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  • Channel Marketing and Enablement,  News,  Partner Management Automation,  Vendor Selection

    The 7 Trends to Partner Management Automation

    Ready for a new age of Partner Management Automation??? 

    I ask because I’ve just surveyed 1500 users of Channel Marketing and Enablement software and talked to the most major vendors in that landscape. I was deeply curious, expecting to hear about great change and progress compared to my last review of the market when I was still at Forrester in 2017. 

    Channel marketing and Enablement is defined in detail here. In short, I mean those business processes involved for a manufacturer or vendor promoting products and services through partner (channel) organizations. 

    As I said, I was very expectant of this research … I’d assumed this market would be energized by a clear transformation in the relevance of channel strategy for modern businesses. For decades, it was just a peripheral process in most industries – “first we sell direct and then we’ll find some partners”.  Which was fine for most firms: they were selling physical products (or at least on-premise software) and needed knowledgeable sellers to present and position the offer to buyers. The people responsible for the channel side of the business usually worked in their own silo, outside of the view of marketing or even sales management – not really a strategic role in the company even. 

    But now every industry is morphing to an “as-a-service” business model. And buyers pull the service based on their own research. But heh!, channel partners are not being “dis-intermediated”  — this was such a strange cliché back in the 1990s when the Internet took hold and everybody was writing about eBusiness and eCommerce taking work away from channel partners. If anything, partners are now even more influential and advocational for businesses. But the partner business model has changed too and they’re more than likely to live off revenues earned end-users than from manufacturers they now occasionally represent. And in addition to resellers or distributors, we now have channel players called affiliates, referrers, associations, communities, groups, ambassadors. 

    Below, I’ve described how I see this transformation under seven trend headlines. Over time, all these aspects of channel management are moving from the left-side state to the new or emerging state described in the corresponding right-side – allow me to propose calling this new state Partner Management Automation. (“Channel” often gets confused among marketers and, as we see in the table, not all partners are a channel anymore.) 

    The transformation has already hit the tech industry hard. Early last year, sitting on the top floor of Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, I reviewed the briefings I’d heard that day: Salesforce plans to work with perhaps 250,000 new partners in the near future?  – it was the only way they can double their revenue in five years, they said. Now, they know that SaaS is not necessarily a reselling market – only around 30% of SaaS revenues is booked by partners (compared to the old SW model of around 70%) – but they still realize that their future success will depend on the recommendation and influence of many new intermediaries, most of whom the vendor will not even know or recruit formally as reseller partners. They will be lawyers, tax advisors, estate agents (realtors), financial and other types of advisers.

    The Swiss software company VEEAM, who provide cloud data management software and lead their industry segment, work through over 70,000 partners globally. They do not have hundreds of partner recruiters and managers to handle this volume, they must rely on a software platform to do that. And their channel enablement platform includes a concierge program in recognition of trend # 4 on this slide – the program provides relevant information to a concierge partner and also rewards that behavior. 

    And it’s not only the tech industry. When I talk to one of the global leading manufacturers of industrial bearings, Sheaffler Group here in Germany, they’ve found that their new sensor technology has created a whole set of new markets for them as an Internet-of-Things data provider – for example, the sensors they have installed in trains is now being combined with AI technology to provide important maintenance data about the railway tracks themselves which they can sell on to the Deutsche Bahn who maintain the infrastructure. Schaeffler continues to be a manufacturer and supplier but now also have a data service business through new partnerships. As-a-Service is happening everywhere. 

    Ultimately, when all of these trends have completed their cycle from left to right, manufacturers will need a much more holistic Partner Management Automation system to covers all of these scenarios. I say much more, because, till now, most channel software has been focused on just one or two of the family of processes under channel marketing and enablement. 

    In our survey, one question we asked of the 1500 gave a clear marker – business buyers are now looking for a software platform that cover all of their needs regarding partners – marketing, management and even  sales. But the current vendor landscape for this family of processes does not yet reflect this market need. Most of the vendors still focus on either channel marketing or enablement only. In my meetings with the vendors, my test question was “how do you handle affiliate partners then” and the response was mixed. The vendor landscape continues to be highly-fractured with deep specialization.

