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Introduction

Effective partner relationship management (PRM) — always a challenge for even the most skilled channel leaders — is becoming increasingly critical to the success of well-established firms and start-up companies especially.

Seismic shifts in the typical B2B buyer’s journey are demanding deeper and more timely data-informed evaluations of every vendor’s partner ecosystem.

Crafting and implementing nimble and effective channel engagement programs is more critical than even before, especially as partners gravitate toward more personalized experiences and offers that help them win business.

Streamlining and automating channel team processes is necessary to boost partner participation and internal team performance. PRM that’s supported by a robust, purposebuilt digital platform is the cornerstone of programs that achieve C-suite-satisfying ROI.

Forrester’s Jay McBain noted in a 2020 report that, “As brands increasingly use channels, partnerships and alliances as a primary vehicle to reach customers, managing these relationships in a consistent, predictable and productive way is critical.”

Channel pros need the right technologies to support and scale their programs, providing personalization, automation and self-service at every interaction point, McBain stressed, as “attempting to satisfy the permutations and combinations in the modern channel with spreadsheets and personnel has become a competitive disadvantage for many brands.”

Channel program leaders agree. A PRM platform “is a baseline tool at this point for anyone who really does want to create an enterprise-level partner experience,” said Rachel Turkus, Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at CyberReef. Partners expect to have the tools that “put everything at their fingertips and allow them to self-manage that information.”

At Dialpad, the PRM-supported partner portal is vital to giving partners “every tool possible to successfully sell Dialpad,” said Mike Kane, SVP of Global Channel Sales for the company. “We’re investing heavily in the channel and have seen great growth, especially in our mid-market and enterprise bookings. In order to build off that growth, we launched the (PRM-powered) Partner Success Portal to further activate and empower our partner community.”

A large percentage of channel-focused companies will follow Dialpad’s lead in launching or upgrading their PRM platforms and portals. According to the Channel/Partner Marketing Benchmark Survey conducted by Channel Marketer Report and Demand Gen Report revealed, more than 40% of survey respondents said they planned to implement or upgrade their PRM platforms in 2021, while 45% said they would invest in or build new portals and 90% said they expect to increase revenue directly attributed to their partner ecosystems this year.

If channel leaders think that pushing a button on their new or upgraded PRM platform will boost partner engagement and drive more sales, they might be in for a surprise. PRM platforms aren’t “set’ em and forget ‘em tools,” channel experts stressed. Rather, optimizing the ROI on PRM requires:

  • A thoughtful investigation and determination of a vendors’ needs as well as those of their partners;
  • Right-size investments in technology, staff and other resources; and
  • A well-coordinated launch and onboarding campaign to ensure platform adoption by internal team members and partner staff.

How to Streamline PRM Systems in the Modern World

There’s not an area of B2B that wasn’t touched by the Covid-19 pandemic, and channel partner relationships were no exception. As marketers adapted their strategies to keep up with the “new normal,” they realized an opening to improve the effectiveness of their partner relationship management (PRM) system.

With the need to evaluate and analyze partner effectiveness and streamline communication, many companies re-examined their channel programs to identify areas where their PRM was falling short and take steps to improve the system’s effectiveness. To gain more insights into enhancing channel programs through the help of PRM technology, Channel Marketer Report (CMR) sat down with Allbound’s VP of Marketing Tori Barlow to discuss the ins and outs of PRM.

Channel Marketer Report: What are some of the signs that a channel program could be run more effectively and profitably with a modern PRM system?

Tori Barlow: Many factors can cause an ineffective channel, but common culprits include a clunky partner experience, poor communication between partners and channel managers and limited access to updated and informative content. Three significant indicators will tell you if your channel needs further optimization: Low partner activation rates, minimal partner engagement and low partner retention.

CMR: Channel programs and the partner ecosystems that support them are evolving dramatically. What are some of the operational adjustments that channel teams are addressing better with modern PRM tools?

Barlow: Utilizing channel automation changes the way your partner program functions. With automation, channel managers can eliminate manual processes, which means your channel team gets to focus on strategy while partners are tactical. As an example, you can have 100 partners sign into the portal and have a unique experience. Partners can be segmented on partner type, tier, industry, location and more. That is the definition of personalization at scale. In addition, training, co-branding, deal registration, MDFs, etc. are now all automated. Not only do partners get to function independently, but you know that these functions are all completed swiftly and accurately.

