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.

The Next Generation of PRM Has Arrived

Notice anything new about TreeHouse Interactive today? We’ve changed, well…everything!

Welcome to our new name, our new branding, our new company…and a disruptive new PRM technology that changes the game for this fast-growing industry.

Moving forward, as a reflection of the critical role partner portals and PRM play in imparting critical information to partners, we’ve now officially switched to our new name, Impartner, which reflects that combination. Along with it, we hope you’ll like our new contemporary look and feel, which evolves today right along with our technology.

This isn’t just a change in name. Today truly marks a new era in the PRM industry.

Let’s face it, this industry isn’t new. We’ve been around for a while, and together with other competitors, we’ve been driving the industry forward step by step.

However, like any technology play, the big leaps come not when the early adopters have had their fill – but rather, market transformation happens when the technologies get modularized into products a broader market can adopt.

Today marks that day for PRM. With the launch of Impartner PRM, we announce the industry’s first truly modularized solution that takes PRM into the broader market. We’ve made the process so simple and so non-disruptive, that in three simple, yet highly engineered steps, we can help customers choose, purchase and deploy an enterprise-class PRM solution in just 30 days.

We’re excited about this day for Impartner, but we’re more excited about what we can do for the PRM industry and meeting what is fast-becoming an insatiable market demand to transform the customer journey.

If you sell through indirect channels, the front door of your relationship starts with your partner portal. In 2015, great products but a poor customer experience can make or break your business success and drive your partners to other vendors.

If you’re facing organizational barriers in getting your team aligned around transitioning your partner portal, to help you make your case and get your team in action, check out our new eBook, “The No. 1 Reason Your Partners May Love you Anymore…And What To Do About It.”

Ready for a more info? Click here to request a demo.

Join us today in transforming your partner relationships.

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.

Product

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.

Keys To Successful Deal Registration Programs

This month’s blog post is in response to a huge amount of inquiries I received relative to deal registration and how to implement it successfully.  Later this month, our TreeHouse webinar series will follow up with a piece on successful lead distribution programs, so stay tuned.

To do any piece on deal registration justice, one needs to first understand why companies implement it in the first place.  Below is a bulleted list of some of the most common reasons companies implement deal registration.  Most of these are self explanatory and most revolve around closing more business, increasing visibility to partner pipelines and/or preventing channel conflict.  A subsequent motivation is to automate the workflow around Special Pricing Authorization (SPA) approvals.

  • Win more business!
  • Visibility into partner pipelines
  • Assist partners to close more deals
  • Prevent channel conflict
  • Allow partners to compete better
  • Automate approval workflow
  • Automate SPA (Special Pricing Authorization) request process
  • Forecast SPA dollars

Partners will give manufacturers visibility into their pipelines but need to be motivated to do so. From having worked with many companies to help develop deal registration programs, what is often missing from their thinking in the early stages is remembering there needs to be something in it for the partner as well.   While cash is still king, there are non-monetary incentives like exclusivity and closing assistance that can be equally motivating to the right type of partners.

  • Increased margin
  • Incentive dollars
  • Commissions
  • Better ability to compete
  • Deal exclusivity
  • Prevent conflict
  • Assistance with closing
  • Move up to next tier of program
  • Access to MDF/Co-op/Rebate dollars
  • Training access

Recommended Approach

So how do you go about setting up a deal registration program that will work?  There are three steps.

First, get your internal house in order.  Make sure everyone is on board.  Make sure the processes for receiving, approving and rewarding deal registrations are clear and approved by those that need to approve them. Processes for special pricing authorizations (SPA’s) should be in place.  Finally, the processes and policies for managing channel conflict should be clear to all should more than one partner register the same deal or should a partner and a direct sales team member be found chasing the same opportunity.   If you work with distributors and are going to offer special pricing or discounts for deal registrations, make sure you have worked out a system to rebate the partner or distributor in advance.  If you need the distributor to do something special for these kinds of opportunities (good luck here) get it setup in advance.

Below is a list of some of the departments/organizations that typically should be involved from the beginning.

  • Direct Sales
  • Channel Sales Managers
  • Inside Sales
  • Finance
  • Operations
  • Distributors

Second, make your program clear to your partners.  If your program is housed in a partner portal I highly recommend a program overview page.  On this page you should clearly detail the rules of engagement involved with your deal registration program. Are there deal size restrictions?  Are there national or government accounts that are off limits?  Are all products available for deal registration? How often does a partner need to update their deal registrations to keep them from expiring?  (For more on the expiry concept please see the webinar link below.)

Once you have laid out all the rules, make sure you clearly illustrate all the benefits to partners for providing you with deal registrations.  Are they going to receive commissions, increased margins, exclusivity or closing assistance? 

Third, make sure your deal registration is integrated into your PRM and CRM system.  I know this sounds self serving coming from a PRM vendor.  But think about it. How are you going to check to see if a deal has already been registered without a CRM/PRM database?  If you have 5-10 partners you might be able to manage deals on a spreadsheet, but what are you going to do with 50, 100 or 1,000 partners?  How are you going to forecast these deals if you don’t have a tool that can look at the deals in your funnel and weigh them accordingly?

