendor.

Consider this. If you are new company interested in a channel relationship in a market space, you’ll gravitate to the vendors who can demonstrate an interest in making you successful. You’ll want favorable pricing for sure, but if that’s all you look at, you’re probably not ready to join a channel because you don’t really understand what’s most important to your success. So the desirable new partners are the ones that see value in your channel apparatus and you should make every effort to ensure that they see your value.

The same strategy can also be useful in recruiting larger partners, especially if you need to take them away from a competitor. The quality of your channel programs is on full display in your PRM system and it’s accessible all the time. In either case, the message to your partners and potential partners is that you know how to help them be successful. It’s not much different from a vision of the World Series to a minor league player.

Partner Pyramid aka Whole Product for Partners

A partner might not be a customer exactly but it’s never a bad idea to think of partners in that light, at least in some instances.  Last time we delved into the partner experience and compared it to the customer experience and discovered some similarities.  But we can take the comparison further and rather than emphasize the customer aspects of the relationship, look into the business attributes.

First time vendors setting up a partner channel are prone to making the rookie mistake of thinking, “If we build it, they will come.”  This come and get it approach to the channel often results in an inevitable disappointment as vendors realize that potential channel partners don’t share their enthusiasm.  But it’s not enthusiasm; it’s hard business sense that drives things.  Partners need to be shown in good detail how they can make money working in the channel and that usually goes far beyond vendor promises that “You can make money selling our stuff because we offer big margins.”  

This brings us back to the notion of whole product.  In an end user situation it means the core solution plus all of the policies, procedures, programs, and outreach that assure customers that they’ll be successful not only in productively using your solution but in interfacing with your company.  Partners are no different though their whole product needs are.  Consider these needs and you’ll get the idea.

Partner value proposition

Your value proposition starts with margin but by no means ends there.  It encompasses everything from the robustness of your product to how easy it is for partners to register a deal, leverage your marketing and content, create invoices and make returns, and, oh, yes, get paid.  It also relies on your brand and product reputation in the marketplace.  If your major competition has a more visible and trusted brand it will attract more partners simply because the competition will appear easier to sell.  But everyone has to deal with differentiation via competition, which is why, all things being equal, you want to be the company that’s easiest for a partner to deal with.


Your partners are like anyone else, they don’t want to spend a day on-site when an hour online might suffice.  That goes to the heart of ease of configuration and deployment.  You can always improve product usability and for that reason you should never stop asking partners how to do this.

Business processes

Many partner programs are made or broken on their business processes and for good reason.  Your processes make up the part of whole product that your brand and product don’t.  Your business processes are what make you easy or difficult to work with and they require constant monitoring.  Processes typical to a partner channel can include business onboarding, ongoing ease of doing business, easy access to technical support and service materials, well thought out terms and financing programs, deal registration, and marketing cooperation and marketing funding support.

Partner community

Very often we think of partner relationships as bi-lateral between one vendor and one partner at a time.  After all, partners don’t want to share their knowledge of customers and deals in a forum where others could scoop them and that’s completely understandable. But when it comes to product and business process improvements you might discover a different reaction.  A community organized around sharing in these domains usually turns up many good ideas that benefit all parties because ideas mature quicker and with greater detail when many heads consider a problem and provide solutions.  So don’t rule out a partner community.

The role of PRM

Most of the partner processes mentioned and many others, are best supported by a robust PRM system.  For example, one process not already mentioned is integration with CRM.  PRM is not CRM, it is a specialized platform for managing the relationship between the vendor and the partner.  But data and process flows need to work bilaterally between the two management systems for maximum effectiveness.

PRM should support everything else in the partner relationship.  However, if a vendor is using separate spreadsheets to manage its partner program, that vendor may quickly discover that the spreadsheets put an effective cap on the size of the partner population it can manage and thus the revenues it can drive through the system.  This is not to say that a manual, spreadsheet based system can’t work, but it does imply limitations based on volume, size and, importantly, error rates in all of the business processes managed by spreadsheets.

Automating your partner business processes will maximize the utility of your partner program by providing much better support for partner initiatives and reducing the time it takes a partner to get something done.  It will also reduce the inconsistencies and errors associated with even the best intentions in a manual process.

All this boils down to a partner’s ability to make money and control costs in your program.  It’s what everyone aims for but it’s a more realistic way of getting there than simply opening the doors and saying come and get it.

