Best Practices Articles

What Is Partner Relationship Management?

What Is Partner Relationship Management?

The discipline that embodies the principles and tactics of managing channel partners is called partner relationship management (PRM) or channel relationship management. 

At the foundation of channel management, you’ll find partners. Partners fuel channel marketing, sales, and service efforts–their success is directly correlated to the overall channel’s success. While finding ways to manage them efficiently can be challenging, it’s a crucial component that can enable your organization to recruit and retain more partners, as well as, increase revenue at a much lower cost of sales and services than a direct sales and service model.   

The Partner Journey 

The word journey means it has a roadmap–with a beginning and an end. When it comes to partner relationship management the roadmap is all about attaining higher sales velocity and better customer satisfaction at a lower cost of sales and services. The beginning of this journey starts with partner recruitment and it ends with a high performing channel. 

The truth is it really never ends, because channel is a living and breathing entity. It’s always changing. So, yes you start with a roadmap and you execute, but there are constant changes, detours, and optimization that you have to do with the new focus.  

A successful and growing organization is always introducing new products, acquiring new partners, realigning their groups and incentives, etc., to achieve higher level of performances. So, while you don’t want to make changes every ninety days, you certainly don’t want to stick with a stale channel program year after year either. 

That’s why the notion of a partner journey revolves around a framework, but it’s highly dynamic–not like a Disney roller coaster ride, but more like a seasoned traveler that ventures through dozens of countries with a pre-determine budget to attain certain specific goals. In this case those goals are to make more revenue at a lower cost with a higher customer satisfaction rate and very little business risks or (legal) exposures. 

With this said, there are few things that are constant. For a channel focused organization, partners are always going to be a critical component to any business strategy, whether it’s a vendor just starting out or an organization that has been established for years. After all, the productivity of the partners determines the success of the channel. This is where a well-tuned partner relationship management (PRM) software or system can truly help an organization to realize its channel strategy and business goals. 

With this in mind, let’s go through an overall partner journey with a vendor organization–starting with partner recruitment, training, enablement, sales and ongoing relationship management. 

Partner Recruitment  

This is the first step in a partner journey–joining a vendor organization or partner recruitment. You can’t expect to scale without adding new channel partners to your organization. There must be an ongoing and proactive effort to build relationships with potential channel partner organizations that can sell and support a vendor’s solution. This includes both outreach and onboarding processes.  A well-designed partner relationship management (PRM) platform should allow you to do this well. 

Rather than targeting any available partner, outreach efforts should be built around a strategy–one that seeks out channel partners who are likely to perform. But recruiting is only half the battle. Once you’ve signed on the dotted line it’s time to give them all the resources and knowledge they need to begin actively selling as soon as possible.  

Partner Training 

The goal here is to ensure partners’ functional teams are properly trained on how to market, sell, deploy and support a specific solution. This means more than just a two-day conference in a hotel.  

To properly give new partners the tools they need to sell you need to take a more holistic and ongoing approach. By that, we mean offering online courses that include webinars, courses, tracks, and certifications. For example, ZINFI offers a Learning Management System that can be customized based on the vendor and even offers an incentives tracker to encourage continued training. 

Analyzing current partnerships should also be ongoing. By identifying partners that are under-performing, you can determine why and work to improve their productivity. Thomas Reid said it best, “A chain as strong as its weakest link.” And, once you know that you can focus on offering specific training and certification programs to bridge those skill gaps in your channel.  

As I said earlier, channel is continuously evolving, so the training you did a year or two ago, may be outdated. You need a dynamic platform to constantly keep your partners trained and equipped with the latest marketing, sales, and technical aspects of your solutions. 

Partner Enablement 

The goal of these activities is to provide partners with the right tools and tactics to develop a market, sell to the customer base and then serve. This includes additional training, from webinars to face-to-face meetings.  

Additionally, it’s important for partners to look the part–partners of your organization. That’s why in addition to providing online or face to face training, you will need to enable them with marketing, sales, planning and other necessary tools. State-of-the-art software, like ZINFI’s partner relationship management (PRM) platform, allows you to do so. 

Through ZINFI’s PRM platform you can provide them with templated forms, letters, and documents that allow them to simply paste their logo in and share those assets with their customers. You should also give access to any collateral–from marketing to legal documentation–that they need to streamline the sales process. The last thing you want, as a vendor, is to be the bottleneck for your partners. So, make all your resources easily accessible, co-brandable and usable in a partner’s marketing, sales, and technical activities.  

Partner Marketing 

Once you have enabled your partners with basic marketing, sales, technical and service aspects of your business, the first big step is to go out and market to generate leads of your products and services. In many cases, if you are just starting a channel, you may just be helping partners to sell to their installed base. However, even in those cases you will have to provide some basic channel marketing materials to the partner. 

ZINFI’s PRM platform can help you put together a set of simple email, social, web syndication and other type of marketing campaigns that partners can quickly use to launch in minutes. This becomes a necessity when you have a very large channel, as you will have to offer different types of campaigns, e.g., healthcare, manufacturing, SMB, mid-market, enterprise, etc., but at an early-stage simple email templates or co-branded asset tools can go a long way to drive your partner’s marketing efficiencies. 

