Three Big Shifts and a Recession Point to the Rise of PRM

In 2003, Impartner built the first Partner Relationship Management (PRM) software on the market.

PRM has grown along the way, but only recently has the category emerged as one of the most crucial in the B2B SaaS market.

There are three key shifts that explain why:

  • Shift one - The SaaS explosion
  • Shift two - Premium expectations
  • Shift three - The long tail

When an economic recession is added to these shifts, it forms a perfect storm for many companies.

Let’s explore each shift a little deeper.

Shift one: the SaaS explosion

There are over 30,000 SaaS companies.

Every category has multiple products. Most of these products work fairly well too. Feature parity tends to come about quickly as competition grows.

There has never been more choice for consumers. This also applies to agencies and resellers. They can choose from a wide variety of solutions to offer their clients.

This means product differentiation is harder.

When companies want to grow their partner programs and expand distribution through a network of indirect channels, they have to lean on more than features to win.

Shift two: premium expectations

Consumer companies have gotten better and better at creating premium experiences for buyers.

Customers have come to expect this everywhere.

Robb Franks, VP of Sales at Impartner, captured this perfectly in a recent column:

When you get a new iPhone, you feel something.

It’s more than the features. It’s the packaging, the way the box slides open, the sleek visuals, and everything you’ve come to associate with Apple.

You don’t need to do a side-by-side feature comparison. You trust that the latest iPhone will have more or less the same features as competitors. You pick it because of how it makes you feel. You pick it because it is a premium experience.

If you’ve ever purchased a car through Carvana you probably won’t ever go back to a dealership. Carvana makes you feel loved through the whole thing. Dealers don’t. They might offer the exact same car, but the car isn’t the only thing that goes into your buying decision.

Companies like Apple and Carvana have raised the bar and created an expectation of delight among consumers.

Everyone wants to feel like a first-class passenger.

Ever-improving UI and customer experience doesn't just apply to consumer companies.

B2B buyers expect the same. They want the tools they use at work to be easy, intuitive, beautiful, and make them feel just as special as Robinhood or Tesla.

This goes for partners too.

Shoving a one-pager in their face or giving them a login to a clunky portal won’t cut it. They care about how it feels to work with companies they partner with.

Shift three: the long tail

In 2008, Chris Anderson published The Long Tail. It articulated the shift brought about by the rapidly decreasing cost of bringing products and ideas to market.

YouTube is the poster child of the long-tail effect. By creating an open platform where anyone can post content, they tapped into a massive range of niche videos with tiny audiences. Cumulatively, this collection of niche creators has an audience much larger than the audience of any major motion picture or TV show.

Netflix has certainly been a massive success, but if you compare their performance in recent years to YouTube’s, they are struggling. Netflix has to pick what content to produce or license. The cost is high, so they have to be confident that each video will have a sufficiently large audience to justify it.

As such, they can’t tap into the long tail of creators and their fans. Nobody can just go upload a video to Netflix. While this has some benefits to the platform - maintaining quality and lowering costs - they miss out on the millions of creators and consumers fragmented into tiny niches. They also miss out on surprise hits. Some niche YouTubers become household names.

The long tail is one of the forces that has led so many companies to try to become platforms. They want to tap the power of a dispersed ecosystem, not miss out on the small members and allow for serendipitous discovery.

Companies that cut off the long tail tend to lose to those who harness it.

This means companies with open, robust partner ecosystems that allow for a high number of smaller, niche partners in addition to the handful of really big ones will beat those who strictly follow the 80/20 rule and devote all attention to the big guys.

Partners who live in many small niches will reach customers who live in many small niches. High-growth companies need those customers.

Add these three shifts together and what happens?

These three shifts combined demand robust, far-reaching, high-quality partner programs.

  1. Partners need more than just products and features to sell.
  2. Partners want to feel special. They want a premium experience.
  3. Companies have to tap into the long tail of their ecosystem and provide a VIP-level experience to even the smallest partners.

So winners need a partner program with premium quality and unlimited scale.

Oh, and one more thing. They can’t spend a bunch more money or hire a bunch more people to pull it off.

Oh yeah, about that global recession…

A down economy layered on top of the shifts described above puts execs and partner leaders in a tough spot.

Companies need future-proof growth engines. They’re cutting back on experiments, direct sales, and ad buys.

Partnerships offer promise. A robust network of individuals and companies that can build, market, sell, and service with each other reduces costs and increases reach.

Co-selling means more info, more influence, and more deals won with the same in-house headcount. Co-marketing means more content and events with bigger reach but shared costs. Co-servicing means less demand on Success teams, less churn, and better outcomes for customers.

But building a partner ecosystem isn’t free.

When you factor in the demands caused by the three shifts - need for more than product, need for premium experience, need for even the smallest partners to feel loved - it sounds like a lot of work and a lot of headcount. AKA, a lot of money.

That is why PRM and other tools in the partner stack are in a bull market.

Quality at scale

The only way to provide a VIP experience to a long-tail-friendly partner ecosystem is through systems, processes, and tools that can do the heavy lifting.

Companies that pair the power of automation with genuine human touch are building winning ecosystems and sustainable, recession-proof growth engines. For example, Impartner customers saw a 32% increase in channel revenue and a 29% decrease in administrative costs after implementing a robust PRM.

What CRM did for the sales process or automation for marketing, partner tech tools are doing for the indirect ecosystem.

Mapping relationships, managing multiple partner types, connecting your partner-specific tools like PRM to the general use CRM, adding Through Channel Marketing Automation to deliver a premium experience to even niche partners - these are the trends that answer the three shifts and the recession.

There will be winners and losers

Those who give lip service to partner programs will suffer.

Companies that:

  • Focus on features.
  • Create ‘good enough’ experiences.
  • Ignore the long tail.

Those who take partnerships seriously and do it like they mean it will thrive.

Companies that:

  • Focus on the feeling.
  • Create premium experiences.
  • Embrace the long tail.

The only way to do it right under recessionary budget constraints is to build a solid stack of tools that can deliver quality at scale with minimal headcount.

This is the PRMs time to shine.

Give them so much more than a one-pager

We’re proud to partner with Impartner on this story.

Impartner invented the PRM. And they never stopped improving it.

If you want to build a recession-proof partner ecosystem, talk to Impartner about getting your stack set up to deliver a world-class experience that scales as fast and far as you can.

PS - Impartner is joining us at the upcoming Partner Led [Everything] Summit, November 7-11. Will you be there?

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