Customers often ask me about the differences between Zift’s Channel Marketing and Management (CMM) Platform and the systems or portals they are considering or have already established for their partners. After investing in a Partner Relationship Management (PRM) portal, for example, or trying to extend a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to include partners, the obvious question is, “Do I really need a Completely Separate Platform (CSP…haha) to help my partners with marketing, too?”

If you find the answer isn’t obvious, you’re in good company. With so many vendors claiming their system is absolutely vital to work with partners – and so much at stake when it comes to optimizing channel revenue – it’s understandable why many struggle to determine which system(s) will best meet their partner engagement needs. The last thing you want to do is waste valuable resources, invest in another system that won’t deliver value, or worse, confuse or alienate partners.

So let’s break down the real differences and overlap between CRM, PRM and CMM to determine why or if you need all three.

Decoding the Basics

CRM: Customer Relationship Management systems manage and analyze customer interactions and data across the customer lifecycle with an eye toward strengthening customer relationships. Some of the most popular CRM systems include® (SFDC), SugarCRM®, Microsoft® Dynamics, Sage®CRM and Zoho®.

PRM: Partner Relationship Management systems are designed to help vendors manage their partner relationships. Popular examples of commercially available PRM systems include Salesforce®PRM, SAP® PRM and Relayware®. Some organizations also design and build their own custom PRM solutions or partner portals.

CMM: Channel Marketing and Management solutions allow you to coordinate multiple complementary marketing activities with partners, like email campaigns, online advertising and co-branded sales collateral as well as automate key marketing processes, including lead distribution management, content syndication, social media, analytics and reporting.

Critical Differences, Similarities and Overlap

Both CRM and PRM systems offer real value for tracking customer and partner activity, as well as registering deals, highlighting the sales “bend” of these systems that are more transactional in nature. They do not offer CMM, which has proven to be essential for empowering channel partners with personalizable co-branded campaigns and demand generation activities while maintaining partners’ privacy.

In keeping with the spirit of sales vs. marketing enablement then, one finds most CRM and PRM systems have joint business planning for Customer and Partner Account Managers (CAMs and PAMs) to help maintain and manage relationships with current and prospective customers and partners, which are typically absent from CMM systems. PRM portals also offer a layer of sales training and certification that CRM systems and CMM platforms do not. They often have a full database of sales staff and are designed to deliver educational content to aid in the sales process, which is considered secondary to the marketing function CMM provides.

Some PRM systems also have content repositories and management capabilities regarding versioning and refined reporting on usage, which is sometimes more in depth than what CMM currently offers though the differences are nominal these days. PRM systems are somewhat ahead of the game on deal registration, which is typically tied to and delivers better rules and tighter integration than CMM platforms offer and I don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future.

To be sure, there is some overlap between CRM, PRM and CMM. PRM, in particular, provides everything an organization needs to register deals and engage partners with lead distribution. Zift’s CMM Platform also offers Lead Distribution Management, which makes it easy to automatically deliver sales qualified leads and sales data to partners as well as see what partners are doing with the leads you provide. Most PRM portals offer the same type of workflow routing, notifications and lead pushing technology that Zift provides with one notable difference. Zift allows partners to flow leads directly into their own systems of record, which portals do not.

Even with overlap, the different systems ultimately serve different purposes and that’s the rub. CRM and PRM are focused more on the sales function, while CMM is aimed mostly at marketing. The bottom line: CRM and PRM systems currently hold a critical place in the channel, which starts and ends with the customer and partner management, training, education, lead distribution and deal registration. CMM does the essential groundwork of actually delivering the content and marketing capabilities partners require for demand generation.