• PRM software platforms require buy-in from vendor channel sales and operations departments.
  • PRM software platforms should be incorporated into provider partner program onboarding processes.
  • PRM software platforms need dedicated resources from supplier partner programs.
  • PRM software platforms need to have solid user experience (UX) and correlate to business outcomes for partners to adopt them.

6 Best Practices for Using a PRM Software Platform in Your Channel Partner Program

Congratulations! You’ve just made an important investment in your channel partner program by implementing a new partner relationship management (PRM) software platform. Now, it’s time to sit back and watch the deals flow and your pipeline grow, right?

Not quite. While deploying the PRM platform is a major demonstration of your company’s commitment to your channel partners, work is still required to ensure adoption. To cover best practices for leveraging a PRM software platform, we interviewed six channel experts to get their insight. Our panelists include:

  • Nicole Steele, Director of Channel Marketing & Enablement for Cloud-First WAN and security company Aryaka Networks
  • Helena Marsikova, Senior Channel Marketing Manager for deep observability company Gigamon
  • MeiLee Langley, Senior Director of Worldwide Channel Marketing for cloud-based customer service and digital engagement tools provider LiveVox
  • Rachel Turkus, Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing for mobile cloud-based firewall provider CyberReef
  • Khali Henderson, Senior Partner for channel consultancy and technology marketing firm BuzzTheory
  • Heather Tenuto, Chief Revenue Officer for partner relationship management (PRM) and channel management platform provider Zift Solutions

Want to jump ahead? Check out six best practices for using a PRM software platform in your channel partner program:

  1. Get Buy-In on Your PRM Platform from Program Sales & 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

Why do Channel Partner Programs Use PRM Software Platforms?

Our latest blog covered the main reasons partner programs need a PRM software platform. Our survey concluded:

1. PRM Software is a Single Source of Truth

PRM platforms operate as the basis of partner programs. Your PRM platform is the face of your company and culture to your partners. In the same way your website is your identity to your customers, your PRM platform is your identity to your partners. Plus, you can literally operate your entire partner program business processes out of the PRM platform, providing visibility into every meaningful interaction of your program staff and your partner community.

2. A PRM Platform is the Path to Partner Program Scalability

Scaling in a post-Covid economic environment requires online methods for partners to engage with your program, which PRM software enables. Additionally, not all partners work 9 to 5, so PRM software provides access to resources 24/7.

3. PRM Software Protects Your Partner Program from Staff Turnover

Channel account managers switch companies every 18 months in the information and communications technology (ICT) channel. A PRM platform prevents this turnover from crippling your program into disarray, with processes and operations continuing per the status quo, despite key members of your team needing to be replaced.

4. PRM Software is Customizable to Fit Your Partner Program Model

The conforms to different partner program models, from affiliate programs to distributor and technology services brokerage (TSB)-focused programs to white-label programs and everything in between. Some of these program models require the process and communication automation enabled by a PRM software platform to operate successfully at scale.

5. Your CRM Software Can’t Take the Place of a PRM Platform

While they’re a crucial component in your tech stack, a CRM isn’t 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.

6. A PRM Platform Provides Indirect Sales Pipeline Visibility and More 

Track your channel sales pipeline by requiring partners to register deals in your PRM platform to qualify for commissions, SPIFFs, sales contests, and other incentives you’ve built in your program. Plus, with the analytics capabilities of a PRM platform, you can track ROI on full program initiatives and resources, including your marketing materials and campaigns.

6 Best Practices for Using a PRM Software Platform in Your Channel Partner Program

We got the inside track from our panel of experts on six key best practices channel partner programs should follow when using a PRM software platform.

1. Get Buy-In on Your PRM Platform from Program Sales & Operations Staff

While this may seem obvious, the most important best practice identified by our panel of experts is to get sign-off and buy-in from your program’s channel account managers (CAMs) and partner success managers (PSMs) before you make a PRM investment.

CyberReef’s Turkus explains: “The biggest difficulty I’ve seen is getting buy-in from the program’s CAMs, PSMs or salespeople so that they, in turn, go and train their partners to use it. This is the single biggest struggle of any marketing or sales leadership when using a PRM platform; internal adoption of the platform once it’s in place.”

She cautions not to wait until after you’ve picked a platform to have this conversation. “I’ve learned the hard way that your first step is getting the channel sales team’s input and feedback in how they want to use the PRM platform in order to select the right one they’ll want to use,” she says.

