Allegis Lends Cooperative Hand to Internet Sales Partnerships
A gnawing irritation for organizations that conduct online business through indirect sales channels is the lack of control over the operation. By using an intermediary, it's difficult to ascertain the best business practices that will keep customers coming back for more.
But new technologies brought on by the Web -- namely Extensible Markup Language (XML) -- are enabling closer relationships between suppliers and partners. "E-business is having a disruptive and catalytic effect on multitier sales and partner relationships, forcing suppliers to pay increased attention to the needs of channel partners," said Karen Smith, analyst at Aberdeen Group (www.aberdeen.com), in a recent white paper.
"These converging factors, together with acceleration in customer relationship management (CRM) applications -- solutions designed to address and automate front-office activities -- have spawned a new breed of applications software geared specifically to address the unique requirements of channel partners."
This new breed of applications is partner relationship management (PRM). Following this trend, Allegis Corp. (www.allegis.com) developed Sales Partner 3.0, a PRM system that helps vendors keep tabs on its partners and its customers. Kurt Foeller, product marketing manager at Allegis, describes the indirect sales channel model prior to the Internet as linear.
"Partners stood in a perfect line between vendors and customers," Foeller says. "With the Internet, there's no longer a linear model. There's a new conflicting sales channel."
With the Web, customers don't go to Office Depot to find information about monitors , for example. They go to a Web site, search for detailed information about the monitor they want, and if they want it, they want to buy it right there. The challenge for vendors is how to turn that lead into a sale if it means directing that customer to a partner, and how to track the sale to take full advantage.
This is where PRM comes in. Allegis hosts what it calls a Dashboard, which is composed of five basic modules. The first module is Content & Leads. This solution tracks sales leads and gets them to partners that can best handle the sale. The second module is Territory Channel & Readiness. This tool activates gap analysis, the process of checking sales territories and making sure there aren't any gaps where the products cannot reach prospective customers.
The third module is Programs & Funds. When a brand is only one of many its partners may be selling, the company may want to provide incentives to its partners by offering marketing dollars or co-op funds. In this process, it's difficult to figure out where the return on investment (ROI) is. Programs & Funds measures how partners are spending that money and if it's returning profits.
Performance Analysis is the fourth module, which captures the demand in the market by querying partners for sales figures. The final module, and the newest for Allegis Sales Partner 3.0, is eCommerce Management, which drives qualified demand from vendor to partner and makes it easier for partners to order products.
Most of the solution is hosted at Allegis' locations, with software agents installed across company and partner locations, all communicating via XML. Foeller says this increases productivity because it automates many of the processes organizations are performing manually today.
"This gets the entire marketing and sales operation of the indirect sales channel on one platform to automate the process and track the equipment, funds, and sales," Foeller explains. "The quicker you get information across to one another, the more you improve ROI."
Other PRM specialists include Asera, ChannelWave, OnDemand, PartnerWare, Promptu, Radnet, Ten North, and Webridge.
Traditional e-commerce vendors -- Broadvision, MarketSoft, Onyx Software, Pivotal Software, SalesLogix, Siebel Systems, and Trilogy -- have gotten in to the PRM arena, as well.
Aberdeen's Smith believes this is important because integration with other CRM or e-business strategies will enable PRM to say viable. She says e-business vendors may begin to purchase PRM vendors.