    I am not confident that all of the vendors will be able to react to the disruptions described above — manufacturers seeking a channel platform that can support a highly-volatile partner community through a much more complete business cycle: from connection to order processing and service delivery. The vendors I found from the survey that do cover BOTH channel marketing and enablement are (listed alphabetically): Ansira, ChannelXperts, Impartner, TIE Kinetix, and Zift Solutions. I see only these vendors, plus the newer vendor Impact (mentioned but not with a sufficient number of respondents to be profiled), being able to cover the next generation channel management needs. Interestingly, Impact has already introduced the term Partnership Automation and talks about “automating the partner lifecycle” – a quite different perspective to how other vendors talk about their solution. 

    Anyway, when I survey the market again next year, I will be using the term Partner Management Automation to discover the appropriate vendor landscape.  

  • News,  Sales Enablement Management,  Vendor Selection

    the butcher, baker, and the candlestick maker – new reports

    I’ve just published more Vendor Selection Matrix reports – on channel marketing and enablement.  I’d been curious about this topic all year, expecting great change and progress compared to my last review in 2017. I’d assumed this software market would be energized by a clear transformation in the relevance of channel strategy for modern businesses. 

    Let’s be honest, for decades channel marketing and enablement was just a peripheral process in most industries; the mantra was: “first we sell direct and then we’ll find some partners”.  Which was fine for  firms selling physical products (or on-premise software) needing knowledgeable sellers to present and position the offer to buyers. 

    But now almost every industry is morphing to an “as-a-service” business model. And buyers are pulling the service based on their own research. And no, channel partners are not being “dis-intermediated” (that strange cliché of the 1990s eBusiness articles) – they’ve become even more influential and advocational. But their business model has changed and they’re more than likely to live off revenues earned from the end-user than the manufacturer they occasionally represent. And instead of resellers or distributors, they are called affiliates, referrers, associations, communities, groups, ambassadors. 

    Earlier this year, I was sitting on the top floor of Salesforce Tower in San Francisco and reviewing the briefings I had heard that day: how does this SaaS provider plan to recruit 250,000 new partners in the near future?  Salesforce executives had stated that this was the only way that it can double its revenue in the next five years. The why has been clear to me since years: the success of any new business software apps will be dependent on the recommendation/influence of many intermediaries, most of whom the vendor will not even know or recruit directly as partners. Lawyers, tax advisors, estate agents (realtors), financial advisers — basically, to cite the nursery rhyme “the butcher, baker, and the candlestick maker”.  The how is certainly more of a challenge; you cannot hire enough recruiters and channel managers to handle that volume – it needs to be automated to the highest degree. 

    Salesforce even engaged researcher IDC to produce a report predicting that Salesforce and its partners will between them create 4.2 million new jobs and $1.2 trillion in new business revenues worldwide over the next 5 years. 

    Enter the need for a much more strategic channel marketing and enablement software stack. Now, our vendor selection matrix research starts with a global survey. We firstly defined channel marketing and enablement as all processes cover the tasks involved for a manufacturer distributing products and services through partner organizations as their indirect channel. And we asked the 1500 respondents to name and score the vendors they know in that context. The 20 vendors with highest ratings and sufficient mentions are then profiled in my report. The survey also returned that the second most important priority for buyers considering software solutions is “Coverage of all three components”, i.e. Marketing, Enablement, and Sales Enablement. 

    The resulting vendor landscape does not yet reflect this market need. Most of the vendors still focus on either channel marketing (usually called through-channel marketing automation, TCMA) or enablement (partner relationship management, PRM) only. In my briefings with the vendors, my test question was “how do you handle affiliate partners then” and the response was mixed. The vendor landscape continues to be highly-fractured with deep specialization. I am not confident that many of them will not be able to react to the disruption described above — manufacturers seeking a channel platform that can support a highly-volatile partner community through a much more complete business cycle: from connection to order processing and service delivery. 