CMR: At most companies today, C-suite authorization of a purchase of new technology is based on an understanding of the ROI. How do robust PRM systems not only pay for themselves, but actually deliver a C-suite satisfying ROI?

Barlow: The ROI of PRM is two-fold. The first is from the partners, but the second is the time your internal team saves after adopting automation. The elimination of manual processes means that our customers typically see a 61% shorter channel sales cycle while also scaling their partner program. A PRM helps engage partners so they’re generating more revenue through streamlined onboarding, clear incentives and ease of doing business. Here are a few examples of ROI customers have seen:

  • Serko achieved 100% portal adoption
  • Garland Technology saw a 33% increase in partner referral revenue
  • CloudCheckr increased partner engagement by 1,400%
  • CloudBees saw an increase of 256% in partner registrations.

CMR: Successful channel programs typically require support or participation by staff in a variety of a company’s departments. To ensure internal adoption of a PRM platform, which departments are likely to benefit from its implementation?

Barlow: Our data reveals marketing and sales teams directly benefit from implementing a PRM. With Allbound’s Channel Insights, marketing teams have a birds-eye view into the content with the most engagement, the content with the least engagement, which content leads to deal registrations and more. Additionally, the sales team can leverage insights from the partner portal to identify the content assets that drive the most deals. With easy access to content within the PRM, internal sales teams can use this content for training purposes or in their sales workflows as they work to close deals. This allows marketing and sales teams to work more effectively together, allowing for revenue growth.

CMR: What are some of the features/capabilities of a robust PRM platform that enable channel teams to attract and retain the attention of increasingly distracted partners?

Barlow: PRM platforms can increase partner engagement through a partner portal designed with partner experience (PX) in mind. Partner Journey Automation is how we enable partner engagement at scale. This feature allows you to create trigger-based alerts for actions taken — or not taken — within your portal. For instance, if a deal hasn’t moved in a set amount of time, a partner can be sent an email to remind them to update the status. This tool is a cheat code for partner engagement automation.

CMR: What are some of the future opportunities and challenges that you see companies addressing more effectively with PRM solutions?

Barlow: The hybrid workforce started as a challenge for the channel and has grown into a massive opportunity. As in-person interactions became scarce, the community learned how to utilize software to optimize channel relationships. We have seen an increase in channel revenue, which is linked to the evolution of channel automation. The main challenge that channel companies will have to face is whether they’ll continue to depend on the short-term goals that worked during the pandemic or shift to long-term strategies that rely on the world going back to a sense of normalcy.

“Partner expectations are being set by the vendors that are doing it right,” explained Stewart. “They don’t just want to have a basic portal where they can go download an E-book or marketing guide; they want a rich experience.”

– Kristine Stewart, CEO of The Lexington Group

Aligning Resources with PRM Platforms

Successfully implementing an engaging PRM platform is not a trivial matter. While the variety of user-friendly PRM solutions make it easier for channel teams to more effectively engage and manage partners, additional investments may be needed in channel staff, content creation and employee training.

The number of partners registered in Dialpad’s portal doubled during its second quarter this year with channel sales accounting for more than half of overall revenue.

“Our successful onboarding was due to our hands-on channel team giving tailored support and tools to our channel partners inclusive of the portal but also beyond that,” said Kane. “Additionally, we’re constantly adding new, compelling content to the portal, which further attracts our partners to the portal.”

Channel leaders often make the mistake that a PRM solution alone is the “silver bullet, a fix all of our infrastructure needs,” said Gina Batali-Brooks, President of Is Inspired, a channel consulting firm. “Our guidance always is to make sure you know what you need and what is going to actually drive the business forward before you do anything about selecting a new tool.”

When advising its customers, PRM solution provider Allbound recommends a “crawl, walk, run approach” to implementing a new platform, according to Ryan Sherman, Vice President of Product. That’s especially important for companies that are laying the foundation for their first PRM platform. It can be difficult for a less-experienced channel team to allocate resources to different functions and then understand how well all of them are performing.

Channel teams also need to be careful about overwhelming their partners with a wide range of features. Channel teams should initially focus on capabilities that clearly provide value to the partners as well as their customers, Sherman said.

