Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Channel Technology Stack - Future of Channel Management

We have been witnessing an explosion of software vendors in the past 5 years. In fact, it has been the fastest growing segment of the technology industry and a big reason why the number of vendors will outnumber partners by 2025.

The go-to-market of these new software companies is very different than it was in the past. Before cloud and SaaS (software-as-a-service) industries became mainstream, software companies built foundational software which tended to have wide functionality and appeal.

For example, in heathcare, over 300 companies competed with Allscripts and GE for a slice of the EMR (electronic medical records) market. When Salesforce started it's meteoric rise in share of the CRM market, it also had about 300 competitors.

Once the winners started to emerge in each line of business (think Salesforce, NetSuite, Workday, Eloqua, etc.), a new phenomenon started around integrations and open API's.

This was the unofficial start of the stack concept. 

Layering highly targeted, narrow focused software tools together started to become the new normal. There was no way that wide platforms could optimize across different industries, geographies, segments, job roles and lines of business.

Example of Marketing Technology Stack:

Marketing, sales, finance, HR, customer success and operations were all early adopters of the technology stack. Channel and indirect sales groups have been laggards up till this point. The quality of software for channel professionals has been steadily improving.

With 72 key attributes of a strong program, no one piece of software can manage all the moving parts effectively.

A channel technology stack is a grouping of technologies that vendors leverage to conduct and improve their partner programs, compliance, revenue and loyalty. Often, the focus of channel technologies is to make difficult processes easier, and to measure the impact of multiple activities and drive more efficient spending.

The channel technology landscape is rapidly evolving, with dozens of different software technologies growing in an ever-increasing number of categories. With so many choices, it’s essential for channel professionals to have a clear understanding of which technologies are most fundamental to their business and program goals and to understand how technology can help.

The type of channel program you have will also impact which technologies you might find important, and how they should be organized. When assembling a channel technology stack, it’s important to know which technologies are foundational, and should be put in place first.

Here are some essential parts of the channel technology stack:

Partner Relationship Management (PRM) - Foundational software that manages the plumbing of a channel program. Partner management, portals, incentives, training, certifications and the like. Players such as Salesforce, Relayware, IMPARTNER and Channeltivity play here.

Partner Marketing Automation - The ability to score, nurture and have visibility to partner online behavior is critical to good channel management. On top of traditional marketing players such as Eloqua, Marketo, Pardot and Hubspot, there are channel specific options such as Zift Solutions, StructuredWeb and MindMatrix.

Portal and Content Management System (CMS) - technology that powers a partner portal, website, blog, or other relevant web properties where channel marketers want to engage their partners.

Mobile-first Partner Enablement - New mobile technologies that drive real-time communication, share selling and support tools, as well as driving partner motivation and loyalty are growing quickly in prominence. Companies like ChannelEyes are leading the way here.

Incentives and MDF Management - Focused tools that manage incentives, payments, compliance, fraud and ROI measurements. CCI is one of the leaders in this space.

Channel Data Management - Vendors that are generating mountains of transactional data are looking for new ways to analyze buying patterns, inventory controls and distribution effectiveness using modern data tools. Channel focused companies such as Channel Insight, Zyme and Entomo are leading this market.

Channel Social Media and Syndication - technology to monitor social activity, make social engagement easier and facilitate syndication of content is growing quickly as part of the stack. Companies such as Tie Kinetix, purechannelapps, ChannelRocket and Allbound play here.

There is a new part of the stack...

Channel Predictive Analytics, Data Science and Indirect Sales Workflow - ChannelEyes has developed the first ever Channel Sales workflow product that is based on advanced data science, business intelligence and channel analytics. It is called Optyx.

Replacing the spreadsheet, and sitting on top of the CRM system, this software-as-a-service product changes the game significantly. By combining different data sources, including transactional, point of sale, behavioral and external Big Data, this platform has the ability to predict, notify and prescribe the next best action with partners.

The average Channel Account Manager (CAM) is only managing 10-20% of their territory effectively. In fact, over 50% of their Executives fear that they are not calling the right partners with the right messaging at the right time.

Optyx changes that equation. It can watch EVERY partner with built-in algorithms that trigger alerts and notifications. I am sure a CAM would like to know if one of their key partners D&B credit rating dropped or another partner is on a hiring spree with a new successful practice just launched. What if a competitor just gave an award to one of your partners? Good information to know.

There are hundreds of data sources on the public web, however the most powerful information doesn't tend to be free. Even researching one partner could take a full day sitting behind a Google Search bar.

It isn't about data though. It is about action. Specifically, a CAM's next best action.

Optyx is a workflow tool that takes these alerts and notifications and translates them into actionable and measurable activities. Calling, emailing, social selling and even on-site visits can be prioritized based on predicted outcome and then noted and tracked in the CRM system, whether it be or other.

Another powerful feature is the Partner Dashboard. Having transactional, behavioral and external Big Data all in one spot will make for informed conversations with partners and significantly cut down on the time and energy in tracking what a partner is doing and how they are performing.

CAM's report that 20% of their time is building reports for management and collecting information for partner Quarterly Business Reviews. This is now automated and that one day a week can go back to selling.

Long live the Channel Technology Stack!

Running a successful channel program is a complicated endeavor. Trying to do it with antiquated tools and gut isn't enough anymore. The channel is in need of advanced purpose-built tools based on the latest technologies such as cloud, mobility, social, predictive analytics and big data.