The perpetual Friday afternoon traffic jam. If you live in any major city, and even most smaller ones, you undoubtedly know what I’m referring to. By 4pm, you’re mentally preparing yourself for the onramps, red lights, fender benders, tailgaters, speed traps, construction zones, road debris, and all the other roadblocks and obstacles that stand between you and your ultimate prize — the weekend.
Traffic can make people do crazy things. Like use mannequins to save a few minutes in the carpool lane. Block bridges for political gain. Launch into massive fits of road rage. Zone out with a great playlist. Or if you’re anything like me, tell yourself, “someday, I can buy that helicopter I’ve always dreamed of.” And my commute is only 20 minutes.
Here’s the thing about traffic, though — it’s unavoidable. We didn’t create it on purpose. Nobody did (Chris Christie). It just happens. After all, who in their right mind would ever purposefully put so many frustrating roadblocks and barriers between people and their ultimate goals? That would be so…evil.
Yet here we are, in 2016, and when it comes to creating engaging and fruitful channel programs, many companies still can’t get out of their own way. Even more surprising? The primary culprit in the chaos — the most typical and widespread obstacle — is almost always the very technology and systems that are supposed to be automating and simplifying the natural complexities a channel program carries with it.
So, why aren’t they?
Well, let’s take a hard and honest look at the three standard choices that channel leaders have been stuck with over the last several decades when it comes to technology platforms:
Custom partner portals have been the status quo for channel programs since the onset of the web. In fact, “portal” is still the primary term used to describe pretty much any online system that suppliers ask their partners to log into. Ironic, considering most other areas of the MarTech stack are looked at as software. Have you ever heard CRM platforms like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics or marketing automation tools like HubSpot, Marketo or Act-On referred to as “portals?” The answer is no. But the cobbled together, legacy systems still run prevalent throughout the channel have earned their name because, if anything, they are typically just the first stop in an endless web of usernames and passwords that lead to one dumping ground of PDFs after another. I get queasy just thinking about it. And it’s no wonder that this year Gartner reported that partner portal utilization in the tech industry hovers abysmally in the low teens.
Partner Relationship Management (PRM)
The card catalog of many channel programs, PRM has been the industry’s go-to “platform” since the late 1980s, finally systematizing and categorizing a channel’s people and processes in a web-accessible interface. While PRM vendors have “evolved” over time, today you’ll still fail to find a single platform that can truly define itself as SaaS. That’s right, in 2016, PRM vendors still self-describe themselves as “customizable, enterprise-class web portals” that can take a minimum of “30 days to get up and running.” If this doesn’t infuriate you, it should. Because the custom nature, terrible user experience and overwhelming complexity of PRM (only to be outdone by its price) almost always ends-up as root cause #1 of disengaged, non-productive and cost-prohibitive partner programs.
Through Partner Marketing Automation (TPMA)
Often referred to as Partner Marketing Portals because of their standard makeup as being one-stop-shops where partners can login to do everything from uploading lists and sending email blasts to social media syndication and direct mail, TPMA (also known as Channel Marketing & Management (CMM)) is the 50-caliber, gatling gun, spray-and-pray enabler of the channel. Only it promises that you and your dozens, hundreds or even thousand of channel partners will be living in a land of marketing automation milk and honey, showered with qualified, nurtured leads — even though your direct marketing team continues to struggle implementing automation for its single, streamlined self. If you’re a skeptic, not only can I not blame you, I can tell you from first-hand experience that the value, usability and engagement in TPMA and CMM systems is far from what’s been advertised. That is, IF you can ever get it implemented, much less afford it.
Looking at these three categories as a whole, it’s no wonder that so many channel programs see less than 10% of their resellers generate 90% of their channel revenue, while the other 90% of their partners sit frustrated, disengaged, unappreciated, or even worse, selling your competitors’ solutions.
Quoting Gartner again, engagement is “the key indicator of partner loyalty and productivity…yet it’s flagging.” And the primary reason is the legacy portals, complex PRM platforms and cobbled-together channel stacks that erect barriers rather than build bridges between you, your partners and your common customers, leaving partner sales reps hesitant to use them and leaving you with little or no data to analyze.
But as luck has it, you are in charge of your own channel destiny. So, tear down those roadblocks and barriers. Stop siloing and disrespecting your partners with secondary, inferior technology. And simplify and consolidate the systems and processes that help your resellers succeed. In other words, instead of trying to manage and control each and every partner movement, start empowering and collaborating with them as you would any member of your direct team.
And finally, do for your channel what you’ve done for so many other areas of your life, personal and professional — SaaSify it. Software as a Service (SaaS) is the driving force behind time and cost-saving innovations in nearly every facet of how we live, work and play. And now it’s revolutionizing the channel through Partner Sales Acceleration — a true SaaS platform focused on empowering partner sales rep (you know, the one who is face-to-face with prospects and customers), empowering them with a comprehensive toolset in the cloud where they can access everything from sales and technical training to marketing content and campaigns, deal registration and collaboration tools, customer success guidelines, and more — all with a simple, modern interface and concise data points so you can see exactly where your partners are engaging and where they’re not, in real-time.
The channel isn’t changing. It’s already changed. So much, in fact, that some leaders are unsure whether it should still be called the channel. But what I can tell you with confidence is the road to success is wide open — as long as you choose it to be. So, grab a partner and enjoy the ride.