Salesforce.com reaches into the PRM market

With the release of Partnerforce, Salesforce.com is adding to its CRM offerings with a tool to manage relationships with channel partners and resellers.

Salesforce.com today continued its evolution, expanding into Partner Relationship Management (PRM) with the release of Partnerforce.

The new release, available July 12, provides customers of the San Francisco-based company with the ability to distribute sales and marketing information to channel partners and resellers through a customized portal.

The PRM market saw its heyday about four years ago with the emergence of standalone vendors such as ChannelWave and Allegis and with suite vendors such as Siebel and SAP developing their own offerings. But the market for PRM has been relatively quiet for the past few years, according to Kendall Collins, vice president of product marketing for Salesforce.com. ChannelWave and Allegis have both been acquired by Click Commerce.

"None really nailed this market," Collins said. "Those companies all created a silo of partner data. The main reason a company would do PRM is to get a consolidated view of data from partners. It's a market that has never been served properly."

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The reason for PRM's past failures, Collins believes, is that the products were difficult to customize and deploy, and too complex for many end users. Partnerforce provides a portal that can be customized for every partner and look like a company's own Web site. It also provides partner lifecycle management; reduces channel conflict, preventing partners from working the same accounts as one another or the direct sales; and offers integrated dashboards that show forecasts and sales pipelines for both direct and indirect sales teams, Collins said.

Salesforce.com does have a unique advantage over some of its predecessors in the partner relationship management market, according to Rob Bois, an analyst with Boston-based AMR Research.

"Everybody has a different piece of software at every node of the demand chain," Bois said. "Salesforce.com is already running at those nodes. That common look and feel is there. It's not like you're pushing some new tool down their throat. Adoption is already a problem with [sales force automation (SFA)]. It gets compounded when you're dealing with a salesforce that is not your own."

In addition, Partnerforce means that companies may be pressuring their partners to use Salesforce.com's SFA tool, and some in the channel may be asking for their supplier to use it.

"Their biggest challenge may be the PRM acronym," Bois said. "Several years ago, I wrote an alert that PRM is dead. Not the market, but the acronym itself got crushed. Vendors sprouted up when the bottom dropped out of the economy. That served to give it a bad name. We call it channel management now."

Salesforce.com has high hopes for the product, noting that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, 70% of the 14 million salespeople in the U.S. sell through the indirect channel.

"We really are introducing our third killer app here," Collins said, comparing Partnerforce's arrival with Salesforce.com's original on-demand CRM tool and its AppExchange platform.

The application is priced at $1,500 per partner per year for existing Salesforce.com customers using the Enterprise Edition or Unlimited Edition. Pricing includes subscriptions for five partner employees, which can be pooled, Collins said. For example, a company can create a tiered partner system, offering multiple employee subscriptions to a "platinum" partner while giving a less valuable partner only one.

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