When it comes to the business of being a channel partner, there are a few moving pieces that add up to solid business strategy. One is, of course, generating sales. Another is effectively managing relationships with suppliers and master agents. And the last is the back-office—effective billing and marketing, among other functions. A channel partner portal can be the glue that links all of these together—though the realization of that fact has been a long time coming.
Increasingly, a re-orienting of the communications sale around the customer experience is in turn driving partner relationship management (PRM).
“One of the driving things that is happening in the portal space is that people are caring more and more and more about the customer experience these days,” said Dave Taylor, CMO at Impartner, formerly Treehouse Interactive, which is a company that provides portal platforms. “For a customer-driven organization, that experience starts with the portal, because that’s how channel partners access the tools they need to address customer requirements.”
And in fact, customers who have implemented modern PRM have seen as much as a 91 percent increase in channel sales, according to Wainhouse (News - Alert) Research, because they are providing a frictionless customer experience.
“The companies that make the most of their portals are working to build their market and are generally doing well,” Taylor said. “They’ve got the people and the practices down. You will find that the top 10 percent of channel partners on any vendor’s leader board are making use of PRM.”
Work to Do
The idea of the channel partner portal is not new. But, fresh functionality, like deal registration, lead distribution and sales tracking, plus better collaboration, marketing help, certifications and more, most certainly is. Unfortunately though, the perception of the partner portal is largely unchanged from five or 10 years ago. Most channel organizations are using it to simply push static documents out to their downstream.
“A lot of the companies that we have worked with come to us with an FTP site that they’ve branded as a partner portal—and to no one’s surprise, they typically have problems interacting with partners because the portal isn’t good enough,” said Taylor.
The reality, however, is that today’s portals can do so much more. They can be used for streamlining and automating business processes in ways that have a real impact on the bottom line for suppliers, and they can also allow partners to run their own businesses more effectively.
How PRM Delivers Real Benefits
The sales process relies heavily on metrics, lead conversion, what the range of existing targets is, and what the pipeline looks like. In a direct sales environment, these aspects tend to be well-managed and reporting is detailed, and optimization is a mandate. But when managing an indirect sales force, it becomes a very different conversation.
“When you ask about a partner’s success rate, without PRM, you’re likely to get an answer along the lines of, ‘I think we did okay,’ rather than anything involving detailed metrics or analytics,” Taylor explained. “There’s a host of issues with this, and if you’re not using a PRM tool, there are a lot of dollars that you’re leaving on the table.”
For one, companies are likely not effectively managing leads. “You don’t know how efficiently partners are getting to them, and you don’t know how effectively they’re converting them to opportunities,” he said. “You probably push out leads and cross your fingers and ask them at a quarterly business review how it went. With effective PRM, you can push a lead, follow the status of that lead and show conversion rates.”
There’s a similar issue with market development funds (MDF) tracking.
“MDF management is such a tactical thing, but the return that you generate is in the execution,” he said. “All too often, a huge partner may come to the supplier and request $5,000 for whatever activity—but there’s a real lack of metrics. One needs to ask, what was the return on the last $5,000, $10,000 or $20,000 you gave that partner? Regardless of how much business goes through that company, you need to have visibility into MDF ROI.”
Portals are also a great strategy for amplifying marketing reach while controlling the message. With a good portal, suppliers and master agents can create effective marketing campaigns, and then allow their partners to execute them within known parameters. This provides brand protection and ensures that expectations are set where they should be.
This is the approach that Tech Data (News - Alert) has taken with a marketing portal offering for VARs, which provides access to customizable, automated marketing campaigns through TDAgency, Tech Data’s full-cycle in-house marketing services agency.
Partners can access pre-made content that they can customize and distribute to their customers. The portal also provides insights through data analysis and lead scoring, including identification of key partners and most profitable markets. Other capabilities include customer relationship management (CRM) integration, campaign results analysis and customized social media feeds.
Changing the Perception
Tech Data is unfortunately not the norm—a state of affairs that some find frustrating.
“I would challenge you to find a CIO or CFO out there that doesn’t understand the software and tools that they use to do their jobs every day,” Taylor said. “Why is it that those heading up channel sales don’t understand theirs? This needs to change.”
One of the things holding some companies back from advancing their PRM strategy is a fear that the process will be onerous and resource-intensive. And there’s certainly precedent for that: In the past, portal development was a bespoke process that involved layers and layers of coding and months of design work, at no small cost to the company implementing it.
Edited by Rory J. Thompson