How Partner Relationship Management (PRM) Systems Improve Channel Sales Performance


Share on LinkedIn

A partner relationship management (PRM) tool can be a fantastic solution for a variety of channel strategy issues such as deal registration, lead distribution, and market development funds tracking. But, one thing that even the greatest PRM tool will not provide is more control. Vendors simply cannot hold the reins over all that their partners are doing. I’ve seen firsthand as those who have tried have failed miserably.

That being said, an effective PRM tool will get you the next best things: visibility and influence. Given that Forrester Research found that channel partners account for more than 60 percent of large vendors’ revenue, this visibility and influence is paramount.

PRM System Features

Recently, I was reading an amazing book, Stefan Utzinger’s Channel Revolution which discusses how to start and execute a channel model. During the course of the book, Utzinger discusses everything about building out a channel and executing on a well thought out plan. He states, “It’s crucial for the proper execution of a larger channel network to have a system and process in place for managing the indirect channel.”

He goes on to state that a true PRM tool should provide the following features:

  • register opportunities, receive leads from the vendor
  • access content/tools
  • track market development funds (MDF), and
  • forum to ask questions or be directed appropriately

Further, these features must not be “one time only.” For example, both the partner and the vendor should have the ability to update information on leads and deals to show progress or additional information. Without this function within the PRM tool, vendors cannot truly have the visibility and influence they desire, nor the intended bottom line impact.

Utzinger further discusses that a CRM (customer relationship management) system is not a PRM system. While some CRM systems do carry a version of a PRM system, he cautions that “most CRM systems are focused on managing the relationship between the vendor and the end customer. The focus of a system to manage the partners should be on the business processes between the vendor, the different partners, and their customers.” While it may seem to be a slight variation to some, the processes involved and the level of back and forth that you need with partners on opportunities, leads, and general information makes a CRM system incapable of yielding the results you need to have an effective place of communication with your partners.

Valuing Your Partners Time

The biggest issue that most vendors I meet with face is figuring out how to stay on top of their partners without overstepping their boundaries—the perpetual balancing act of staying at the forefront of their sales mind without consistently annoying them for data or information. Partners are busy; they don’t want to be micromanaged.

The focus of a system to manage the partners should be on the business processes between the vendor, the different partners, and their customers.

And yet, vendors need to have some idea of what’s going on and how their partners are performing. Without a solution in place that allows vendors to not only receive and push information to their partners one time, but on an ongoing basis, vendors are basically forced to be that annoying company, constantly hounding their partners. While you will be on their mind, it won’t be in a good way.

The right partner portal helps partners communicate with the vendor in a way that is unobtrusive and simple. It’s stress-free to navigate, allows for easy input of data, and lets them get their job done quickly without having to jump through unnecessary hoops. When the communication process is laid out this way, partners are considerably more apt to login and fill in any of the missing data points regarding their leads and deals. Let’s face it, partners have countless portals they need to engage with, all different; the easier you make it to provide you the information you need, the more likely you are to get it, and for it to be accurate.

Managing Partner Performance

Because of this functionality, vendors are provided a clearer view of the landscape of their partner relationships. Partners who are generating sub-par performance and those who are excelling are more quickly and overtly detected. It’s akin to having 24/7 sonar over the performance of your entire channel. With real time information, vendors can make better-informed decisions rather than going about activities blind.

In turn, they can also garner greater influence over their partners’ behaviors by tailoring their activities to their partner’s performance. For instance, when the PRM tool waves a red flag over a specific partner because of laggard deal wins, vendors can quickly assess the situation based on both the initial agreement between the two parties and the individual partner’s performance history. Perhaps this partner was once a champion who needs individualized attention to be rejuvenated or perhaps they were loaded too heavily with leads and simply could not keep up.

PRM Firsthand

Over my many years in the channel, I have worked with all types of PRM systems. Some you could barely call more than a password protected web page. In all cases, the intention was noble: offer your partners a place to get information and provide information on opportunities.

At one particular company, the PRM system was bare bones, so I had to be the constant nag trying to get data. The data the partners could provide was generally one time only, when they registered the opportunity. This often caused challenges, especially with partners who were accustomed to working with a true PRM system, the features of which have already been discussed. They could not understand why they could not perform the simple update tasks normally provided by other partners.

The one thing the PRM did do well, however, was provide information in a timely manner to the partners.

It was difficult to get in front of them on a regular basis, especially when my management was breathing down my neck to get the data (especially at the end of the quarter). Eventually, my nagging and their inability to give me data when it was easy for them caused many of my partners to go their separate ways. Not the experience either of us was looking for in a partnership.

The one thing the PRM did do well, however, was provide information in a timely manner to the partners. A one-way street in this perspective, but it worked. Any time I needed to update my partners on a new sales tool, the ones that I needed to deliver it to, got it, and those that were not supposed to have it for one reason or another did not. I could customize content down to the specific partner level in the program or the individual partner organization if need be. All homepage content was customized which was helpful when doing sales contests. The content notifications were standard so that eventually I was seeing about a 40% open rate on the alerts!

A few years after leaving this company, I was at a conference and saw a former partner. They still remembered the alerts and said they were sad to see them go! Just think about that, a partner missing notifications from the vendor. Miracles do happen! And all because of a portal that worked at least in one respect. Just imagine what a fully functioning portal would have done to that partner…

Invest in Your Channel Partners

PRM systems over the last decade have increased in functionality and some are decreasing in price. Now, even the most cash-strapped start-up can provide their partners with a true PRM system that will enable ongoing communication deals, leads, information, MDF or simply, questions.

Investing in such a tool as you launch your program will show your partners that you want to make the relationship easy and beneficial for both of them. In Tech Channel Marketing Trends 2012, Forrester Research concluded that the more vendors are willing to invest in their channel management, the higher their return. By flexing a vendor’s influence through deal registration, lead distribution, and their MDF program—all of which can be managed easily through the right PRM solution—they can motivate, reprimand, and incentivize when and where it will be most effective.

This visibility, which lends itself to offering individualized influence, is incredibly powerful and is potentially even more effective than just having direct control over your partners. Certainly, it is far more efficient especially when facilitated through the automated processes of a PRM solution.

Stacy Desrosiers
Stacy Desrosiers is an accomplished channel expert with nearly 20 years success in engaging, enabling and marketing with VARs for technology companies. Her work with Channeltivity, stems from the belief that having a strong foundation will enable any organization to successfully manage and support their growing partner base.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here