As our regular readers know, Zift has been focused on the vision of developing and delivering true Channel as a Service offerings for channel programs worldwide. Bringing together our cutting edge Channel Marketing and Management (CMM) solutions with Relayware’s leading Partner Relationship Management (PRM) software is the natural evolution of this vision. As we shared the news of our merger, on a few occasions we were asked “How is this different from the other announcements we’ve heard among channel vendors this year?”

For starters, it’s more than an announcement.  It’s a movement.

What makes the Zift-Relayware merger unique is that it goes beyond the marketing press release and brings together the two leading channel technology (ChanTech) vendors together for the very first time.   We’re combining our teams, our leadership and we’re integrating our technology in a way that will transform how organizations market and sell through global channel partners.

Like I’ve said before on this blog, “integration matters.”  And you’re about to see why.

A Sea Change in ChanTech

There is current sea change in ChanTech that is causing many vendors to freeze in their tracks.  Those who refuse to deliver end-to-end solutions will be less likely to make the short-list of requirements channel leaders need to run profitable programs. Like dinosaurs they are facing extinction.   In response, many vendors of point solutions are scrambling to issue press releases, blogs and updates announcing new alliances, integrations or marketing bundles.  However, when closely examining what it takes to really integrate ChanTech solutions, we’ve learned from our experiences with some of the leading channel suppliers that integration happens on three key levels:  at the functional level, e.g. between channel sales and channel marketing; at the process level, such as onboarding partners; and at the applications/technology level, where API’s and “connectors” facilitate the data sharing between software packages.

Integration at the Functional Level

Integration starts with functional alignment, which entails breaking down silos and aligning critical functions like sales and marketing. At the functional level, it’s important to consider the processes shared by each group, like recruiting partners into your program. Channel programs that don’t align sales and marketing when recruiting partners are much more likely to recruit the wrong partners and propagate the 80/20 rule (only 20% of partners drive 80% of the results). Those with aligned sales and marketing are more likely to select the right partners at the start of their recruitment efforts with messages that communicate value to the partner and drive adoption. This requires channel sales and channel marketing to work hand-in-hand to identify then recruit partners, treating them like leads as they make it through the “recruitment funnel”.

Integration at the Process Level

One of the lessons learned well at Zift is that “process precedes technology”; as a result we have developed best-practice methodologies that ensure our customers realize a rapid implementation and are able to shorten time-to-revenue.  Nowhere is this more important than during the onboarding process, which often involves recruiting, training and activating partners to develop new business.  When the onboarding process is seamless, it provides partners a great experience and drives engagement.  When it’s not, the result is partners who don’t make it through training, don’t get activated and don’t produce results.  Disjointed onboarding processes are often the result of poorly implemented PRM, learning management systems (LMS) and CMM applications – the kind you hear about in an “alliance” press release.  On the other hand, partners who report having an exceptional experience during the onboarding process, using integrated applications that announces new marketing programs once they complete training for example, drive the lion’s share of revenue in the first 90 days.

Integration at the Technology/Application Level

This is really where the rubber hits the integration road. Getting the systems and infrastructure integrated on one platform to run everything your channel program needs to be productive is a game changer — and the reason we announced the merger between Zift and  Relayware!  We’ve learned that CMM and PRM applications need to reside on the same platform, otherwise you could never read critical partner data, like verticals or areas of expertise,  to develop aligned marketing programs.  But that’s just the start. Other activities such as managing third-party agencies, Market Development Funds (MDF), learning management, and partner training should all sync together to empower real productivity and profitability.  While connections between these applications sounds difficult, they are!  Don’t be fooled by hyped up press releases.  Instead, challenge your vendors to describe exactly how these applications co-exist. Otherwise if you’re a supplier, expect to play the role of Systems Integrator. At Zift, we’ve made a conscious effort to show live integrations, such integrating CMM and channel incentives management (CIM), to make it easy for partners to pay for marketing plays using existing MDF funds.

And Now… Sharks

The shark is a model of evolution. The oldest traceable shark fossils date back 420 million years — and the species is still going strong today. What keeps sharks at the top of the evolutionary ladder is constant movement.  Like sharks, ChanTech vendors need to keep moving, they need to keep innovating.  However many cannot do this alone; as a result there’s a lot of consolidation in the marketplace.   Suppliers, who fail to evolve because they do not challenge their vendors on the subject of integration, may also face extinction themselves.

While some channel programs argue they already have an established CRM or SFA tools, so they don’t need to integrate to any other channel applications. Others are proving them wrong by realizing the business benefits of leveraging data from purpose-built PRM within their Channel Marketing platforms, so they can target the right partners with the right campaigns.  Still others have two or three tools for social syndication or email marketing. These programs will continue to face cost pressures from other parts of the organization, demanding they consolidate or terminate one or more of these applications.  They need to integrate or slowly dissipate as partners abandon their efforts to engage.

The real channel leaders have and will continue to resemble predators of the deep — sharks who are able to adapt to change and, thus, stay at the top of the food chain. They will also challenge vendors to deliver integrated channel applications that work the way programs should work: Integrating at the functional, process and application levels is the best possible way to ensure channel success. On the heels of our merger with Relayware, Zift is ready, willing and eager to embrace this challenge.