swiss_army_knifeA ton of partner relationship management (PRM) tools  and other technologies claim they can make your life easier and bring you closer to your partners. But are the tools intuitive and do they work? I've spoken to several companies about their offerings, and here's a sampling of my findings.

In the past PRM has had a bad rap but some interesting options have come along. Recently I had a demo from TreeHouse Interactive, an enterprise class SaaS solution with ALL the bells and whistles. TreeHouse allows vendors to keep track of leads and opportunities along side their partners but also provides information to partners on their requirements and benefits, deal registration, and links to marketing automation.

TreeHouse allows different navigation for different tiers of partners so your top tier partners are able to see the appropriate information for them but it is blocked to your lower tier partners. MDF and Co-op can be uploaded to the system from distribution partners and channel partners can then apply for MDF and get approved. Partners can also link to marketing automation tools provided to them by the vendor and all information is available in text so it can be read via blackberry or iPhone. TreeHouse also fully integrates with SFDC and Oracle's CRM which TreeHouse claims they can integrate in 5 weeks.

Overall I was very impressed with TreeHouse -- having looked at a bunch of similar vendors and even managed the development of something similar while I was at EMC. The interface is very intuitive and the ability to assign leads to partners is slick! I didn't catch myself once thinking, "it's too bad they don't do this." Of course with such a robust tool comes a robust price and TreeHouse wouldn't be worthwhile if a vendor doesn't have hundreds of partners. CEO Erich Flynn assured me that they can cater the solution to the vendors needs and possibly the price somewhat. Lastly I was also impressed by how TreeHouse, or I should say Chris Frank of TreeHouse, found me via Twitter. I tweeted I was looking for something like this and had a tweet back within a few hours.

Syndication Options

In the syndication arena I spoke with Josh Gibbs of SharedVue who I should mention also found me on Twitter. Syndication allows relevant content to be pulled from a vendor's website and displayed on the channel partners' websites. There is usually a container page with the partners' look and feel around the top and along the left side and the content is updated on a regular basis. Vendors get their product and value prop information relayed accurately up-to-date in hundreds of other sites and the Channel Partners are able to inform customers on their own sites without having to send them elsewhere. How many times has a partner's site shown the old model or the current model with the wrong image or information!?

When I was at EMC I worked with a company called WebCollage to make this happen. I don't know if they've changed their process at all but it was incredibly manual to the point where we had requests from partners in email and would then fax or email them to our client manager to initiate the service. SharedVue's tool Syndic8 is completely automated. Partners can even login and change their current view of products or services shown on their website.

SharedVue also provides some lead generation and tracking tools (don't think PRM but every little bit helps right?). Using their tool Communic8 vendors can provide traditional and new media tools so partners can launch campaigns and track them all on the SharedVue tools. Partners of course get worried if vendors can see their leads (more so with some vendors then with others) so SharedVue offers a way to turn the visibility on or off.

Very impressed with SharedVue as well. There are more bells and whistles that I didn't go into here including their specific new media features (webinars, SEM, and Google AdWords). I haven't used WebCollage in 2 years but SharedVue is certainly more user friendly and robust than WC was back then.

I hope this information is helpful and always remember, if it's not stupid simple for your partners, they won't adopt it and you will waste a lot of money! Before implementing anything like this it is important to survey a broad slice of all of your partners, not just the advisory council.

Are their other systems people have seen and liked? I'd love to hear about them.

Heather K Margolis Channel MavenContributing blogger Heather K. Margolis, the Channel Maven, has led channel programs for major IT companies. She also has extensive lead generation and marketing experience. Follow The VAR Guy via RSS; Facebook; Identi.ca; Twitter; and via his Newsletter; Webcasts and Resource Center.