Partner relationship management (PRM) is the process of managing the relationships you have with your Channel Partners. PRM combines business process workflows and partner portal technology to achieve this single goal: enabling channel partners to sell and service your products more effectively. In short, PRM Technology or partner portals makes it easier for your channel partners to do business with you.
What is PRM?
Partner Relationship Management (PRM) is a business term that is used to describe the methodology and strategies for improving relationships between companies and their channel partners. Often referred to more generically as Channel Management Software, PRM solutions are Web-based platforms that enable companies to customize and streamline business processes. They include key features for sales, commissions, lead management, marketing campaigns, inventory access, and other features designed to facilitate the relationship between manufacturers and their channel partners. PRM is often compared to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) but there is an emerging viewpoint that the complex relationships within the sales channel make it necessary for PRM to be a separate entity and not merely a component of CRM.
A PRM solution can help in establishing and maintaining trust and open communication within the manufacturer-dealer relationship. PRM processes seek to identify and resolve conflict in every area of the channel partnership, creating a more efficient system of conducting business. As a result, manufacturers improve their distribution and productivity numbers; dealers grow their sales and commissions; advertising and marketing campaigns are more successful; and ultimately, the customer is better served by the entire channel.
PRM systems are a set of tools that allow a manufacturer to better organize and manage their channel relationships. A PRM system can be looked at as both a technology solution and a business philosophy. While there is no universally accepted definition for what constitutes a complete PRM solution, there is consensus on the core functional components of PRM. Training, Marketing & Communications, Lead Management and Incentive Management are among the crucial pieces. Some definitions also include the ability of a manufacturer to manage the lifecycle of a partner relationship, i.e. partner acquisition all the way through to either optimization or partner withdrawal.
The Real Value of the Channel Partner Relationship
It is difficult to overstate the value of the manufacturer-dealer connection. The obvious importance is in generating sales and service revenue for the manufacturer; the better your reseller relationship, the more of your products they are likely to sell. A closer look at the advantages of a strong relationship reveals other benefits that are not as easily measured, but that are of equal or greater importance.
Manufacturers today are struggling to meet increasing customer expectations and needs, while dealing with shifting market conditions and economic swings. Working to outmaneuver competitors these days involves building highly effective internal and external relationships that ensure the company has the ability to support its mission and meet evolving growth initiatives. The strategy of maintaining open dialogue among partners has become crucial for innovation and overall success. Manufacturers today must develop and maintain connections that provide the resources they need to grow and strengthen their distribution channel and enable them to improve their bottom line.
Conducting business in the twenty-first century therefore, requires forming partnerships and strategic alliances, both internally and externally. Creating a partnering culture within an organization fosters collaboration among existing subcultures. This positions the organization to achieve the primary goal of business growth. Smart partners win not only because of what they do, but even more importantly, from how they do it. They win from leveraging their connectedness, and from valuing the building of relationship skills.
Alliances and partnerships can produce astonishing results; but only when information flows freely, people trust each other, and both sides are dedicated to the goal of mutual success. Operating from such a vibrant collaborative mind-set that foregoes conflict in favor of mutual benefit requires interdependence that does not always come naturally to an organization. That’s why a PRM solution that encompasses all aspects of the channel partner relationship is crucial to business success.
The Holistic Approach to PRM – Partner Portals are More than just Technology!
Improving engagement within the channel partner relationship allows manufacturers to address concerns that their dealer network may have. This holistic approach includes providing their partners with tools and systems that make it easier to do business. It involves looking at the way current processes are working and evaluating how they can be improved. It also includes making changes for the better in the core areas of Collaboration, Marketing and Communication, Training and Certification, and Performance Management.
PRM Solutions for Sales & Marketing. Supporting dealers Channel Partner Marketing by keeping them well informed is mission critical. Getting the right message to the right person, at the right time and without overwhelming them, is the key challenge here. Dealers get bombarded with random inconsistent messaging. This is particularly challenging in “non-captive” dealer networks, where dealers sell more than one competing brand. Get this one right with your dealers and you will gain mindshare.
PRM Solutions for Training & Certification. Providing Channel Partner Training and certification programs and processes that are efficient, timely, and effective is also mission critical. Today’s products are highly complex. Think computerized forklifts, fly-by-wire construction vehicles, emissions-friendly trucks, etc. This rising complexity of products has driven the need to assist dealer salespeople in communicating value propositions effectively to end buyers. It has made it more challenging to provide service technicians with the skills to fix and maintain these complex products. Training and certification is the standard by which a manufacturer knows that the salesperson and service technician representing their brand knows what they’re doing. Get this one right and you will raise the engagement level with your dealers, and customer satisfaction numbers will soar.
PRM Solutions for Collaboration. Technology that provides Channel Partner Collaboration has evolved such that collaboration at scale is now possible. The proliferation of the Internet, boosted by society’s rapid and global acceptance of social networking tools, has enabled a capability for manufacturers to facilitate global channel partner collaboration. There are three types of collaboration in a dealer environment that are essential today: between experts at the manufacturer and practitioners at the dealerships; between practitioners across dealerships (crosstalk); and between the dealer or manufacturer and the end customer. If this 360-degree collaboration environment is installed, knowledge transfer and learning will permeate the extended enterprise.