Planning with Partners

To craft a PRM-enabled program that will optimize channel experience, there is no better source of information than partners themselves, experts insist.

“When we do our assessments, we talk to partners before we talk to anybody in house,” said Batali-Brooks. “What that allows us to do is understand what the partners need. What we find is there’s usually a very big discrepancy with what the partners say they need and what their main problems are, and what the internal teams say the problems are.”

Heather Margolis, CEO of Channel Maven Consulting, noted that partner surveys and interviews will not only uncover desirable features, they also reinforce the message the company is truly interested in creating a partner-centric experience. Promoting their involvement in the planning of the PRM platform “may make them more inclined to use it,” she said.

Prioritizing Partner Experience

Using feedback to implement a channel-centric PRM platform is critical. As more companies invest in PRM platforms, the “bar has been lifted on what qualifies for a good partner experience,” said Stewart. Partners are growing less tolerant of not having easy access to content, training or tools that enable them to perform tasks related to a specific vendor.

“Their expectations are being set by the vendors that are doing it right,” explained Stewart. “They don’t just want to have a basic portal where they can go download an E-book or marketing guide; they want a rich experience.”

Because every partner’s time is money, PRM platforms should provide the quickest access to information or important processes. “With a PRM platform, you want to enable partners to get in, get what they need and get out because you want them selling,” said Batali-Brooks. “If you want them to be learning things, you need to guide them through that process so that they don’t have to go try to peck for it, they don’t have to go try to find it.”

Effective programs, she continued, include telling partners “where they’re at, what the benefit is to moving somewhere else and then how to actually expand their business either where they’re at or where they’re trying to go.”

Experts recommend that channel teams test their new PRM platforms with selected partners before going live. Reaching out to partners who can be trusted for honest and helpful comments can mitigate the risk of a bumpy rollout to an entire channel ecosystem, said Allbound’s Sherman. Because first impressions really count, he continued, channel teams are well advised to get input from trusted partners to get feedback on what’s working or what may be confusing.

Engaging/Onboarding Partners

The successful rollout of any new solution hinges on the support of a thorough launch and onboarding strategy. Dialpad doubled the number of registered partners in its new Partner Portal with its emphasis on enhancing the partner’s overall experience.

“We wanted to make it as simple and intuitive to use as the Dialpad app itself,” explained Kane. “So far, Dialpad partners have loved the ability to submit deal registrations to Dialpad, while also being able to view all their deal statuses.”

Experts would agree that Dialpad has been doing the right thing. It’s critical to have a well-documented launch strategy for a PRM program, said Margolis. Channel teams need to plan out the processes and messages that will compel their partners to dive into their new portals. Messaging needs to assure them that the new portal will be “different than the 25 other vendors’ portals they log into and that they will get some benefit out of it that they may not find elsewhere,” she continued.

Because vendors are always welcoming new partners to their programs and the teams at existing partners are in constant flux, maintaining an ongoing onboarding program is necessary. “I recommend having a short video that tells them about all of the great things the portal offers and where to find them,” Margolis said.

Ensuring Staff Compliance

Another important tactic to drive engagement with the PRM platform is to ensure that all activities drive partners back to it. “Any of your communications need to point back to the portal because you want to start directing their behavior in the correct way,” explained Margolis.

Ensuring that internal teams are onboarded, as well as partners, is vital. When launching a new portal, it’s critical that all internal team members understand their responsibility to support the initiative, said Batali-Brooks.

“If your partner account managers continue to send documents to partners via email or not direct them to pull information about their spiffs or MDF from the portal, then you don’t have adoption,” she explained. “It’s super important that internal teams understand the value of using the tools and helping their partners use the tools and be part of the enablers to the partners using the tools.”

Conclusion

With optimal partner experience becoming a key differentiator for vendors, channel teams must be careful to clearly define their partner programs and then make prudent decisions about the PRM platforms they implement to support them. Right-sizing investments in scalable platforms will support effective initial rollouts and enable easier expansion of platform capabilities.

Prioritizing the platform as a tool that enables easy access to partner-centric information, product training, marketing materials and critical processes such as deal registration will drive revenue-boosting channel engagement.

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Ali Spiric
Marketing Specialist at Allbound

Ali Spiric leads Allbound’s content marketing to cultivate awareness for the ultimate PRM solution. Ali is a digital marketer that thrives in the B2B space.

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