LiveVox’s MeiLee Langley concurs. “Gain a firm understanding of the internal resources it will require within your company … to implement the portal successfully,” she says, noting that often these resources include CRM specialists that don’t sit on your team and have their own priorities. “Ensure you have a commitment from that department to prioritize the implementation of the portal.”

BuzzTheory’s Khali Henderson also cautions about the tendency to have “pie in the sky” expectations for internal PRM platform adoption right out the gate. “Just like any SaaS platform, your internal teams have to get into the routine of using the PRM platform every day, especially if they’ve never used one. Make sure to set that expectation with your leadership team as well. You don’t want to be on the hook to meet unrealistic milestones.”

LiveVox’s Langley drive this point home. “I have learned that the implementation of any PRM will take much longer than expected, so just be prepared for that,” she says.

2. Optimize Your PRM Platform for an Ideal User Experience

According to research from Forrester, on average, every $1 invested in user experience (UX) brings $100 in return. That’s an ROI of 9,900%. It stands to reason that UX extends to partner experiences as well, and our panel agrees that PRM software platforms need to be set up for the most optimal experience if you want partners to make use of them.

“For partners, the biggest problem is that PRMs aren’t intuitive,” says CyberReef’s Turkus. “Oftentimes, this can be the fault of the marketing team that is setting up the PRM. The provider’s marketing team has to take time to map out flow.”

LiveVox’s Langley agrees, adding that vendors need understand the partner’s perspective and daily routines. “Remember that partners have multiple PRMs/partner portals to navigate each week – one per supplier and oftentimes one per TSB,” she says. “Thus, make it very quick and easy for them, upon logging into your portal, to find the most commonly used and important tools and resources. If you have something to highlight – an event, promo, etc. – have it pop-up or highlighted upon login, so partners don’t have to ‘uncover it.’”

Turkus advocates for vendors to get partners involved from the beginning to ensure the ideal UX for the PRM platform. “Get field questions together and survey your partners on how they’d prefer the platform to flow for them,” she says.

Gigamon’s Marsikova advises vendors to take the time to do it right. “Initial setup is the key. Don’t rush. It’s better to launch later with thorough integration than to have to fix errors in production,” she says, adding that the keys to success are:

  • Investing sufficient time in building the initial structure of the platform
  • Training both internal and external users on how to leverage the platform to its fullest
  • Enhancing based on the feedback from these users

Langley adds that partner utilization of your PRM software is an obstacle that comes with the territory and encourages vendors to rise to the challenge. “Utilization will always be a challenge for any partner-facing software platforms and tools, including PRMs,” she explains. “If your platform isn’t easy to learn, use, and manage, the partners simply won’t have the time and bandwidth to try and learn it.”

That said, there are steps you can take to improve the use of the PRM platform. Langley explains: “If you notice a low utilization rate of your PRM/partner portal, look at your navigation menu and primary CTA buttons – are the names of each section clear? Is it easy to find the most commonly used modules, such as deal registration? If so, perhaps put together a webinar series showcasing the tools available and how quick and easy they are to use, or create short, snackable ‘video tours’ or guides that a partner can use when learning to navigate the portal.”

3. Incorporate the PRM Platform in Your Partner Program Onboarding

Our experts’ extensive experience has shown that PRM platforms need to be part of the partner experience from step one of the onboarding process to drive adoption.

“Always have the PRM platform as part of your onboarding program and process,” says CyberReef’s Turkus. “Have it house all of your education, training, certifications, etc. If your program model has a lead-registration program, run it through the PRM platform. If your program model offers self-serve and partners can quote themselves, again, do it through the PRM platform. It needs to be go-to-place once they start working with you at all times.”

Turkus suggests using the PRM even before onboarding begins. “Start the partnership paperwork and electronic document signing inside of the PRM platform from the very beginning,” she says.

Aryaka’s Steele is a proponent of using the PRM platform to segment and categorize partners throughout their onboarding process to further customize how your program is training partners. She recommends vendors “provide proper onboarding [and] share only content which would be relevant to the partner dependent upon their stage in the onboarding journey.”

Steele also reminds suppliers that partners need to be educated and trained on using the PRM platform in the onboarding process. “Ensure a clear communications journey to walk partners through the PRM solution,” she says.

