How to...encourage channel partners to adopt CRM

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The performance of channel partners affects your market success as much as your own sales, marketing, and service efforts, so it is vital to bring partners into the overall CRM strategy as completely as possible. Here are four strategies to do so: 1. Make Participation Matter If partners are to willingly and openly participate in a CRM initiative, they have to be presented with opportunities to exchange meaningful information that will have an impact on how they do business, not just on your own performance. "Whether that's marketing funds, giving them leads, or potentially encouraging them to do other transactions before they get those leads, make sure there are mission-critical partner transactions," says Angela Bandlow, director of solutions strategy for mySAP CRM. If the products and the leads are yours, then you have the flexibility to determine how, when, and where they are allocated. But if you hope to gain greater insight into your channel's business processes--processes that partners may consider proprietary--then they should feel that they gain through providing that visibility. Providing greater upstream insight to your cooperative sales partners or using their feedback to better prequalify leads is the kind of meaningful result your partners will expect. Nortel Networks has doubled its revenue from leads every quarter for six consecutive quarters by delivering insight created by a lead management program for its channel partners (supported with technology by BlueRoads). Nortel increased its lead-closure rate by 500 percent, and cut its lead-loss rate from 40 percent to 10 percent within the first month, according to Mark Pierret, Nortel's senior marketing manager, demand generation, of North American enterprise marketing. 2. Remember Partner Constraints
Many independent resellers and integrators represent multiple product lines, and each of their suppliers may have a different mechanism for exchanging CRM information. Stick to easily deployed, easily learned partner portals whenever possible. The lower the barrier to entry, the more likely partners will be able to participate. BlueRoads' Web-based application is intuitive enough that about 700 of Nortel's indirect and direct sales reps have embraced it. According to Pierret, so many partners have contacted Nortel to participate in the program that there is now a waiting list. 3. Don't Be Afraid to Distinguish All your partners should be involved in your CRM strategy, but that doesn't mean all partners should be given the same access to the same resources regardless of their performance and importance. Mark Hill, president of industrial distributor Companion Products, uses partner participation reporting in his NetSuite-based CRM system to determine how to grow his partner relationships. "It gives us an idea of who's serious and who's not," he says. The Web-based lead distribution system saves Companion administrative time on a daily basis as leads are published just once to a partner-accessible database, rather than being divided up by territory for emailing. By keeping an eye on how partners close those leads and by rewarding performance, Hill says he can build a stronger sales network. "If you sell to basically anybody who comes along, and don't differentiate really good dealers and distributors from poor ones, you're going to have channel conflict," he says. 4. Stick to Your Message Above all, treat this engagement with your channel partners as you would any other program or endeavor with a reseller--with the same tone, language, and professionalism they expect in their relationship with your firm. Treat it as an important project and reward their participation in a manner consistent with your overall partner program. A stand-alone rewards program for using a partner portal will quickly lose its novelty value, and won't provide as much value to either side of the partner information-sharing process as do the conversions of leads to prospects to sales. "You saw companies early on looking for incentive programs when you updated your profiles you would tally up 'beans' you could use to purchase things online...it was an interesting strategy, but didn't see a lot of adoption," SAP's Bandlow says.
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