Companies that manufacture computer monitors and other devices that can't stand alone depend on distribution channels to package their products in sales of complete systems. The Web has become the vehicle of choice for the critical task of staying in close touch with these business-to-business (B2B) partners.
Yet until a year or so ago, ViewSonic Corp. of Walnut, Calif. had no fast way to get targeted information to its 7,000 channel partners--value-added resellers (VARs), systems integrators, PC original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), distributors, mail-order businesses and online outlet buyers, relying primarily on e-mail to communicate with them. Essentially, it broadcast the same announcements to everyone.
To support its growing pool of channel partners, ViewSonic created a partner relationship management (PRM) Web site called PartnerView to help the company determine its partners' strengths and weaknesses, their certifications and suppliers, and what products they buy most often from ViewSonic, says Wendy Creech, ViewSonic's distribution channels marketing manager. "That's invaluable information to us."
PartnerView is hosted as an application service provider (ASP) by SalesPartner from San Francisco-based Allegis Corp. SalesPartner includes tools for managing funds, developing cooperative marketing campaigns and distributing targeted information, as well as directing leads to appropriate partners and training them.
PartnerView offers channel partners immediate, 24-hour access to product announcements, promotions and marketing materials. The PRM system is particularly beneficial for ViewSonic's smaller business partners, since ViewSonic's channel marketing managers, regional sales managers and field representatives primarily support its large channel partners such as distributors and large resellers. Although another field group works with selected reseller stores, no one from ViewSonic sales calls on the small resellers that operate through large distributors but still need manufacturer information.
To ensure a successful project launch, ViewSonic's management first tested PartnerView internally, then with a selected group of distributors before opening it to all channel partners. According to Sauni Rinehart, ViewSonic's Internet applications manager, this was the first effort by the company or any of its competitors to serve so many partners through a PRM system.
ViewSonic and Allegis began in July 1999 by focusing on understanding internal processes in sales and forming partnerships at ViewSonic. The development team interviewed more than 50 people within the organization who would be affected by the project, in areas such as IT, accounting and administration. "ViewSonic wanted us to capture all of the detail that makes it different from its competitors," says Mike stone, director of product marketing at Allegis.
From its interviews, the team learned that the salespeople wanted a call reporting function. It also found that salespeople were frustrated with the process of submitting requests for permission to disperse account development funds (ADF), since these e-mailed messages often ran into a bottleneck with the channel marketing manager who received them.
The first components were developed for the sales and marketing departments. Although work on pieces restricted to those departments went faster than those where another group had to be involved, such as the ADF application, the accounting department contributed significantly to the design of ViewSonic's portal for ADF requests, and it played a major role in defining how the accounting package and the PRM system would interact.
Internal testing of the system revealed some unexpected benefits. "Using it to track call reports and investments for marketing... we've been able to define [customers] and target them specifically by what kind of business they are in," says Creech. " According to Rinehart, salespeople now use PartnerView to manage their time, ADF requests and call reports.
Last February, ViewSonic began sharing PartnerView with 12 of its top distributors. "We wanted to do exactly what we did before we launched it internally: get some feedback prior to launching it nationwide," says Rinehart. "We didn't want to get feedback after the fact that it was of no benefit."
Taking the same approach as she had internally, Rinehart, joined by territory managers and sometimes Allegis, called on partners to walk them through the site and talk about plans. Partners were asked to navigate the site and provide feedback about what worked and what didn't. The process revealed some differences among partners' priorities. "Some people really want leads sent to them; other people couldn't care less," says Rinehart. "Some people want training online; some couldn't care less. But we found that we were moving in the right direction."
By the time ViewSonic rolled out PartnerView to all its North American partners in the fall, the company was confident that it provided information its partners wanted. The planning paid off with solid partner buy-in. After two months, the site now gets around 450 hits a day from distributor salespeople, direct sales partners and resellers.