Finally, stick with your policy with respect to channel conflict when what I call, the “moment of truth” arrives. Once your deal registration system is implemented conflict is inevitable. Conflict existed without registration and removing it is a goal of many registration programs.  Two partners will attempt to register the same deal or a direct sales team member and a channel partner will attempt to work the same opportunity.  While it is tempting to give the deal to your favorite partner vs. the one who registered it first, or equally tempting to give the deal to your internal team vs. a partner that might have brought the deal to you first, Don’t!  Partners talk, especially with today’s availability of social media networks.  Once you get the reputation for poaching or playing favorites, good partners will leave you.

Good deal registration programs are valuable channel assets.  If you take the right steps up front you can realize that value quickly.  If you would like to see a more detailed version of this post, please feel free to download our webinar on this subject here.

The Importance of Managing Channel Conflict Via Deal Registration

Last week’s blog post generated a question from Wendy M.  I want to thank her for her question and I am sharing the question and answer here because many I have spoken to share the same issue.

Can you provide some guidance on compensation when both the partner and the internal salesperson have both provided value within a sales transaction?

First, having a system that can accurately track that both parties contributed to the sale is critical. A partner portal with deal registration, which is integrated into your CRM, is my recommendation if it is possible. I have seen many cases where poor technology leads to questionable behavior on both the part of partners and sales teams.

Assuming you have a high level of confidence both parties participated in the sale, I like to reward both if you have the margin to do so. For a lot of the companies I work with who sell indirect via distribution, channel sales teams are paid on sell through. This is based on POS data from distribution.  In this case, the inside team gets credit towards their quota and the partner gets whatever carrot you provide as part of the deal registration process.  This is typically a few extra margin points and exclusivity to this registered opportunity as long as the deal meets your company’s requirements. Some typical requirements include:

  • Minimum size in dollars or units 
  • The type of account being sold to (i.e. not a national, government, named account, etc.)
  • Has not been registered by another partner previously
  • Is not being worked by internal sales team members (see below) 
  • Is updated at least every 30 days to keep it active

In the case where partners buy directly from your company, this gets a little tougher. The model I like to see is to reward the partner for registering the deal with you as mentioned above. If you have an internal sales team that works with partners, I like paying them for sales through their partners so they again would get credit towards their quota—which should be part of a compensation plan that is already in place.

From your question it is my suspicion, however, that neither of the two scenarios above apply.  If neither case above applies it means there is some kind of channel conflict between a direct sales team and your partner network. This arises many times from the lack of a deal registration program or a poorly implemented one with unclear rules of engagement. In this case, a partner is working an opportunity with a customer and a direct sales team member is working the same opportunity simultaneously. The deal closes. Now who do you pay?

At this point, my philosophy is that you must pay both. If you don’t, you will lose your relationship with the partner. If this partner was part of a nice sized opportunity that closed, do you want to lose them? Do you want them to spread the news to other partners that your company “steals opportunities from partners”? If you don’t pay your internal sales team member, you have a similar problem.

The solution in this scenario isn’t who to pay, but to prevent the conflict from the beginning. A good partner program with solid opportunity or deal registration and clear rules of engagement will help to prevent this type of conflict. In the case above, if the partner registered the opportunity in the company’s partner portal and the sales team was already working it, they would have been denied the deal registration and subsequently the incremental commission. Conversely, if the partner working the opportunity registered it and received approval for it, prior to the sales team member working on the deal—then when the sales team member went to enter the opportunity or lead into the CRM system, s/he would see that the partner got there first and would move on.  

I want to thank Wendy again for her question and the inspiration for this week's blog post.

Why Channel Sales Management is Different

I run into many folks who try to grasp the difference between managing a sales team that is selling direct to customers versus a team that is focused on selling through a partner network or two tier distribution model. The list below is not exhaustive, but it is a good place to start to understand how the models are different.

First, the direct sales model is just as it sounds. I sell to you. You buy my product. Case closed. I manage all the inventory myself and have visibility to all stages of the sales process.

In the indirect or channel model, I sell to a partner, who may sell to you, or I sell to a distributor, who sells to a partner, who sells to you.  In this case, the distributor or partner takes title to my goods and can hold them in inventory.

Unlike the direct sales model, I have limited or no visibility to stages in the sales process. I have inventory scattered across the country and possibly the globe that I have to manage. I have to sell partners on my value proposition and get them to market my product over competitor’s products they may carry in addition to marketing to end users.

Here are just some of the complexities of managing channel sales:

Sales Compensation

You have to pay your teams on partner sales. So, in essence, you are measuring your team on how well the partners they work with are selling. There are many issues involved here, including getting partner sales data, getting POS data from distributors, and making sure it is all complete and accurate. Who you pay for a sale can be problematic. Let’s say a sale goes through a partner in New York, but the end user customer is in Connecticut. Inside sales worked with the end user, but the channel account manager worked with the partner. Who do you pay? When you pay is also a potential problem.  Do you pay on sales in (God help you if you do) or sales out (sell-thru to end user).

