PRM should be about helping make sales, not simply tracking them.
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Over the past year I have been tracking a number of shifts in the CRM market. One of those is in the area of partner relationship management (PRM): leveraging technology to optimize the effectiveness of the channel sales teams that many companies sell through.
Although many firms have attempted to include a PRM component in their CRM plans, the number of real successes has been fairly low. But a subtle shift in thinking may change all that.
In the past most PRM efforts were focused on the channel pipeline, tracking the status of active opportunities. Now some firms are targeting their PRM efforts on helping to create opportunities. One example is Carrier Access, an equipment manufacturer that serves more than 1,800 telecommunications companies.
"When you are selling through a channel, you need to understand that your sales in is a result of your channel's sales out," says CEO Roger Koenig. "If you want the channel to sell, you have to go beyond providing [resellers] a great product and value proposition; you also have to make it easy for them to sell these values."
In 2002 Carrier Access decided to take a more aggressive role in helping its channels make sales happen. "We focused our thinking on ways we could take responsibility for the front end of the sales process for our customers," Koenig says. "Our task was to determine how we could provide our customers' salespeople with access to the wealth of knowledge our company had, so they could easily do the front-end sales tasks themselves.
"The answer we came up with was to create a Web-based expert sales facility that would focus on two goals. The first would be a detailed needs analysis capability; the second was to have the system generate a detailed proposal based on those end-user needs."
Carrier Access started by examining the sales process in detail, then designed a PRM system called WICK (WAN Integrated Connection Kit) to support it. The result is a streamlined process based on 14 questions that the salesperson needs to have answered to cover all the situations that could come up. "Behind these questions is a sophisticated model that understands all the implications, corequisites, and prerequisites for dealing with the prospect's communications environment," Koenig says. "[Salespeople] can go through the needs analysis, solution creation, and proposal generation steps of the sales process in ten to fifteen minutes, and actually can leave the customer with a very detailed, 35-page proposal at the end of the call.
"This changes the entire sales process," he adds. "The key benefit is that it facilitates the salesperson in making the transition from selling products to selling solutions. And reps do not have to spend months becoming experts on all the intricacies of the technologies involved. This shift increases the value of these reps in the eyes of the end user, because they are now more knowledgeable and professional compared with their product-focused counterparts."
As more PRM projects adopt the view of helping their channel partners make sales, versus just tracking them, we will see PRM realize the promise companies have long hoped it would achieve.
Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a Boulder, CO, benchmarking firm that specializes in researching how companies are optimizing the way they market to, sell to, and service customers. Contact him at www.csoinsights.com.
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