article

Agency – Online Relationship Tools Make Partners’ Lives Easier

Posted: 04/2001

Agency

Online Relationship Tools Make Partners’
Lives Easier

This year, carriers such as Sprint Corp. (www.sprint.com)
and Qwest Communications International Inc. (www.qwest.com)
have implemented online tools to better handle the enterprise relationship
between vendor and channel. In tandem, companies such as ChannelWave Software
Inc. (www.channelwave.com), InfoNow
Corp. (www.infonow.com) and Partnerware
Inc. (www.partnerware.com) are
enhancing their software solutions to meet increasing demand.

In February, Sprint introduced a web-based lead referral system for
consultants, value-added resellers (VARs), solution providers and integrators as
part of its Sprint Connection partner program. After registering, independent
distributors submit sales opportunities online to the provider, and are
compensated for referrals that result in closed sales.

For compensation, agents can choose a one-time bonus or a 5 percent residual
commission for 12 months, with a maximum of $10,000 per lead.

The carrier says the program is meant to help its partners grow revenue.

"Many value-added resellers come across sales opportunities for products
outside of their core competencies," explains Mike Herron, acting director
of Sprint’s distributor marketing. "For example, e-commerce VARs may be
aware of a customer’s need for Internet services as they build out websites, but
they do not want to get involved in the ordering process. Now they can recommend
Sprint and get compensated for their leads, while leaving all the sales work to
Sprint."

Similarly, Qwest has developed its Q.Marketplace, an online community with
search and profiling capabilities, where partners with complementary core
businesses can find each other and collaborate on sales opportunities.

One analyst says such tools are essential to bolstering partner retention and
effectiveness.

"Partner relationship management [PRM] addresses the needs of one of the
largest segments of sales professionals in the industry–the distributors,
resellers and VARs that almost all companies depend on to represent their
products and services," says Christopher Fletcher, managing director of
Aberdeen Group’s (www.aberdeen.com)
customer relationship management practice. "PRM embraces these extended
sales organizations and provides them with the tools they need to be
effective."

PRM software developers are rolling out web- or WAP-based automated software
solutions that provide partner profiling, closed loop lead management,
certification and co-op marketing qualification, e-commerce capabilities and
communications functions such as personalized portals for partners.

According to Partnerware’s vice president of product marketing, Shem Sao,
partner profiling is the foundation for the other modules. In-depth, centralized
information about partner sales levels and business propositions is crucial to
an effective PRM solution, he says.

"If all of this information is on different islands, you can’t really go
and analyze and slice and dice it," he explains. "The first thing we
do is come in and aggregate that information. And that helps partner
communication and lead management."

For instance, by more effectively targeting leads to the appropriate partner,
companies increase close rates.

"One of the stats we see is that as many as 80 percent of leads get
dropped," says Sao. "So we have automated alerts that go to the
channel manager, and we auto-route to a different partner if they don’t handle
the lead. There’s also master level reporting so vendors can see a pipeline of
where the leads are, and see bottlenecks graphically."

Partnerware’s next initiative will be to incorporate certification and
accreditation information into partner profiles.

Jay Pinkerton, Partnerware’s director of marketing, explains that the bottom
line is channel performance. The robust profiling the company offers allows
vendors to identify performance objectives, and then track if those are met.

"For telecom companies, it’s critical to figure out where the
improvements will be and what kind of performance they want to improve," he
explains. "With our tools, you’re not just buying a software solution; it’s
an efficiency tool."

ChannelWave’s president and CEO, Chris Heidelberger, also stresses the
benefits to the partners themselves. The ChannelWave suite of software is
centered on the concept of building partner loyalty.

"For years there’s been a natural tension between vendors and channel
partners," says Heidelberger. "Most partners deal with numerous
providers, and they have to figure out where to allocate their sales efforts. In
our experience, the better the tools given, the more revenue you can
drive."

ChannelWave soon will roll out Customer Connect, which gives partners a
simple authoring tool to create question and answer trees on a website, which
lead to a complex solution recommendation.

In the past "That process took a month, and leads ended up on a fax
machine somewhere," Heidelberger explains. "In this case an enquiry is
on the desktop of a partner and his territory manager within an hour."

Other tools, such as web-based certification content and partner-specific
e-mailing, also are rolled into ChannelWave’s system.

"The mantra is that you have to make it easy for partners to do business
with you," adds Heidelberger. "We pull 15 disparate systems for
marketing, selling, recruiting and training into one, and the components are all
configured to play together."

Chris Heidelberger, president and CEO, ChannelWave
Software Inc.

Global developer InfoNow’s iChannel solution takes PRM and extends it to
encompass the end user as well, which it calls enterprise channel management.

"The value proposition from a buyer’s perspective is making the
experience of dealing with a manufacturer or partner a good experience, with
more flexibility for their buying experience," says InfoNow’s president,
Peter Bryant. "For the reseller, it’s demanding greater customer loyalty;
and for the manufacturer, it’s increasing revenue, end customer loyalty and
reseller loyalty to its brand."

InfoNow addresses the buying needs of the customer and maps its solutions to
those components. For example, this year it has rolled out an e-commerce
capability called "M cubed."

The vendor, using templates, provides a website for the channel partner, who
can then take the site and customize it with its own catalog, stock-keeping
units (SKUs) and service offerings. The end user would buy through the channel
partner, but the whole process is linked back to the manufacturer.

"There’s also personalization to individual customers," he
explains. "The content can be tailored by the partner to an individual or
group of users so they have their own portal. It keeps the loyalty of the end
customer."

Bryant predicts the sector will continue to grow, and that channel partners
will see increasingly helpful and sophisticated tools.

"There’s a big educational process going on because disintermediation in
the last 12 to 18 months really has fallen off the map," he explains.
"People are seeing that they have a huge asset in their channels."

He adds, "The telcos have been very busy doing other things like
building up networks, and their eyes have been on a different set of goals. Now
I think they’re looking at how they can sell more effectively, and these tools
help them to do that, help the partner, and help the end user."


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