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Partner Adoption Is the Key to ROI for Channel Investments
If no one is willing to use it, the best system in the world is worthless. Avoiding this fate is the real key to success in implementing a CRM or PRM application.
Posted Aug 18, 2003
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Technology companies have developed myriad solutions to help employees and partners become more efficient and productive, and to improve sales, marketing, and partnerships. Unfortunately--and far too often--after the sales and channel strategies have been put in place, after the programs and business procedures have been agreed upon, after lengthy software reviews and selection processes are completed, one remaining challenge remains difficult to overcome: user adoption. If no one is willing to use it, the best system in the world is worthless. Avoiding this fate is the real key to success in implementing a CRM or PRM application. To meet this challenge companies should consider the following seven strategies to ensure strong adoption of CRM or PRM systems internally and with customers and partners. Listen to stakeholders Before launching a new CRM or PRM initiative, businesses need to work closely with internal managers and business partners to determine what functionality is important to them. Obtaining user input and feedback up front is much less expensive than trying to solve avoidable problems after the fact. Remember, the goal of deploying a solution is to provide better management and visibility into specific business processes. This will not happen if a poor initial experience keeps people away from the application. Provide quality content One reason people cite for not using a CRM or PRM solution is a lack of valuable and usable content. For example, if a system provides lead referrals, those leads must be qualified as real economic opportunities. Otherwise, it may become more expensive to follow up on an uncertain lead from the system than to make a cold call. This perception can lead to adoption problems. Similarly, a partner locator must provide up-to-date information. A content publishing application must offer tools to help complete RFPs and position a solution against competitors. Training applications need to include effective courseware and a set of tests to enable partners to achieve certifications to sell and service a company's products and solutions more effectively.
Think financially If a PRM solution requires partner sales and marketing professionals to engage in activities that do not offer any clear economic benefit, they will likely consider the system irrelevant to achieving their goals and avoid using it. All components of an effective CRM or PRM solution must have clear connections to helping partners succeed financially. A content library is useful because it helps salespeople and partners rapidly address client requests and ultimately close the sale. Forecasting tools that provide real-time visibility and access to up-to-date financial information help to make accurate projections and provide management with insight into the sales process. These things are important, because many companies provide discounts, deal registration, or other incentives for providing timely forecasts, or require that deals be forecast to be eligible for commissions. Maintain focus, provide leadership Successful CRM and PRM deployments need to set measurable goals that address clear challenges. Businesses must think carefully before implementing any change that will alter their relationship with partners. For example, if an indirect sales force is placing information about deals into a pipeline, but a new initiative turns those prospects over to a direct sales force, partners will stop providing information. One company initially saw limited use of an online order management system because its partners and salespeople continued calling in orders over the phone, as they always had. Because the ROI of eliminating the call center for product orders was so clear, the company quickly changed corporate policy and required all orders to go through the new online system. The company achieved near 100 percent adoption for the order management solution and realized significant cost savings. Keep it simple The reason most often stated for not adopting CRM or PRM software is that it is deemed too complex or difficult to use. Adoption is easier if the system requires minimal training and helps people work more efficiently right out of the box. However, usability by itself will not improve adoption. Making it easier for partners to complete a task that they are not motivated to undertake in the first place will not increase adoption. And if the system adds too much overhead, people will find other ways to accomplish their goals (e.g., if it takes 20 minutes to enter a lead and create a quote through an automated system, sales reps will continue to use a spreadsheet). Market system, train users Even the simplest systems require training--if only to become familiar with the interface and all of the features. An effective launch of a technology platform needs to include user training that can shorten the learning curve. During the system launch, the benefits need to be clearly communicated to all potential users. Often, promotions and incentives are helpful to motivate adoption. One company offered microwave popcorn and movie rentals for any partner who provided feedback on three leads during the launch. Innovative training on how to use the system also helps reduce the complexity of the learning process. One training option is to include marketing and training activities as part of larger events, such as user or partner summits. Remain vigilant, obtain feedback Driving adoption of a CRM or PRM solution is not a one-time event. Maintaining strong usage is critical to making these systems successful in the long term. Employee turnover, new partners and customers, evolving business strategies, and changes in market conditions can require companies to update and modify how they work with their customers and partners. Businesses should survey partners regularly to obtain feedback on the system and review the real financial benefits to learn why and how the system is being used. It is also important to provide consistent, high-quality content and continually make it easier to drive business through the system to maintain adoption levels. Adopting a CRM or PRM application can provide clear business benefits, but it is not without challenges. Understanding these challenges and addressing them before they impact adoption is critical. By achieving high levels of adoption business have succeeded in building scalable platforms for executing their channel strategies, which their sales team, marketing organization, and partners can use to more effectively compete and win business. About the Author Dan Housman is cofounder and director of product strategy at ChannelWave Software, which provides CRM solutions to companies that sell through indirect channels. Before cofounding ChannelWave, Housman was cofounder of VirtuMall, which provided transactional sites for several companies, including Hickory Farms. He earned a dual BA from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Contact him at dhousman@channelwave.com or click here.
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