PRM Solutions for Performance Management. Being able to accurately measure things that matter means having an ability to make better decisions. This is what is meant by Channel Partner Performance Management. For example, knowing the average time to ramp up a new salesperson is essential to reducing that time by cutting waste (a lean principal). Correlating separate measurements within dashboards and other monitoring tools allows correlations to be made for studying cause and effect. For example, being able to correlate an increase in sales within a dealership to reduced ramp up time of new sales people provides invaluable feedback to management. If we can measure these things accurately, then we can reward those who exceed the standard. Incentives play a key role in driving results, especially in an indirect dealer network environment. Incentives without measurement are simply a waste of resources.
What is Meant By a True Partner Portal?
At its core, a PRM system is a partner portal through which the channel partners are able to access all of the resources they need to sell and service your products. It is a single point of entry that allows a dealer direct access to systems such as pricing and sales information, proprietary applications, technical details and support tools. These resources are typically accessed through a non-public web site and require the use of an authenticated username and password. These partner portals truly help to simplify the interaction between the dealer and the manufacturer through secure single sign-on (SSO) and menus directing the partner to the right information.
Where individual manufacturer systems are usually designed to meet the needs of the department creating them, a true partner portal offers a completely different perspective. A well-designed partner portal views access and use of the system through the eyes of the user – the dealer employee – rather than individual departments or groups within the organization. It asks the question: What should a dealer equipment sales person have available to present a product to a customer? What systems and information must a parts counter person have at his fingertips to efficiently do his job? What does the dealer service manager or service technician need in order to complete their repair?
That is the perspective that a partner portal offers. The dealer employees need a solution that can bring all of the individual systems together and make it easier for them to do their job.
The Answer is Unification
Since many manufacturers today are using a combination of legacy systems and disparate web applications as their dealer support strategy, it is more important than ever to gain control over these performance-limiting mechanisms. As helpful as partner portals are, they only provide the framework for usability. The users of the system still end up with links to many different systems, applications and technologies. They are not really unified. Fortunately, the newest generation of PRM solutions addresses this problem.
These unified PRM systems combine all of the disparate applications and legacy systems into a single “role-based” platform. This type of platform solution is termed “contextual”, because users are able to quickly access what they need based upon their role in the organization. This role-based access allows for the presentation of only the assets that relate to the specific job, whether sales, parts, service, finance, etc.
The result is a highly personalized environment that is easy to maintain and update. It is fully configurable, scalable, and easily accessible from anywhere. It also allows for integration with legacy systems running on practically any platform, to virtually eliminate the problems associated with multiple proprietary interfaces and disparate systems that don’t communicate with each other.
Elements of an Easy to Use Partner Portal
Just as the smartphone devices we now use have unified the multiple devices we used to carry; cell phone, PDA, camera, laptop – all useful, but cumbersome. Now we have all of the functionality in one device. That’s what a Unified Partner Portal offers. Some of the key elements and business benefits of UAP include:
Single Sign-On in a PRM Partner Portal – As already mentioned, this is the first and most important piece of any partner portal. Individuals must be able to go to one place only to access the applications and information they need.
Role-Based Personalization in a PRM Partner Portal – If you only present people with what they need to do their jobs, you un-complicate their lives and make them happier. Systems should be integrated and personalized so that individuals can quickly find and use the applications they need.
Ease of Use in a PRM Partner Portal – People’s expectations of “ease of use” and “ease of navigation” have grown with increased understanding and use of web technology. A portal’s navigation interface must therefore be simple, intuitive and based on current technologies and conventions.
Integration Hub in a PRM Partner Portal – “Ease of use” extends to simplifying business processes; where user requests from one business system can be validated and passed on to other systems in support of key business initiatives.
Strong Content Management System in a PRM Partner Portal – A robust CMS is a must. Users should be provided a way to search, view and download the assets that they need quickly and easily.
Efficient Learning Management System in a PRM Partner Portal – The LMS must be able to launch online courses, administer instructor-led training, and manage certifications, for each role at the within the channel partner organization.
Powerful On-Line Collaboration in a PRM Partner Portal – Given today's acceptance of social media, dealer employees are expecting to be able to collaborate with others at the manufacturer level or with other dealers. This should not be viewed simply as socializing. UAP’s collaboration tool is a platform to reach out to others, to get questions answered, to learn best practices, and to obtain potential solutions for problems that arise.
Robust Administrative Tools in a PRM Partner Portal – Don’t forget about your own people; they must be able to manage the portal efficiently. Administrators need to be able to post and remove assets easily, and update or change the site without programming skills or other special training. They also require access to reporting dashboards for information about the people and organizations they manage.
Cloud Computing & PRM
Cloud computing seems to be taking the IT world by storm. Easy to launch. None of the complications associated with traditional client/server software.. What is the cloud anyways? Wikipedia describes it as “the delivery of computing as a service to a community of end-recipients. The name comes from the use of clouds as an abstraction for the complex infrastructure which contain the applications.. Cloud computing entrusts services with a user's data, software and computation over a network. It has considerable overlap with software as a service (SaaS).”
End users access cloud based applications through a web browser or mobile app while the business software and data are stored on servers at a remote location. Proponents claim that cloud computing allows enterprises to get their applications up and running faster, with improved manageability and less maintenance, and enables IT to more rapidly adjust resources to meet fluctuating and unpredictable business demand.
The software market seems to be shifting from an ownership to a rental model. Has software become a utility? Have businesses been released from the hassle and expense of software purchasing and maintenance. Now everyone wants on-demand software solutions that are easy to try and buy with no obligation to long-term contracts.
Partner Relationship Management (PRM) technology is now one more of the applications that companies can obtain via this Cloud Computing on-demand model. It’s in the cloud. It’s inexpensive. And it’s easy to deploy.