The promise of these more efficient business processes has caused a surge in marketing automation adoption. Benchmark research from SiriusDecisions indicates that while 18% of B2B organizations utilize a marketing automation platform, that number is expected to swell to 40% by 2016.
However, one clear pain point is rising to the surface for organizations that operate in the channel. Facing a more complex ecosystem of campaign management, opportunities, reporting and tracking, overall sales and marketing progress across partner networks is becoming more and more difficult to report on.
Best-in-class organizations, however, are implementing Partner Relationship Management (PRM) solutions, which help bridge the gap between partners and vendors, ensuring better visibility and collaboration among channel players.
Most vendors and manufacturers utilize PRM solutions as companion systems to CRM. While a vendor’s CRM system holds customer information, PRM manages all partner relationships and allows an organization to keep tabs on partner performance, MDF and Co-op and other assets.
“An optimal solution is in which records integrate if they relate to both customers and partners,” according to Mike Morgan, CEO of RelayWare. “This most typically occurs with sales opportunities, where a partner will be engaged in progressing a given opportunity with a specific customer. Essentially, CRM and its combination of sales and marketing automation, reporting and analytics is suited to customer lifecycle management, whereas PRM and its combination of program, process and multichannel communication automation is suited to partner lifecycle management.”
But there are a multitude of challenges organizations face regarding partner adoption and usage of PRM solutions, according to Laz Gonzalez, Service Director of Channel Marketing Strategies for SiriusDecisions.
“The overarching business issue is portals typically get 15% to 20% adoption,” Gonzalez told Channel Marketer Report. “Vendors and manufacturers have to focus on consolidating their approach to technology and create one front door and really hone in on driving adoption. For example, offering single sign on and enterprise search or access to account information. That puts value into using the portal.”
Moreover, vendors and manufacturers are faced with even more integration struggles when striving to connect the dots between their marketing automation platforms, CRM and PRM systems, according to Mark Woollen, VP of Sales Cloud and Product Marketing for Salesforce.
“The channel organization and direct sales are working in two different systems,” Woollen said. “Direct sales works with something that has opportunity management and lead management via some form of CRM system. A lot of times you’ll see the channel manager dealing with partners and working with more primitive systems and standard spreadsheets.”
To drive participation among partners, vendors must provide the education and resources to show the benefits of PRM, Morgan explained. “Partners need to believe that it is in their best interests to use PRM solutions, so vendors need to explain why it needs to be done, what the benefits are, and link rewards or other incentives if necessary,” he said. “Moreover, partners need to understand the penalties if they fail to make updates, such as losing rewards, rebates, discounts and other support.”
Once organizations have their “transactional houses” in place, and have streamlined PRM operations with features such as deal registration and lead and opportunity management, vendors can “complement the transactional piece with content, expertise and collaboration,” Woollen explained. “This will provide additional value to partners,” he said. “It’s important for vendors to help partners get smarter faster, and for channel managers to develop that dialogue with channel sales teams: Finding the right expertise, and getting the right content to the right people at the right time. That community piece becomes even more paramount.”
Spotlighting Features Of Optimal PRM Solutions
While the benefits of PRM solutions are coming more to the forefront, organizations need to have a clear understanding of their business to find the optimal solutions for their channel.
“We’re seeing automation of the channel as a leading trend, which is allowing brand owners and partners to use the same systems to manage the entire pipeline,” Woollen reported. “Vendors deal with responses from marketing campaigns, and then through specific campaigns, roll out leads through the pipeline to partners. This allows internal sales reps and channel sales reps to work side-by-side.”
Leading features and capabilities of PRM solutions include:
With more PRM systems moving to the cloud, vendors are allowing partners to register deals, manage opportunities and make updates anytime and anywhere via mobile devices, according to Woollen. “While mobile utilization is still mostly in direct sales organizations, we’re going to see more vendors making all partner capabilities mobile by September 2013,” he said. “This includes lead management, updating forecasts, and the ability to access the content necessary to sell effectively.”
Tackling The Integration Issue
Addressing the ongoing inefficiency occurring within channel organizations is a daunting task for vendors. While some organizations are turning to marketing automation to aid in lead nurturing and campaign execution, organizations need to transport all contacts that turn into leads, into their PRM portals for distribution to partners, which oftentimes leads to a disconnect.
“Suppliers want to create opportunities and demand, and make sure their partners are fully trained,” Gonzalez explained. “What is difficult with using the technology, though, is that they’ll have marketing automation platforms to create campaigns, but it relies on PRM systems to then capture leads created from campaigns and move that information to opportunity management. That’s where the black hole is.”
However, tackling this integration challenge isn’t due to poor technology, but subpar interest and participation from partners, according to Paul Reader, Director of Business Development for Eloqua.
“Technical integrations, especially of SaaS solutions, are not difficult,” Reader said. “The key challenge is working from the foundation of partners and their requirements, and looking at the various technology platforms and deciding which platforms serve which business requirements. As soon as this rationalization of technology usage is complete, figuring out data flow between systems is straightforward and that informs how the technical integration should be undertaken.”
Streamlining CRM, PRM and marketing automation platforms brings a number of benefits to channel operations. While PRM can be utilized as a stand-alone solution, its features and capabilities multiply when integrated with CRM and/or marketing automation, according to Ken Romley, CEO of Zift Solutions.
There are two possible integration points for CRM platforms: A vendor’s CRM system can link to a PRM system or to the partner’s CRM system, Romley explained. “Linking a CRM system to a PRM system allows vendors to have visibility into the status of prospects that have been registered as leads in real-time in their CRM environment,” he said. “Moreover, all top-tier PRM systems support co-branding efforts for channel partners. Linking to the partner’s CRM system allows marketing qualified leads (MQL) to immediately be pushed to the partner’s CRM system and made visible to the partner’s sales team.”
Integration between marketing automation platforms and PRM systems offer three key benefits, Romley added:
1. Leads can automatically be distributed to appropriate partners as they are nurtured.
2. If vendors have additional interactions with a prospect, these interactions are immediately available to partners.
3. Activity on leads distributed can be tracked within the marketing automation platform, allowing for the impact of a campaign to be measured holistically, including both the direct benefits and those seen indirectly through the partner community.