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.