Startup and growing partner programs with expanding partner ecosystems must make critical investment decisions to set their indirect channels up for success. Allocating resources to their technology stack, including a partner relationship management (PRM) software platform, is necessary to scale from dozens to hundreds or even thousands of partners.

However, a common consideration for newer ecosystems and programs engaging in the channel is whether to adopt a PRM platform when they already have a customer relationship management (CRM) platform in place. CFOs and bottom-line decision-makers may ask why channel account managers’ (CAMs) can’t use the company’s existing CRM to manage partner deals and track new partner recruitment.

It’s a fair question to ask. The simple answer is that a CRM doesn’t support the breadth of capabilities required to manage a partner ecosystem from end to end, which is what a PRM is expressly designed to do. In this article, we’ll provide a more in-depth answer to the question, explaining their differences, their benefits to suppliers and how they work together.

What is a CRM?

As the name implies, a CRM platform is a software application used to manage the business relationship between an organization and its existing and prospective end customers.

The primary functions of a CRM typically include:

  • Keeping track of the details of customer interactions
  • Storing customer data
  • Streamlining sales and marketing efforts, such as follow-up reminders
  • Supporting customer service teams
  • Aiding accounting with closed deal and commission tracking
  • Providing a complete repository of all customer information, so it’s accessible from any credentialed employee or business department
  • Generating sales pipeline reports

What are the Benefits of a CRM?

Companies typically adopt CRMs to gain efficiency and visibility into their sales and service organizations, including:

  1. Centralizing Customer Data – Customer-facing staff can interact with clients and get up to speed on the account in seconds through a centralized database of information stored in the CRM like basic customer identity data, customer sentiment feedback, renewal and turnover rates and much more.
  2. Forecasting Company Sales Pipeline – The CRM tracks the complete sales lifecycle that turns a potential prospect into a paying customer. The company’s sales team members can follow deal stages and provide detailed reports to upper management on the status of their current pipeline and expected wins.
  3. Saving Time in Sales Employee Offboarding & Onboarding – Staff turnover, especially in sales, happens as an organization grows. With a CRM, the company no longer needs to rely on existing sales employees to close out their open deals or provide offline communications to sales managers. Any sales team member can take over their accounts quickly without losing time sorting out the previous rep’s portfolio.
  4. Automating Daily Reminders & Tasks for Sales Teams – The CRM can provide reminder notifications for follow-up and outreach activity to sales team members, ensuring no deal or upsell opportunity gets lost due to human error.

What is a PRM?

PRM software is an application used to manage relationships between organizations and their indirect sales channel partners, which typically include affiliates, agents, brokers, dealers, distributors, value-added resellers, managed services providers and other types of partners.

PRM software streamlines and strengthens partner program business processes to deliver mutual sales growth for providers and their indirect selling partners by:

  • Organizing and orchestrating data
  • Storing and sharing assets
  • Tracking indirect sales transactions
  • Qualifying indirect sales partners for program incentives and promotions
  • Facilitating ordering and provisioning of provider solutions to partner-sourced end customers

The most common capabilities of PRM software platforms include:

  • Storing shared educational, marketing and sales resources in a content management system (CMS)
  • Integrating with CRM software and popular third-party applications
  • Distributing provider-sourced and partner-sourced leads
  • Tracking allocation and use of marketing development funds (MDF)
  • Tracking and attributing promotions for select partners, partner types and product lines
  • Analyzing financial performance, such as detailed sales data
  • Enabling through-channel marketing automation (TCMA)
  • Centralizing KPIs, partner data and administrative functions on a dashboard
  • Enabling deal registration for partners to claim leads
  • Training and certification on how to sell, order, provision and procure provider services similar to a learning management system (LMS)
  • Processing and fulfilling orders

What are the Benefits of a PRM?

In a previous blog on the reasons partner programs need a PRM software platform, we concluded that programs primarily adopt PRMs because of the following:

  1. PRM Software is a Single Source of Truth – PRM platforms are the foundation for partner programs. In the same way a website is the company’s identity to their customers, a PRM platform is their identity to their partners. Plus, channel staff can operate their entire partner program business processes from the PRM platform, providing visibility into every meaningful interaction in the partner ecosystem.
  2. CRM Software Can’t Take the Place of a PRM Platform – While CRM is a crucial component in companies’ tech stacks, it’s not purpose-built for partners and can’t stack up against a PRM platform’s capabilities. A PRM solution is more than a contact repository and sales tracking system; it provides enablement, demand generation, deal registration, content libraries, partner recruitment functions, business management and more.
  3. A PRM Platform Provides Indirect Sales Pipeline Visibility and More – Programs can track their channel sales pipeline by requiring partners to register deals in their PRM platform to qualify for commissions, SPIFFs, sales contests and other incentives built in the program. Plus, with the analytics capabilities of a PRM platform, programs can track ROI on full program initiatives and resources, including marketing materials and campaigns.
  4. A PRM Platform is the Path to Partner Program Scalability – Scaling in today’s economic environment requires online methods for partners to engage with programs, which PRM software enables. Not all partners work “9 to 5,” so PRM software provides access to program resources 24/7.
  5. PRM Software Protects Partner Programs from Staff Turnover – CAMs switch companies on average every 18 months in the information and communications technology (ICT) industry. A PRM platform prevents this turnover from crippling your program by keeping partner contacts, activities and interactions on track.
  6. PRM Software is Customizable to Fit Various Partner Program Models – The PRM can conform to different partner program models, such as affiliate agency, resale, two-tier distribution, white-label and more. All of these program models require the process and communication automation enabled by a PRM software platform to operate successfully at scale.


How Do a CRM & PRM Work Together?

High-quality PRMs come with the capacity to integrate directly into an organization’s CRM. The CRM and the PRM need to map to each other to accurately attribute deals and track sales commissions. Through a CRM-PRM integration, both systems automatically update simultaneously and provide accurate day-by-day forecasting of the success of a program, with a comprehensive end-to-end view of a partner ecosystem’s entire operation.

The exchange of data between the CRM and PRM results in:

  • Accurate Sales & Pipeline Forecasting – Integration stops duplicate entry of deal data, so reports delivered to top-level management reflect actual sales performance.
  • No Channel Conflict – Deals can only be claimed by a partner or direct sales rep, not both. If an opportunity already exists within the sales ecosystem, users are unable to duplicate the entry, preventing channel conflict.
  • Direct Sales & Indirect Sales Performance Comparison – Direct sales and indirect sales performance are easily compared when databases are integrated. This data helps inform best practices for optimizing either sales channel and the tactics of their respective marketing teams.

Ultimately, investing in a PRM software platform is critical for programs needing to automate and scale their indirect sales operation and attain the best return on investment possible. To get the most from your PRM system, consult these guidelines on best practices for using a PRM software platform, including:

  1. Get buy-in on your PRM platform from program sales and operations staff.
  2. Optimize your PRM platform for an ideal user experience.
  3. Incorporate the PRM platform in your partner program onboarding.
  4. Dedicate a single owner to manage the PRM platform.
  5. Keep partner business outcomes top of mind.
  6. Evangelize your PRM platform to top partners to maximize engagement

When you’re ready to take your partner program to the next level, we invite you to take a look at what the ZiftONETM platform can do for you.