March 2013 Feature

Collaboration Beyond the Enterprise

by Anna Johnson

For some enterprises, the rise of social networking and social media among employees, customers, and the channel creates new opportunities to accelerate communication and improve operational processes. For others, it’s an additional piece in an already complex partner relationship management (PRM) puzzle. To learn how to evolve PRM programs to take advantage of top trends like social networking and social media, and improve the way enterprise works together with the indirect channel, Channel Management Insights turned to Mike Morgan, Relayware’s chief executive officer, for answers.

PRMThe PRM Evolution

In the not-so-distant past, CRMs automated internal sales processes, and classic PRM systems automated communication via email and web portals with external audiences. “The catalyst for the evolution was when we saw a marked increase in customers wanting to bring internal and external processes together,” says Morgan. “In pretty much every project Relayware engaged in during this period our solution was to integrate CRM systems, such as Salesforce, with our platform.”

“The purpose of integrating with CRM systems like Salesforce was that the CRM systems became the systems-of-record for all things related to customers. As the indirect channel serviced their customers, it became necessary for the PRM system to tap into the CRM customer record.”

Integration alone wasn’t enough to evolve PRMs. There are programs and processes that are innate to partners that can’t be addressed by the customer-centric systems of CRM and marketing automation. For example, automating loyalty programs, joint opportunity management, and training and certification are all specific to the indirect channel ecosystem. The PRMs changed based on the desire to automate processes and tap into the business intelligence to improve efficiencies. But what no one was expecting was how new ways of communication and collaboration through social networking with personal devices was about to alter the way enterprises conduct business.

Top Trends As Catalysts for Change

When Facebook launched at Harvard, no one anticipated that it would be adopted by corporate America. After all, it was designed for college students. When the first text-based message of 140 characters was sent in 2006, no one would have considered Twitter relevant enough to be the primary means of communicating and organizing revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and #occupywallstreet. But Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking platforms have become as integral to corporate communications as email.

“Social networking or social media is just one of three communication trends that are driving change within the partner ecosystem,” says Morgan. “The second, employee collaboration tools like Moxie, Basecamp, and Jive Software, have transformed the way enterprises do work internally over the last five years. But none were designed to address the indirect channel’s programmatic needs.”

“The third trend we’re seeing is people turning to their mobile devices for communication and collaboration in preference over fixed devices like PCs and Macs,” observes Morgan. For decades, the PC has been a permanent fixture on every employee’s desk. In just two years, the iPhone, iPad, and other mobile devices have become indispensible items glued to the hands of executives during office meetings, flights to London, and trips to Costco. These three trends provide a ripe environment for change.

“If you add all these things together, what you have is a need for a software system that integrates partly with CRM and that can support external sales automation and collaboration processes. It must be a system that can support marketing automation and collaboration processes and that can automate all the program-based activity that you would engage in with external constituents of your business ecosystem. And finally, it needs to be a system that can facilitate communication between all the members of that ecosystem, not simply through email and web portals but also through social networking, instant messaging, and mobile devices as the communication platform,” says Morgan. Today, the system that Morgan describes goes entirely beyond the Partner Relationship Management model and has evolved into what Relayware calls “Collaboration Beyond the Enterprise.”

Where Enterprises Fall Short

The benefits of that social media feature in many next-gen PRMs have eluded many companies because, “they don’t know how social media functions,” says Morgan. “In many cases, executives view social marketing as just another method to push communication to customers and prospects.” Instead, social marketing is about creating interest and amplifying the interest through social networks. “If you create shareable messages that resonate with your channel, then they are more likely to communicate that message to their trusted networks,” advises Morgan. Many companies don’t fully realize that a partner’s trusted network isn’t part of a community that they would generally have access to. By communicating through partners rather than just to partners, companies will reap the benefits of reaching new audiences in ways that they couldn’t do before.

Summary

The communication and collaboration features of the next-gen PRM systems are a natural fit with the indirect channel ecosystem. In many instances, the channel has embraced social media through mobile devices long ago, and it’s only in the last year that enterprises are tapping into these trusted social networks.

Today, enterprises need a platform to tie all the partner relationship management pieces together in a service that can support:

  • CRM integration
  • External sales process automation and collaboration
  • External marketing automation and collaboration
  • Communication between external members of the ecosystem through social networking and social media with a mobile app

Companies that understand how to use social media to collaborate with partners will benefit from the next-gen PRM features. Collaboration and communication beyond the enterprise enables companies to uncover new revenue opportunities in new communities as well as glean new information from their expanding social networks.