Channel Conflict

One version of channel conflict is preventing one partner from stealing a deal another partner is working. This is tough enough. If your company has direct sales or OEM sales teams in addition to indirect sales teams, this can make the potential for conflict even worse.

Inventory Management

Even though channel partners and distributors take title to a company’s goods, most of those partners these days have the option to return the goods within a certain amount of time. This means that not only do companies who sell through the channel need to understand what they have on hand, but they also have to understand what their partners have on hand to accurately recognize revenue. Given all the new reporting requirements for public companies, this is no longer a “nice to have” but a must have for finance departments.

Price Protection

Price Protection is another very sticky part of channel sales management. Regularly, manufacturers will introduce new products. As they do, existing products will be discounted. If a distributor or reseller partner has bought the goods at the old price, they are almost always entitled to be “protected” against the decrease in cost. This makes understanding the inventory situation mentioned above even more critical.

Special Pricing Requests

Partners have the same needs and problems as direct sales team members. Many times they run into a competitive situation or large volume deal that requires some special pricing. If you have 100s or 1,000s of partners, how do you manage this in a way that doesn’t require hiring on a bunch of people to run pricing decisions to Sales VPs?

Channel Spending

Good partners who support a manufacturer’s products expect support in return. Making co-op or marketing development funds (MDF) available to the very best partners is typically one way companies show this support. Partners are supposed to use these funds to create demand/leads. There are two big management issues here. One is just getting, approving and budgeting these requests. It is a huge undertaking. It never ceases to amaze me how manual the process is for this in most companies, even those that are large. 

The second issue here is understanding the benefit of the spending. Understanding ROI by channel partner is critical to running effective programs. I have yet to walk into a customer who has this handled properly. It is truly amazing that companies will spend hundreds of thousands or even millions per year supporting their channel partners but not know whether it did any good on a partner by partner basis. Surprisingly, all it takes is a good channel SFA/CRM solution and good POS data. 

For the uninitiated, hopefully this post has provided a primer for understanding some of the difficulties in managing channel sales vs. sales in the direct model.

Channel Marketing is Changing

It wasn’t too long ago that the red-headed step child of most marketing programs, channel marketing, was lucky to get a few emails here and there to help with partner recruitment and channel revenue. But all that is changing. As internal sales teams have shrunk, channel marketing has become more important for many companies. This newfound importance is also spurring on some use of new tools by channel marketers, namely social media.

Social media has been a game-changing tool for B2B and B2C marketers in general, but channel marketers have been slower to adapt and use these tools to drive recruitment and channel sales. Part of the reason is not knowing how to leverage social media in the channel.

For many channel marketers, repurposing data sheets and training materials is all they can handle in terms of marketing collateral. But this content does little in the awareness stage of the buying cycle. What social media sites like Twitter and LinkedIn help you do is to engage and educate both end users and resellers much earlier in the sales process. This can drive more channel revenue for you over time and help you create top-of-mind referral sales from distributors and resellers that recommend your products or services.

Below are some tips for getting started.

Engaging

  • Get your educational content ready to share
  • Get your channel blog up and running
  • Join/participate in applicable LinkedIn groups
  • Research and go after targets  via Twitter (industry distributors, resellers, media, analysts)
  • Listen and jump into the conversation, talking about what’s important to them

Educating

  • Start by pointing to others content first
  • Point to your own content sparingly
  • Position yourself by who you talk to and how you talk to them
  • Tap into community to increase reach and have them become part of your message

Selling

  • Search for keywords via social media that indicate people are further along in the sales cycle
  • Throw your hat in the ring or offer advice
  • Take the conversation offline as soon as possible

This is just a start. TreeHouse has a webinar on “Channel Marketing and the Role of Social Media” if you want to find out more.

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.



Why Don’t We Treat Partners Like Our Internal Sales Teams?

As a PRM vendor, we are sensitive to things that help partners successfully sell, service and support a company’s products.  That’s why it always surprises me when companies treat their partners like second class citizens or worse. If you want to grow your partner network, and have it produce the revenue it should, you have to provide resources to partners just like you would a direct sales team.

Resources both direct sales teams and partners need to succeed:

  • Product Training
  • Sales Training
  • Product Sales Materials
  • Product Marketing Materials
  • Technical Resource Availability (SE’s where appropriate)
  • Leads or Marketing Programs to Generate Leads
  • Sales Pipeline Visibility
  • Sales Goals
  • Quota Accountability
  • Financial Incentives
  • Pricing Flexibility – Meet Comp., Special Pricing Authorizations

This is not an exhaustive list but a good start.  If you have an existing partner program or are planning to implement one, I encourage you to think about these and any other resources you make available to your internal sales teams.  Then I encourage you to reflect  on what you are providing or going to provide to your partners.  Is there a disparity?  Why?  Could you sell with what you are providing to your partners?

If you can answer these questions you will be that much closer to empowering your partners to successfully sell, service and support your brand in the marketplace.