The Single View of the Vendor

In the CRM world we often hear about the single view of the customer and how important it is. Briefly, for a vendor, the single view means capturing all of the information that is relevant and knowable about customers so that the vendor can best manage the customer lifecycle. This means knowing about support issues, billing problems, and sales processes in progress so that no one on the vendor side is surprised during any customer facing process. 

The favorite example is a sales process when the customer has outstanding service issues. It’s generally thought, quite rightly, that a customer will not be in a frame of mind to make an additional purchase when there are outstanding support or service issues.

This all makes so much sense that the single view of the customer is no longer in debate, it’s table stakes for being in almost any business. However, there is a version of this scenario for companies who sell through channel partners that’s now just coming to the surface and it doesn’t get the same play though it should. 

With a direct model customers know who they are dealing with and who the responsible party is but with an indirect model there are more moving parts. There may be a manufacturer or primary vendor, as well as one or more partners that add value to the solution that the customer seeks. For example, a kitchen cabinetmaker might employ an indirect model for the simple reason that partners might be able to do a better job of interacting with the end customer to design a kitchen, select materials and styles, manage cabinet installation, and provide after sales support.

Rather than developing all of this expertise in-house, the cabinetmaker will likely be happy to provide discounted cabinets to partners who can take on these services. But what about the customer? The customer will most likely want to purchase a finished kitchen, from a single company and not a bunch of parts and disparate services that he or she has to then manage and assemble. The customer will want to ensure that the job is done by experts from initial design to final trim and the customer will need the assurance that the whole process including manufacturing the goods by the vendor as well as installing them by the partner, goes smoothly. In fact, that end customer likely won’t know, or even want to know that there are several different companies involved in her purchase. That’s the single view of the vendor.

For value added resellers, simply claiming to represent the manufacturer is not enough these days, for the simple reason that it doesn’t achieve a level of confidence in the overall solution. Since the customer is looking for an integrated chain of value-added product and services, the vendor and partner need to work together to convey that understanding through their actions, not just their words. Two ways to do this include utilizing on demand co-branding to demonstrate their relationship and to provide those end users an easy to use online partner directory, or where to buy option, on their website.

Automated on-demand co-branding simply means providing the partner with sales, support and marketing materials that represent both the vendor and the vendor partners’ brands so that information is presented jointly from both parties. Co-branding is a great way to convey the subliminal message that vendor and partner are mutually supporting the customer.

A good partner directory is another excellent approach for demonstrating solidarity to customers and a commitment to your partners. Since most vendors can’t be experts in every vertical market and geography, a directory that lists all relevant partners for a particular customer need is a good way to demonstrate competence, especially for the individualized customer situation. Adding a partner’s expertise, certifications and even end user reviews of partner services to a directory moves the partner from simple product reseller and vendor the from simple manufacturer to the status of a combined solution provider and solutions sell better than products.

That’s what a single view of the vendor is all about. It’s demonstrating to the customer very early in the lifecycle that the vendor-partner pair not only has the capability to deliver the goods, but it also gives the customer a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities throughout the lifecycle.

Conventional PRM does a great job of mostly back office processes like managing discounts and payments, onboarding new partners, managing marketing funds, deal registration, and more. But these aspects are usually hidden from the customer and do little to inspire the confidence needed to deliver a single view of the vendor. But partner marketing enablement technologies like automated on-demand co-branding and partner directories or locators are two good examples of customer facing features that can enhance both the partner and vendor’s image and help close deals. 

The single view of the customer might no longer be up for debate, but the single view of the vendor is just entering the mainstream.

For more on this topic, view the on-demand webinar.

Justifying a PRM System

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of trying to gauge how far a company should go in developing an indirect channel before deciding to invest in a PRM system.  The answer today is different from it might have been a few years ago but it boils down to that old chestnut — “Go win a game, then we’ll think about getting you a helmet.”

As you might guess there are many situations in life where you can’t practically get below a bare minimum of support if you have any expectation of succeeding. If you’re going to play football at any organized level you need a helmet (and pads) and that’s all there is to it.  Or, another example, even your Sunday morning softball team still needs some balls, bats, and gloves.  You get the idea.

So from that perspective I shake my head when the question of PRM systems comes up. In the software world, the equivalent of playing without a helmet is trying to run a business with spreadsheet record keeping. It’s a tried and true practice with a predictable downside. While it might be true that no one plans to fail, not starting off with a PRM system could be considered a failure to plan.