Zift Solutions’ Heather Tenuto emphasizes how onboarding with the PRM platform can open up more revenue pathways for programs. “The best PRM platforms will include the capabilities of a full-blown learning management system (LMS),” she says. “This creates the opportunity for your program to onboard partners that fit multiple program types through multiple courses and training tracks. Now, your program can support training and onboarding of white-label partners, direct agents, TSBs and their subagents, VARs, MSPs and more – simultaneously. That not only frees up your staff but enables you to get more partners up to speed quickly, which in turn, will increase adoption.”

4. Dedicate a Single Owner to Manage the PRM Platform

Management of your program PRM platform needs to be prioritized with dedicated personnel.

CyberReef’s Turkus asserts that as a primary hub of your partner program, company identity and culture, your PRM platform needs full-time attention. “Don’t assume that sales enablement teams or the marketing department can pull double duty and manage the PRM platform on their own,” she says. “Your company needs someone who is solely responsible for managing the PRM platform.”

BuzzTheory’s Henderson agrees that someone needs to own PRM platform management for it to be successful. “Vendors, especially those with newer programs, may skimp on dedicating staff to manage the PRM platform because of the added expense of salary and benefits. That mindset is like stepping over a dollar to save a dime. The PRM platform will more than pay for itself over time provided that investments are made upfront to ensure it’s up to date, working properly and used by the team and partners.”

5. Keep Partner Business Outcomes Top of Mind

Outcomes. Outcomes. Outcomes. How your PRM platform delivers real-world business results for your partners will drive its adoption and, ultimately, its success for your organization.

LiveVox’s Langley says the onus is on the supplier to make the business case for the PRM platform to their partners. “If you haven’t ‘sold’ the partners on the tools available within your PRM and how they will benefit a partner’s business, don’t be surprised if they don’t take advantage of them,” she says.

Aryaka’s Steele agrees. “Adoption is a key problem for PRM tools,” she says. “The problem is vendors make this costly investment and think, ‘build it, and they will come.’ This is not the case [as] partners are expected to leverage many different tools with each of the vendors they engage. As a vendor, you need to ensure you educate partners on the benefits of the new tool and simplify it as much as possible.”

Steele notes that a tried-and-true tactic for driving adoption by partners is gating sales incentives, rewards, contests, prizes and other perks behind deal registration and interactions within the PRM platform. She also recommends using “gamification techniques to help drive desired activities and adoption.”

6. A PRM Platform Provides Indirect Sales Pipeline Visibility and More

One of the ways to drive greater traction and results from your PRM platform is to ensure that your top partners are taking advantage of the resources your PRM platform offers.

“Most partner programs have top performers who drive the majority of indirect sales. It’s the 80/20 rule; 20 percent of the partners bring in 80 percent of the deals,” says BuzzTheory’s Henderson. “Converting your most engaged sellers to use the PRM platform bumps up the activity so that you can begin to see useful metrics for sales forecasting. Plus, you can begin to see usage trends that will help your team to improve the PRM platform content or functionality.”

Henderson adds, “Pulling together an elite squad of beta testers from among your best partners also can help to get them invested in the success of the platform. Plus, they can provide vital input on features and functionality that they’ll actually use.”

LiveVox’s Langley also encourages vendors to evangelize the platform to their most engaged partners.  However, she recommends targeting and personalizing your training for their needs. “Not every partner will need to take advantage of every tool and resource you have available in your portal,” she says. “Use email campaigns, office hours, or webinars to uncover which partners within your ecosystem want to utilize your marketing and enablement tools, and then set aside one-on-one time to help them send their first campaign, complete their first training or create their first dashboard.”

Early adopters’ successes can help you promote the platform’s value to your partner base. “Showing partners how their peers have used the platform to secure new business is a sure-fire way to increase the use of your PRM platform, says Zift Solutions’ Tenuto. “In the same way you must use case studies to demonstrate how your solutions benefit end customers, it’s important to show how other partners have used your PRM to reach a revenue-producing or revenue-saving business outcome.”

Zift is honored to be ranked a leading provider of Partner Relationship Management by G2, the largest software marketplace with unbiased, validated buyer reviews.

With ZiftONE, you can align your channel marketing, sales and operations like never before.

We’d be happy to show you how our platform and team can help your channel partner program. Contact our team to learn more today.