Partner Sales 

As a part of your partner journey, the most important destination is to increase sales– and do it at a lower cost. Therefore, the goal here is obvious–go out and generate demand and then close transactions to drive revenue. How to start? As part of the training, a great incentive to begin selling is to provide leads. This is a great opportunity for new partners to apply what they’ve learned and go after a real prospect.  

It’s especially important that, as the vendor, you implement processes that enable you to track conversion rates. This is a great way to identify over-achievers or those struggling. If conversion rates are extremely low, for example, it may be indicative of insufficient training or the need for more of it.  

PRM tools are a great resource and can serve as an extension of training and engagement. For example, ZINFI’s partner relationship management software enables vendors to customize and personalize portals based on groups and profiles.  

So, you can have partner in different regional groups, and then have different profiles–sales, marketing, technical, etc. This way if someone in sales from Germany logs in they can get specific materials on how to sell in Germany versus somebody in tech logged in from New York City will only see technical training. 

This robust, customization of partner enablement and content empowers partners to learn as much as they want about products to help them achieve their goals (and yours).  

Managing Partner Relationships 

Once partners have been onboarded, trained, and have access to the resources they need, the priority becomes ongoing management. This means consistently engaging with your partners and providing them everything they need to be successful.  

If you are trying to build a large successful channel, your partner journey should consist of groups of different types of partners who are enabled with various targeted programs across multiple industries, e.g., verticals, sizes and locations of businesses, etc., and functions, e.g., marketing, sales, technical, etc.  

A state-of-the-art partner relationship management platform makes this profile management easy, but most importantly will allow you to map your programs to your groups of partners. We will discuss that in detail next. 

Partner Programs  

For any approach to partner relationship management to work, it is essential to clearly define and plan various types of programs related to partners. It’s helpful to imagine the process you’d take when hiring a new sales associate–you’d first want to introduce them to your product through extensive training, give them the resources they will need to be successful, provide them with leads to start, and (if you’re good) offer incentives for motivation.  

Partner programs will look very similar. To be truly effective, these programs should be a continuous feat, one that extends the length of your business together.  

While it would be great if all partners learned everything there is to know about your organization and ride off into the sunset selling forever, the reality is–they need ongoing support from you AND a little incentive as motivation.  

This is a critical element of making your channel program successful. Don’t feed and choke them with a lot of materials. You will need to stair step them through your partner journey to make sure they learn as they go along, but most important they achieve quick success by selling and servicing their customer base. Ease of doing business, but also ease of learning from you are going to the two most critical drivers for success. And this is where a well-designed partner portal using ZINFI’s partner relationship management software can greatly help. 

This can happen in the form of different programs built specifically for them.  

Partner Policies 

This is about clearly defining dos and don’ts. For example, sometimes vendors have products that only certain types of partners—who have certifications and competencies—can sell. Other times, a certain government-issued certification is required to sell. There could also be exclusive and non-exclusive distribution changes that may affect partners.  

One of the most commonly used channel policies is around deal registration or referral management. You must have clear policies around who can register a deal or referral and how it will go through an approval process, what part of that is auto approved, and what part of those would have to go through manual review of your sales team. You also need to determine how the partner will get notified and eventually get paid commission when they close a deal. 

The parameters around these activities require clearly written policies with iterations when needed.  

Partner Management Processes  

Partner management process steps must be clearly defined so all of a vendor’s cross-functional team members know exactly which forms to fill out, which approvals they need to secure, how to escalate processes for special pricing or incentives, and so on. 

For example, if a vendor is trying to clear inventory of a specific product and wants to offer a discount, the marketing team would need to work closely with the channel sales, channel operations, and supply chain management team members to ensure partners are aware they will be marketing through them.  

This is a classic cross-functional interlock that you can only manage if you have a dynamic and robust partner relationship management (PRM) platform. 

You should always view processes as the backbone of your channel, they should connect all areas and ensure the lines of communication remain open.  

People 

Programs, processes and policies don’t work without the right people in place. Various functions like channel marketing, sales, legal, finance, and operations need to be able to work together to drive channel management. That means the right people, the right structure and the right skills are all essential. 

Beyond the common credentials to look for in sales, it’s helpful to find partners who are financially dependent on a product’s success as this will be a major driver for them to perform.  

Consider an Automation Platform 

In this age of business process digitization, automation is key. It allows organizations to turn time-consuming, tedious tasks into a simple clickable effort. For partner relationship management, this is crucial, especially if it is your goal to scale.   

If your organization continues its growth, the reality is one person won’t be able to manage partners alone as manual management processes are limited in their capacity. You’ll eventually be forced to hire more employees, and more after that. This can also make communication increasingly difficult. Instead, automate it with software specifically built for channel management–ZINFI. 

ZINFI enables you to automate programs, processes, policies, and various workflows for your channel. You can safely store all your organization’s information and provide unlimited resources for partners. Additionally, your organization can customize each partner’s experience based on their specific need, mixing and matching features that are most important.  

While most channels are still living in the antiquated world of Excel spreadsheets and manual email updates, let ZINFI help automate these efforts. And with 67% of the buyer’s journey moving to digital, it makes sense to implement a tool that can complement the shift and help you to scale effortlessly. 

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