Many years ago companies used spreadsheets in lieu of CRM systems because they were readily at hand and enabled smart people to model sales processes within them.  Alas, a model is not the thing itself and too often a model won’t stand up to volume, which is what happened with spreadsheets in CRM.  Among their many shortcomings, spreadsheets don’t have databases and the models they represent are ill equipped for high volume operations.

Fast-forward to the partner channel and you can see the same trouble. Companies getting involved with the indirect model sometimes use a combination of CRM, spreadsheets, and labor to run the channel.  But even discounting the labor, not having the right tool for the job puts the whole operation at risk.  Without the appropriate investment in partners, the partners in turn could decide that a vendor is not serious about supporting them leading to slower growth than expected and that becomes a downward spiral. 

Still, cobbled together systems tend to work well enough for the company’s first few partners but if the program becomes successful (and that’s the point of the program, right?) the spreadsheets can represent a not so happy, happy problem.  

Implementing a PRM system into a partner program that’s breaking its cobbled together system at the seams isn’t free of challenges, the major one being conversion. Employees need to adapt to the new system and both they and partners need to adjust to business processes now built into a system rather than being administered only by people.  

So, for instance, with a PRM system monitoring service level agreements, some partners might discover the hard way that they haven’t been following up on leads in as timely a manner as they thought.  Long term, having that knowledge might be good but it might also ruffle some feathers the first time an SLA expires and some sanction swings automatically into action.

Then too, a manual deal registration system might not afford all of the protections that partners expect and this can easily be one of the things that drive ultimate adoption of PRM.  But not before more partner feathers are ruffled.  

But the biggest reason for automating the PRM function is time and timing.  If time is money, partners and vendors alike don’t want to be burdened by inadequate systems that don’t operate as fast as they do.

In my view, this all boils down to catering to the partner experience.  Just like the customer experience (CX) in CRM, the partner experience (PX) is a way of measuring the things that contribute to success.  As with CRM you can develop metrics and use analytics to figure out how well your organization is performing for its partners and if you find something that needs fixing, you have all of the evidence and justification you need.  

That’s something you won’t get from spreadsheet management.  You may be able to collect a lot of data in a spreadsheet but you might not be able to convert it into the information you need to run a successful channel.  So, my answer to the question of how many partners you need before you invest in proper channel management tools is simple — one.  You need one partner and a vendor determined to make the channel a successful and integral part of the business. Given how much PRM technology is available today through software as a service (SaaS), it doesn’t make sense to start with anything else.

TreeHouse Extending Technology Lead in Partner Relationship Management and Marketing Automation

TreeHouse Interactive continues to extend its lead in partner relationship management (PRM) and marketing automation this month at the Dreamforce trade show in San Francisco, CA on August 30.

New technology will be released for the Marketing View™ marketing automation solution. The new features include ground-breaking capabilities related to company level behavioral tracking. 

TreeHouse will also add revolutionary new partner marketing enablement to its Reseller View™ PRM solution, which is already the most comprehensive PRM system available and the only one on the Appexchange. 

Set up a time to see Marketing View and Reseller View in action at booth 219 at the Dreamforce trade show in San Francisco, CA August 30th - September 2nd or any time after via an online demonstration.

How many partners does it take to justify PRM?

I have a customer who has planned on launching a channel program with a Partner Relationship Management (PRM) system for a while now.  I visited this customer at least once per quarter for the past two years on other business.  Each time I saw him I would ask “When are we going to build that Partner Portal and launch PRM for you?” Almost inevitably he would respond with “soon”. 

He called me last week and told me the time had come to implement his Portal/PRM system.  A little stunned, I was very curious as to what the motivation was for starting now when the program had been in development for the better part of two years.  His answer really hit home with me and I thought that others may benefit from the experience so I am sharing it here.

Essentially, my client’s answer was that his program had now exceeded his ability to manage it manually.  At 5-10 partners, he could personally respond to requests for documents, manually transfer deal registrations into his CRM, generate and distribute logos, copy etc.   He was also able to execute trainings on a one to one basis with each new partner. 

Now, however, his program had grown to almost 100 partners and he was spending almost all of his time and the better part of another team member’s time responding to the needs of partners.  This was not beneficial for him nor the members of his partner network.  Thus, he needed to implement a PRM so partners could have self service access to the tools and training they needed to successfully sell, service and support his company’s product line when they needed them.

That got me thinking.  How many partners does it take for PRM to make sense?   Below are a few analyses that take a very conservative approach with respect to what resources a partner may need, how often during a year they might need them and the estimated time to respond to each.  What shocked me was how few partners it took to completely occupy the time of a full-time employee.  Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments.