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Partners need managing too: PRM in action

25th May 2007
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By Neil Davey, editor

Customer relationship management has evolved to enable firms to better manage client interaction. But the customer success is also often reliant on the contribution of your partners. All the links have to be strong if the chain is to have integrity. As such, some argue that companies could benefit as much from partner relationship management (PRM) as from CRM. Certainly the need to maintain and nurture trusted alliances has never been greater.

Modern businesses are becoming increasingly global and interdependent. A great many European businesses now have partners in countries abroad to hire call centre workers to cater for consumer demands. In the wake of several high-profile exits from India, it is all too clear what the damage can be if such partnerships are not managed satisfactorily. As a business strategy for improving communication between companies and their channel partners, PRM promises to provide an approach to better manage relationships with suppliers, dealers, outsourcing partners and other corporate alliances. But can it really deliver on this promise? Two companies that answer in the affirmative are Marshal and Opal Telecom.

Content security solutions provider Marshal, has been in the market for over ten years. 18 months ago it experienced a management buy out which resulted in it being sold by NetIQ. Finding itself in a position where it was now independent, it needed to establish its own operation systems and applications separate from NetIQ. It immediately set itself several priorities – one of which was a tool that would allow the company to engage more quickly and efficiently with its channel partners.

“The main motivation for considering partnership relationship management tools was the fact that our operations are very much driven by working with partners,” explains Elly Nichols, VP of global marketing at Marshal. “Our go-to-market is that we sell our solutions through business partners, distributors and resellers. Any business that relies on or works with channel partners will always require an extranet, so we knew that when we became an independent company, whilst launching our website, we would also have to provide our partners with an extranet. From a marketing perspective we wanted a portal-type extranet where partners could access sales and marketing tools very easily and very quickly, and where we could place important and urgent information into a central web-based tool that partners could access.”

"The pilot generated a desire to actually get the final portal and start using it, because we all saw the benefits." Barry Robinson, project manager, Marshal

However, the strategy also extended beyond marketing needs of the extranet. “From a sales perspective we were also looking for a solution that would help us with the sales engagement with our channel partners. We wanted to evolve it from just a sales and marketing depository tool to include a sales aspect and leads distribution functionality in the portal.”

Already using for CRM requirements, Marshal went with its instincts and took the plunge with the provider’s PRM solution. “Because we have got implemented globally, the use of its PRM product leverages our investment in the core product,” says Barry Robinson, project manager at Marshal. “It also leverages investment in our IT personnel, as many of the skills required have accrued from our existing implementation of core”

Marshal rolled out a pilot system amongst some of its more strategic partners in EMEA, with the results proving positive. But it also provided a platform for operational development. “What came out of the pilot was the identification of other functionality that we had to include in our roadmap,” continues Robinson. “It also generated a desire to actually get the final portal and start using it, because we all saw the benefits.”

The initial portal takes on the key needs of Marshal: lead distribution and lead entry at the partner level; opportunity distribution and entry at partner level; documentation management including sales and marketing information, collateral and white papers; partner news that can be streamlined to particular partners; and MDF capability is also to be incorporated into the portal to make it simpler.

“Downstream, as we drive adoption, we will look at further facilities that strengthen the bond between Marshal and the partners,” says Robinson. “Facilities like online reporting, data extraction, the ability for partners to get closer to our maintenance renewal activities, and later on access to online sales order entry.”

Out of the shadows?

As one of the UK’s largest telecoms network operators, Opal Telecom has a substantial amount of dealers who sell Opal services in addition to its direct sales force. Against a backdrop of market deregulation in the telco services sector, Opal has successfully won large amounts of new business and grown customer revenue streams. And in light of this, it implemented an ongoing programme to develop its partner business. PRM has emerged as one of the key mechanisms for doing this.

“We have our own direct sales force selling telecom services into the small, medium and large enterprise markets, and our dealer channel is a key route to market for us,” says Andy French, head of information services at Opal Telecom. “The dealer community sells Opal branded products and we rely on that as a key sales channel and an important revenue stream.”

"Breaking down the barriers between companies and enabling your partners to do more with you is certainly one of the ways forward in terms of enabling your business." Andy French, head of information services, Opal Telecom

In a drive to align the Opal direct sales force with its dealers, the operator rolled out NetSuite’s PRM solution. “We wanted to provide the business with a single front door for its retail orders,” French continues. “We were after efficiency in terms of a single entry and workflow throughout the business, clear visibility of customer data, controls of sales order, workflow visibility and reporting thereof.”

Implementing PRM in a phased approach, Opal Telecom has utilised a variety of customer and order management features to manage both its 150-plus partners and its own business. Its partners are now able to manage and forecast business opportunities as they move through the sales cycle. And the dealer channel sales group now enjoys improved forecast visibility against their quotas.

“At an infrastructure level, it is about delivering visibility and services and pushing them out to our various third parties we deal with,” says French. “It provides a common front door for the business, a single entry point for orders and a single type delivering all the customer relationship data and the sales order information in one electronic workflow.”

With the dealer channel sales team previously operating on a paper-based system, PRM has driven Opal Telecom’s campaign to streamline processes for these team to the extent that it now has complete visibility into its forecast for dealer channel sales.

The success of the initiative has meant that plans are afoot to expand the programme: “I have just signed off a latest development to further enhance what we are doing within our dealer community so we are pushing more out to our partners and using NetSuite to do it,” says French.

With companies such as Opal Telecom and Marshal joining the increasing ranks of firms that are deploying PRM, and the rising need for firms to manage their partner networks, is there a chance that PRM could step out of CRM’s shadow? Both Robinson and French believe that there is certainly a growing need for such tools.

"Anyone that has to deal with a partner network of any sort can get a benfit from this type of solution," says Robinson. "It takes the friction out of the communication channel. It has just smoothed and streamlined the whole process."

“Breaking down the barriers between companies and enabling your partners to do more with you is certainly one of the ways forward in terms of enabling your business,” French concludes. “And if you allow your partners to do more with you, by NetSuite or another PRM portal, then it adds a huge amount of value.”

Read more features, practical case studies and white papers about B2B client relationships.

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