In this new era of ecosystems, we look at where indirect sales channels started, the introduction of partner relationship management tools, and how new partner ecosystem management tools can empower and engage your partners today.
In this post, I’ll cover:
- What are partner relationship management solutions?
- What is partner ecosystem management?
- Partner ecosystem management best practices
Before partner ecosystem management
In the past, customer relationship management (CRM) tools redefined how businesses view and optimize the value of their clients, with the automation of core processes focused on engaging, securing, managing, and retaining customers. CRM dramatically augmented the success of the direct sales model, but as alternate routes to market emerged and became relevant, CRM did not have an answer for delivering similar automation and advantages to the indirect sales channel.
Channel automation solutions were few and far between. Managing relationships with resellers and distributors was inefficient and dispersed, with vendors and partners typically collaborating by phone, email, fax, and so on. Partner access to leading edge sales tools (CPQ, for example), training and content libraries were non-existent.
Over time crude partner portals and stand-alone apps (deal registration, etc.) made their entrance, with bleeding edge companies dipping their toes in this new pond with spotty results and limited uptake.
Companies lacked the ability to effectively recruit, accurately track performance, or enable the success of their partners, let alone deliver an optimal partner experience. Businesses longed for an efficient, comprehensive solution to engage, enable, influence behavior, and ultimately accelerate the success of indirect sales channels. With the increasing need for efficient distribution and access to markets not well served by direct sales models, new software solutions that support new partner types and distribution models became a necessity.
Enter partner relationship management (PRM)
Initially a component or extension of the more familiar CRM, partner relationship management (PRM) focused primarily on the relationship between vendors and their partners—automating processes to increase partner engagement, capture and organize partner leads, enhance visibility into their behavior, and augment overall efficiency while driving down costs of managing a channel. In Forrester's words, PRM:
"supports activities required to manage the entire lifecycle of channel partners, including partner targeting, recruitment, onboarding, enablement, engagement, communication, development, co-selling and co-marketing providing integrations to CRM, enterprise resource planning and marketing tools."
When it comes to large-scale benefits, partner relationship management platforms:
- Have become the principle means of automating the partner journey and delivering a compelling partner experience that leads to desired outcomes
- Offer a digital platform that removes friction from the overall partner experience and enhances portal engagement in the best-of-breed PRM solutions
- Have advanced analytic capabilities to share insights that help predict optimal partner behavior
- Offer the ability to segment the partner experience tailored to the individual needs of the user (not just partner type, geo, etc.), which can dramatically improve overall partner productivity
- Automate business planning, which drives effective accountability between the partner and vendor
- Couple incentives with gamification to encourage the right partner behaviors, and so on
Partner relationship management is an increasingly important part of business strategy, and its relevance as a catalyst for accelerating partner success is broadly acknowledged. With indirect sales now making up the dominant part of business commerce across multiple industries (e.g., Microsoft recently reported that over 90% of their sales are partner-assisted), PRM has become the centerpiece of successful channel management.
The evolution of the partner ecosystem
In today's hyper-competitive world, channel strategies will do well to incorporate a clear understanding of and a compelling experience for the key entities that impact customer experience.
Think, for example, of all third parties that "touch" or influence the client buying journey. Non-transacting, influencing, and heretofore invisible entities have relevance and clout, and the best companies understand that these new partner types cannot be taken for granted.
Securing a place at the table for complex business transactions requires a comprehensive network of disparate, specialized, and capable partners with whom you have visibility and influence. Indeed, a current mega-trend making the rounds in our partner landscape is the concept of partner ecosystem management.
What is partner ecosystem management?
"Ecosystem" is an apt description for the interdependence between businesses, partners, and other emerging players, where everyone’s participation and coordination are required to deliver end-to-end, integrated, and tailored experiences for our customers. Relationships focus on the "many to many" as opposed to traditional "one to one" channel partnerships.
