I’ve spent a large part of my career in the world of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). And I believe that many of the things we’ve learned in CRM can, and should, be translated into the Partner Relationship Management (PRM) context.
In particular, I believe that the future of partner management lies in making partners feel like valued, informed individuals - just like customers, but in a somewhat different way.
This is especially true because I believe that PRMs play an essential role in partner management.
Customer relationship management: relationships, not resources
Ask 10 marketers to explain what CRM is, and you’ll get 10 different answers: email marketing, a win-back channel, or just the cheapest way to fill the funnel when the budget for paid advertising is down at the end of the quarter.
But for those of us who have lived in the CRM world know, it’s all of that and more. It’s about guiding customers through their journey with you – nurturing relationships that last. And like any relationship, it’s not just about Return on Investment. CRM has evolved precisely to humanize these relationships, leading to deeper, long-term engagement.
How so? Let's explore.
How CRM insights can enrich the way we manage partnerships
CRM empowers you with the knowledge you need to make solid, data-driven decisions about your business. It tells you who your customers are and why they purchase your products.
Even more importantly, it gives you insights into their needs, which can help you to strategize more effectively. You can see a customer’s purchase history and current status and assess whether you’re in danger of losing them. This motivates sales and marketing teams to work hard to retain and deepen existing relationships: a personalized email, a special offer, and a loyalty program.
It takes a certain level of commitment to keep this up, but the long-term rewards are indisputable. And there’s a range of tech tools to help you streamline these processes, so they don’t overwhelm customer relationship managers.
The evolution of CRM has allowed customers to enrich relationships while automating the parts that can be digitized. That’s a win-win, and there’s no reason that we can’t do the same in partner management.
Objection: partners aren’t customers
I’m not suggesting that you should view partners as customers or prospects. Your partners don’t want to be treated like customers, but they do want to be treated like people, not resources.
That means you absolutely should start to personalize and deepen your relationships with them.
Here are some vital questions to ask yourself:
- Do your partners buy into your vision and mission?
- Do your partners feel valued? How do you know?
- Are you keeping them well informed and engaged?
- Have you provided a way for them to table problems?
- Do you ask them to participate in product development?
Ideally, the answer to all of these questions should be “yes.” Most businesses work around the clock to provide this level of engagement for customers but struggle to do the same for partners.
It’s time to change that.
Partners left out in the cold
Part of the problem is that we tend to think of partnership as a connection between companies when it’s actually the sum of interactions between people within companies. Just like customers, partners want you to guide and inform them. And how you deliver that info matters, too.
Your partners want to be able to communicate with you directly. It’s much easier to tell a business partner to just go to your portal than it is to send a hyper-personalized message. And that’s yet another crucial CRM insight: you should communicate in a channel that your customer wants to be in, not the one that is easiest to manage.
Digital-first doesn’t mean human-second
Another key lesson that we’ve all learned from customer relationship management is the importance of being interesting and finding ways to measure that. That’s especially important in this age of information overload.
Let’s visualize this challenge: roughly 306.4 billion emails were sent and received each day in 2020. For 2022, that figure is over 333.2 billion.
In this environment, how do you get your emails and messages read?
The human touch is a differentiator because your customers’ attention is valuable, and you’re not the only one trying to capture it.
In the world of customer communications, everyone understands the importance of coming up with multiple versions and A/B-testing to find the winner. That’s yet another form of automation from customer management that partner management can replicate to improve results.
The future of PRM is bright
Partner relationship management is set to see massive growth over the next decade. The partner management stack of the future is connected to best-of-breed software, workflows, and methodologies that foster real relationships with people.
The time of just implementing a PRM and being done will end. The most valuable PRMs will be the ones that connect to other best-of-breed tools for topics like account mapping (such as Crossbeam, Reveal, and PartnerTap) and partner engagement (such as Superglue).
This will enable partnership teams to create better partner experiences while reducing effort. The benefit will not just be increased portal (PRM) adoption, it will be more profitable partner experiences that drive more revenue.
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