Channel partners are salespeople, too. It's time we recognize the relationship for what it actually is.
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Another day, another evolution of CRM--in the midst of a bad economy and global uncertainties, I'm proposing a name change. Not mine. Paul Greenberg is fine, thank you. But, I want to change the moniker of the class of CRM applications known as partner relationship management (PRM) to something else: CRM for collaborative sales (CRM-CS).
I know you are thinking, "This is worth writing about?" Believe me, it is, because CRM-CS is too important to your business for you to ignore. Bite on it--I'm going to give you something to chew.
Traditionally, PRM has been viewed as a horizontal piece of CRM, in the same league as sales force automation (SFA) or enterprise marketing automation (EMA). It sat squarely in the now-classic META Group definition of operational-analytic-collaborative CRM. But somehow, it always seemed different.
Functionally PRM applications ran the gamut of multisuite CRM applications, with sales, marketing, and analytics capabilities built into its heart. While by no means as strong or feature-rich as the standalone SFA or EMA, or even enterprise multisuite applications that specialized in these things, PRM had something that traditional CRM didn't: the ability to handle many-to-many relationships, which is essential to managing partners or collaborators of any kind. That is now a really big deal.
It was OK for PRM to be a lauded CRM niche in the late 1990s as companies like ChannelWave and the recently acquired Allegis came on the scene. On the enterprise side only Siebel had an embedded PRM application. Why didn't PeopleSoft, SAP, Oracle, and others? Because PRM engaged every facet of the business, the enterprise players knew they should build it from the ground up, not acquire a company--integrating an "alien" application would be far too difficult. You can't shove a square PRM acquisition into a round multisuite hole.
But (and here's the crux of it all), over the past three years the business ecosystem has changed. It's gone from a customer-focused corporate ecosystem to a customer ecosystem. This is not a subtle change. The pivot point is no longer the company, but the multiple relationships that the customer (the new fulcrum) has with multiple companies. A good example of this is SAP's partnership with American Express for its release of Business One, its new small- and medium-business enterprise suite. SAP recognized that to capture a significant market share of smaller customers it needed to collaborate with a well-established channel to reach them. Microsoft's first move with its small business--focused CRM suite did the same thing: The company recruited about 1,000 business solutions partners to sell the product--and invested significant dollars in their training and certification. This is not a unique trend. Collaborative business is a necessary part of business survival in a customer-centric world. No company stands alone any longer.
That means the need to manage this complex set of many-to-many relationships must be served. PRM is one of the few applications that can handle this very difficult matrix and also be reasonably assured of handling the more traditional one-to-one and one-to-many relationships.
So PRM is no longer a stepchild of CRM, but a fully grown adult peer, though still part of the family. Although some maturation of the applications is necessary, it is due its important place in front of your corporate retinas as CRM for collaborative sales.
Paul Greenberg is president of The 56 Group, an enterprise applications consultancy specializing in CRM, and author of CRM at the Speed of Light: Capturing and Keeping Customer in Internet Real Time. Contact him at paul-greenberg3@ comcast.net.
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