"(the management of) the influence, transaction, and retention channels across the entire customer buying journey. It supports recruitment, attribution, account and partner mapping, enablement collaboration, technology/API integrations, and overall ecosystem management covering all transacting/non-transacting and traditional and nontraditional partners.”
Companies that continue to focus only on the top tier of traditional partners and fail to acknowledge the value that non-transactional and influencing partners bring to the customer experience value chain, run the real risk of being left behind in this new age.
A unidirectional channel alone no longer is optimal to address the buyer journey, given increasing complexity of business requirements and the challenges of delivering a one-stop shop solution. It is essential for businesses to have visibility into and tighter alignment with all applicable parties required to deliver a desired client outcome.
The next era of partner ecosystem management
Partner ecosystem management centers on the recognition that every entity tied to the customer's buying journey is a potential partner that brings value in support of the overall customer experience.
To keep a partner ecosystem running on all cylinders, you must deliver consistent, reciprocal value. Ideally, vendors should engage in joint solutions development, execute tailored partner programs, track and influence results, and ultimately generate unique value to capture the mindshare of these non-traditional partner types. Optimizing the overall experience while dramatically expanding our influence and value to this new partner ecosystem will be paramount to future success.
Here’s how to take your ecosystem to the next level with partner ecosystem management best practices.
Break the old mold of your "optimal partner profile"
Partnerships have evolved far beyond traditional resellers, SIs, distributors, MSPs, etc. Today, any single entity associated with the client buyer journey is relevant and merits your attention.
Vendors should approach their partner ecosystems from the customer viewpoint, developing a target list of partners with whom their offerings align to your current portfolio. Developers, user communities, influencers, even customers themselves, as well as businesses you have traditionally viewed as hated competitors are all fair game in the new world.
Effective collaboration with a varied group of non-traditional entities crucial to your customers enables you to reach new markets that heretofore may have been less accessible. These new routes to market can augment visibility into the buyer journey, enhance your understanding of their challenges and facilitate your ability to deliver optimal solutions. Ecosystem leverage greatly expands our ability to compete and to address clients' ever-changing needs. Priority focus on this diverse set of partners will generate opportunities for deeper understanding of our clients' true business requirements. Additionally, co-innovation leads to greater success for you, your partners, and most importantly your customers.
Make integration brain-dead simple
Many strategic partners already have a working software infrastructure or list of services they offer. The question is, how can your solutions add value to, play well with, and AUGMENT what they offer currently and in the future?
Platforms that can seamlessly integrate with solutions marketplaces, SDKs, APIs, CRM sync, etc. offer significant competitive advantage by making it easy for partners to work with you. More importantly, this enables better customer experience by facilitating the clients' ability to find the best partners to work with while enabling those partners with the tools they need to build the best solutions for the consumer. Many capable integration platforms exist, including iPass, Trey.io, Syncari, Workato, Boomi, Jitterbit, Informatica, SnapLogic, MuleSoft, Zapier, etc.
Build the optimal partner tech stack for the era of ecosystems
To be competitive, it is paramount for companies to engage a broader set of partners tied directly to the buyer journey. Recruiting partners with whom you share an unwavering commitment to each other AND to the joint delivery of superior customer experience is key.
Leveraging in tandem the capabilities of partner ecosystem management solutions and rartner relationship management offers the best means for accomplishing this. PRM excels in enabling, empowering, and incentivizing partners to do whatever it takes to delight the customer. It is the catalyst for delivering a frictionless, optimal experience for the entire partner ecosystem, segmenting the experience and delivering the tailored journey to success based on the unique behaviors, requirements, and value of each individual partner.
Extending PRM capabilities to the traditional and non-transactional/influencer partner is essential to the customer buying journey. Partner relationship management can accelerate partner time-to-results for ALL types of partners, dramatically increasing effective collaboration, driving joint vendor/partner accountability, and providing in-depth visibility into partner behavior leading to actionable insights for optimal outcomes.
Are you ready for growth? Find out more about how Impartner can help you empower partners in this new era of ecosystems.