With rollercoaster inflation and predictions of recession stretching back more than a year, economic uncertainty persists. According to a midyear economic outlook from JPMorgan, the United States has averted a recession so far in 2023, but a ”mild one” could begin later this year.

Knee-jerk reactions to continued economic headwinds may have your C-suite looking for places to cut spending, but forward-thinking organizations are investing strategically in technology to drive growth in a downturn.

“CEOs are confident that technology is a powerful tool to transform, scale, and optimize businesses,” according to IDC. The research firm’s study found that 87 percent of CEOs are looking to sustain or increase technology spending in 2023.  Gartner’s latest forecast also predicts worldwide IT spending will grow 4.3 percent this year. Those organizations that don’t invest in technology face a serious risk of falling behind.

Partner programs, which often operate as mini business units within companies, face similar pressures to do more with less. Strategic technology investments can help your channel organization weather the brewing economic storm – whether it rains or pours.

How Do Technology Systems Support Partner Programs in an Uncertain Economy?

While partner programs may leverage corporate technology for office productivity, accounting, HR and payroll, etc., they also need a tech stack of their own. This toolset may include partner relationship management (PRM) software, project management systems (PMS), communications and collaboration systems, file sharing, marketing automation software, learning management systems (LMS), digital asset management (DAM) platforms and more.

Building your partner program tech stack can help during uncertain economic times in three primary ways.

1. Technology Automation Enables Partner Program Scalability

A common goal for programs is to scale to serve as many partners (and, by extension, customers) as possible. An essential requirement for scaling a program is efficiency, which is achieved through strategies such as:

  • Simplifying complex processes
  • Automating manual tasks
  • Removing redundancies

Your tech stack, particularly your PRM, will help accomplish these goals and give your program the support it needs to scale. Out of the entire stack, PRM stands head and shoulders above the rest because the platform is uniquely tailored to the intricacies and requirements of partner programs. Functions such as file resource and sharing, deal registration, order processing, mass partner communication and the ability for partners to obtain co-branded assets are just some of the capabilities of a PRM directly tied to scaling.

Scalability is critical for partner programs. While there are exceptions, indirect sales success is generally a numbers game, especially since not every partner will produce. The reality is that you can’t scale to support hundreds or thousands of partners without automating processes with technology.

Specific program models, such as wholesale or white-label, can’t function efficiently without a PRM (or PRM-adjacent) system. In this example, a white-label partner must be able to order services at will from the supplier and then immediately communicate timelines for deployment to an end customer as if it’s their own service. Programs can only achieve fast turnarounds at scale through the automation in a PRM; manual data entry simply isn’t fast enough when managing hundreds of partners.

2. Technology Maximizes Partner Program Return on Investment (ROI) 

The core focus of any partner program is to maximize ROI. Unfortunately, bottom-line decision-makers can easily interpret ROI maximization as cost minimization and may ask staff to do more with fewer tools. That’s a short-sighted view. In the long run, investing in high-quality tech systems will give your team time to focus on revenue-generating tasks that only a human mind can tackle, such as creating a complex sales proposal or troubleshooting a technical issue for a valuable partner.

Technology also is required to prove ROI by tracking metrics. Partner programs face a high hurdle of logging deals, proposals, prospects, leads and sales funnels for hundreds or thousands of partners. Tasking channel managers to manually monitor and record these metrics in a spreadsheet isn’t efficient or realistic.

PRM platforms are crucial to providing your company with the information you need for proper sales and pipeline forecasting. PRMs are equipped with analytics dashboards and report-generation functionality that make it easy to gauge the success of your program. And keep in mind that best-in-class PRMs integrate with CRM data, so you don’t need to worry about manual data entry errors between both platforms in your forecast calls.

The PRM tracks more than just the sales pipeline; entire program initiatives and resources, including marketing materials and campaigns, can be tracked inside the PRM. The PRM can give you the visibility you need to see how your partners use these materials and determine whether there’s ROI on your efforts.

Competing in a digital-first selling environment is a crucial driver of PRM software use for partners. Marketing and demand generation tools are in high demand, and partners turn to suppliers’ PRMs to execute campaigns. If your program doesn’t offer these value-adds to partners, another program will, reducing partner engagement and, ultimately, your program ROI.

3. Technology Supports Partner Program Continuity & Mitigates Staff Turnover

Partner programs, especially legacy programs with decades-long histories of engaging in indirect sales, can fall victim to their own success without tech systems and processes in place.

Vendor programs can heavily rely on close business relationships between channel account managers (CAMs) and their partners to bring in sales. Some of these business relationships can go back years or even decades, with some extending beyond business to personal friendships.

A CAM who leaves the company by choice or layoff can mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in monthly recurring revenue (MRR) as their trusted partners move their deals to the new vendor the CAM now calls home.

A partner program equipped with a high-quality PRM capable of integration into other PRM platforms, incentive management platforms, CRM platforms, professional services automation systems (PSAs), analytics packages and marketing automation platforms can keep track of critical relationships between partners and their internal personnel. From this data, the program can work to diversify contacts between key partners and the organization at large. Over time, those partners will begin to trust the vendor company as a whole as they associate with staff members other than their designated CAM and self-serve some CAM functions through these automated systems.

While you should replace front-line positions quickly, short-term vacancies won’t make or break your program if you have a high-quality PRM platform. PRMs enable partners to get core sales process components, like quoting, without needing to engage a supplier employee.

A PRM and a PMS operating in tandem can house all the core processes for onboarding new CAMs and partner personnel, safeguarding the program from staff departures or layoffs. Additionally, partner account information, deal status and other critical information about individual partnerships are stored in the PRM, providing new program reps vital information when picking up where previous staff left off.

Economic uncertainty can spur partner programs into short-term cost-cutting. However, technology investments can set up your program for success in the long run and help you weather the cloudy outlook.

When you’re ready to optimize your partner program tech stack, we invite you to look at what the ZiftONETM platform can do for you.