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Aug 1, 2009 | SiriusDecisions lock

Highly competitive markets. A volatile economy. A strong desire to penetrate the SMB marketplace much more deeply. All of these factors are driving significant numbers of b-to-b organizations to rely more heavily on channel partners, despite the historical drawback of losing a degree of visibility into and control over their business when they do. This doesn’t have to be the case, however; in the article "Stacking up Channel Management Technology," we discussed a concept called Channel Management 2.0, which utilizes technology to help organizations build a more transparent, visible relationship with their channel partners.

But with few fully integrated channel management platforms available, how do you find a technology partner that can help you achieve Channel Management 2.0? In a previous article, we identified four layers of functionality necessary to optimize channel sales and marketing efforts, and organized them into the SiriusDecisions Channel Management Technology

Stack. In this article, we use this model as the basis for analyzing and evaluating channel management vendors in our new scoring system, the SiriusDecisions Channel Management Radar.

Y-Axis: Channel Management 2.0

Channel Management 2.0 is the blueprint for advanced partner-relationship and opportunity management capabilities; it is based on strong processes, full integration between vendor and channel, and a robust technological infrastructure. We believe that the application of this blueprint to your channel partner relationships will create the transparency and visibility necessary to achieve Channel Management 2.0. As a result, our Y-axis represents the level to which a vendor’s functionality can help you reach this aim. Scoring on this axis is driven by a combination of the following three components:

Functional presence. Customers are best served by a single vendor that offers functionality across the four layers of the Channel Management Technology Stack. The proof can be seen in the rise of platform vendors that provide multi-layered solutions, particularly CRM vendors that also offer channel management modules. Although few vendors currently offer the functionality required to achieve 2.0, we predict that continued market evolution and consolidation over the next few years will close the gaps.

Functionality capability. It is not enough for a vendor to provide functionality; that functionality must also be robust. As a result, SiriusDecisions has created a scale to rate the quality and capability of each platform function following the vendor’s demonstration of that functionality. The combination of best-of-breed, scalable and integrated functionality will drive a vendor’s rating on the Y-axis over its peers.

Vendor vision. The third component of the Y-axis is the vendor’s vision, or roadmap for the build-out of its offerings. Because vendors – as they are currently constructed– have gaps in their architecture, short-term solutions may include collaborative agreements with third parties. Longer-term solutions will require internal development and/or acquisition, as well as subsequent integration into the core platform.


X-Axis: Essential Elements

Despite offering strong functionality, we still see many vendors fall short when it comes to helping their customers execute 2.0 capabilities. Thus, our X-axis is used to measure what we call Essential Elements, or the overall ability of a vendor to deliver and implement its solution(s).

Scoring on this axis is driven by a combination/weighting of the following five components:

Integration capabilities. At this point in time, integration is the top issue for customers implementing sales or marketing technologies, which can be a significant impediment to effective and transparent channel management. Integration should be bi-directional with existing CRM systems, as well as a series of other marketing and sales technologies that will undoubtedly be fed by their output.

Training. Training is essential for its ability to facilitate greater understanding of features and functionality, and to foster sustainable change. Vendors will be evaluated on their product training, typically provided at the onset of an engagement, as well as ongoing training in terms of best practices, management support/oversight and administration. We will also examine how a vendor provides training (e.g. public, in-person/customized and/or online/continuous), its cost and its integration into an overall solution.

Support. Best-in-class vendors support their customers with robust, process-oriented pre-implementation, implementation and post-implementation phases. Pre-implementation should ensure that customers and vendors are aligned strategically, and that appropriate "pre-game" tactical steps have been taken to drive the engagement’s success. The actual implementation should drive continuous improvement, rather than wait until the engagement is completed. Finally, the post-implementation phase should include formal processes and activities to close the loop and draw customer and vendor more closely together for subsequent engagements.

Best practice modules. Learning from the experiences of others – whether good or bad – helps any channel management implementation proceed more smoothly. Vendors that systematize these experiences into their products through best practice modules help customers negotiate potentially unfamiliar territory (such as lead routing and opportunity forecasting) and mimic proven functionality. These modules must be developed over time to incorporate new customer experiences, and more advanced product capabilities.

Vendor viability. We will assess each vendor’s market position and experience according to several factors including longevity, financial health, size, customer references and key industries served. Taken together, these elements will drive the vendor’s credibility and ability to be in business over the long term, and to aggressively support and enhance its offerings.

Finding the right technology partner is critical to optimizing your channel relationships and achieving an effective Channel Management 2.0 strategy. While there are currently few fully capable 2.0 solutions available in the marketplace, you can begin the process by identifying your channel management requirements and developing a well-defined plan that is agreed upon by both your channel sales and marketing teams. From there, our Channel Management Technology Stack and Radar can accelerate your progress along the 2.0 spectrum by helping you choose the most appropriate technology vendor to manage and measure the value of your partner network. By understanding your requirements – not only in terms of features and functionality but by the support required – you can create sustainable, successful relationships with any vendor in the channel management space.

About the Author:

SiriusDecisions, a leading source for business-to-business sales and marketing best-practice research and data. SiriusDecisions Executive Advisory Services, Consulting Services, Benchmark Assessment Services, Learning and Events provide senior-level executives with the sales and marketing operational intelligence required to maximize top line growth and performance.

©Sirius Decisions, 2008. Reproduced with permission.

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