When properly guided and nurtured, a partner sales program can cause revenue to boom. A company can speedily grow the number of representatives and break into new territories, all with reduced upfront costs and financial risk. Better yet, partner relationship management (PRM) software continues to mature and embrace automation. Examples of functions a partner program manager can automate include:
- Onboarding and product training
- Access to select materials or product features
- Content suggestions based on past behaviors
- Emails to remind users to log into the portal and complete unfinished tasks
- Report generation for individuals and program-wide
- Notices concerning performance numbers
- Immediately declining registered deals if duplicative with an existing opportunity.
As further explored in IT Chronicle’s article, Robotic Process Automation for Businesses – The Next Big Thing, the utilization of software to reduce manual tasks opens new doors for productivity and scalability. However, automation can hurt a company’s channel program and partner relationships when improperly applied.
Below are scenarios in which there is a clear-cut right and wrong way to apply automation to partner relationship management to maximize results.
Don’t: Treat partners as one-and-the-same.
Do: Segment partners into groups, so they receive automated experiences tailored for them.
The beauty of channel partners is that they can dramatically differ from your Direct Sales team and one another. So don’t make the mistake of automating the same communication to be sent to all audiences; after all, a Canada-based SMB will attract much different sales prospects than an established partner in Germany.
Instead, define each new partner by various classifications (size, industry, region, etc.) and then automate certain content to reach the specific subtypes. As a bonus, some partner management software will let partners automatically unlock new content based on completing tasks.
Take customization one step further by automatically letting certain groups access portal features, like co-branding capabilities. You’ll also want to set different benchmarks for different partner sects, whether it be to highlight industry-specific initiatives, geographic-based roadblocks, or performance goals based on experience levels. When automating report generation and performance-based email notifications to their leadership, partners should be compared to their immediate peers rather than dissimilar demographics.
Don’t: Automate financial decisions.
Do: Use automation to systemize information for easier decision-making.
For an example of this concept at work, let’s use the scenario of a partner submitting a marketing development funds (MDF) request. Automation can help you make request forms only available to those who meet set conditions (such as completing training or closing a sale). You can also automate which form fields are available to whom. However, it’d be foolish to automatically approve or reject MDF requests without human vetting.
Don’t: Set pre-conditions for automation once and assume you’re done
Do: Modify your automation settings in response to new insights
Ideally, your partner ecosystem will both deepen and broaden over time. Even if this isn’t the case, the industry in which you compete will hardly standstill. With this in mind, you’ll want to routinely evaluate your automated actions to ensure you still receive the data you need and initiate the ideal actions.
Let’s say you automate content suggestions for training and sales enablement based on individuals’ behavioral triggers. If you dig into data on a semi-regular basis, you may find that there are better resources than the ones you currently spotlight. For this reason, it may be worth A/B testing different content recommendations to find out differences in partner engagement and how prospects respond. What’s more, you’ll want to conduct such testing with annual frequency; what resonated with partners three years ago may no longer have the same impact.
Another reason you shouldn’t “set-and-forget” your automated communications? Perhaps a sect of partners faces new challenges, whether it be updated privacy regulations, political strife, or a security breach. You’ll need to swiftly pivot all elements of your partner relationship strategy to align with their present reality. If you know a partner is busy handling emergencies, you shouldn’t have automated messages nudging them and their bosses to complete a training course.
Don’t: Assume automation will replace human communication
Do: Use your automation to enhance your relationships and promote independence with partners
For some companies, it’s all too tempting to let automation supplant human interaction almost entirely. However, channel partners want a balance; the immediacy and convenience of automation alongside the familiarity of a point person. Therefore, it’s important that Channel Account Managers continue to respond to emails in a timely manner and host routine meetings.
The 30-minute conversations won’t be spent hunting for resources or solving basic problems with automation in place. Instead, talks will concentrate on the bigger picture and forming bonds that make way for program loyalty.
Think of Automation as a Tool for Partner Management Rather Than the All-Encompassing Solution
The major takeaway from the above talking points should be that automation isn’t meant to divorce account managers from partners. In fact, when properly applied, it should boost the working relationship rather than supplant it. By using automation to maximize efficiency, account managers can deliver targeted messaging; come to meetings with valuable insights, and be freed from repetitive exercises to handle more relationships without sacrificing overall quality.