    So I have ended up producing three reports on this topic profiling the vendors in their chosen sub-categories.

    • TCMA:  The vendors that have the heaviest focus, or focus solely, on channel marketing processes
    • PRM:     The vendors that have the heaviest focus, or focus solely, on channel enablement processes
    • CME:     Those vendors servicing both channel enablement AND some marketing processes.

    Incredibly, 3 vendors selected and reviewed by the survey respondents have insisted on being left out as they see themselves as “The leading vendor for …..” (they each wrote that). Those vendors in the survey that do cover BOTH channel marketing and enablement are (listed alphabetically): Ansira, ChannelXperts, Impartner, TIE Kinetix, and Zift Solutions. I see only these vendors, plus the newer vendor Impact (did not have a sufficient number of respondents to be profiled), being able to cover the next generation channel management needs. Interestingly, Impact has introduced the term Partnership Automation and talks about “automating the partner lifecycle” – a quite different perspective.

    The top five vendors rated by the users for PRM are (listed alphabetically): Channeltivity, ChannelXperts, Impartner, TIE Kinetix, and Zift Solutions. The vendors Ansira, ChannelKonnect, Magentrix, Oracle, Salesforce, and Webinfinity complete the list of vendors who cover the channel enablement processes. (Note that this list includes the vendors named above.)

    The top five vendors rated by the users for TCMA are (listed alphabetically): BrandMaker, ChannelXperts, Impartner, TIE Kinetix, and Zift Solutions. The vendors Ansira, Brandmuscle, Bridgeline Digital, ChannelKonnect, Elateral, Netsertive, and SproutLoud, complete the list of vendors who cover the channel marketing processes. (Note that this list includes the vendors named above.)

    Abridged versions of the reports can be viewed here. Contact me if you’d like more detail. 

    Always keeping you informed! Peter.    (peter@teamoneill.de or poneill@researchinaction.de

  • Vendor Selection

    Currently researching Vendor Selection Matrices on various Marchnata

    Research firms like GG and Forr tend to want to bucket tech vendors into categories they’ve designed, usually derived from some sort of technology architecture or blueprint they think defines their world.

    In my new role, I have decided NOT to do this for my Vendor Selection Matrix reports. I’ll document the USER point of view; not vendor nor technological. So I consider a business process (or perhaps a group thereof) within the marketing function. For me, there are several maturity phases in each process – which defines and informs the type of technology and organizations required.

    One example is Marketing Lead Management. This process matures from: the initial phase where marketers just want to generate leads for sales through outbound marketing activities; through when they discover that they now also can collect and nurture inbound marketing leads; and culminating in the mature phase where they realize that marketing now should own leads throughout the customer lifetime and sales plays its role within that story.

    Another is Brand Content Management. This matures from a basic desire to manage all digital branded assets in a central repository to ensure consistency; through actively leveraging content into marketing programs and channels; to the management of the brand messaging across the company, from corporate brand to the individual messaging statements around products.  Companies working in a more distributed (sometimes called local) marketing environment deploy Brand Content Management systems to manage content across all their internal organizations, subsidiaries, and/or all business partners.

    However, when we qualify users for their inputs into our Vendor Selection Matrix, we list out a group of technologies or labels within the process so that they recognize the subject dependent on their maturity level.

    We then ask them to identify up to 3 vendors that they have had a business experience with on the topic. We also validate that the experience was not totally unfavorable and filter those out of the survey – the average number of vendors they speak about is just under two. We have developed a list of selection criteria based on our experience of helping and moderating vendor selection processes. We ask each user to score their vendors for each criterion. So that way, 60% of the matrix is scored by the users.

    My job now is to complete the matrix by assessing the remaining 2 criteria: 1) Company Viability and Execution Capabilities and 2) Market Share and Growth, based on my own knowledge, desk research, what I hear from others, AND what I hear from the vendors in a briefing.

    We also refine the survey over time. If we notice an item or priority appearing often in the “other” line, we add it to the list of items being offered. This happened in the BCM survey where many respondents had cited “headless CMS” as a priority and it is now in 5thposition.