|Chris Heidelberger, ChannelWave CEO|
Listening to executives from partner relationship management (PRM) software maker ChannelWave Software Inc., Cambridge, Mass., you'd never think there was a recession on.
With the latest version of its PRM applications suite gaining steam after a November release and some $26.5 million in freshly raised venture capital waiting in the bank, the company is tooling up for a major assault on the burgeoning industry sector.
In fact, the company thinks the time is right for PRM, software tools that enable electronic collaboration between companies partnering for business. As opposed to simpler electronic data interface (EDI) links between partners, PRM puts more emphasis on real-time collaboration and measuring the success of a relationship by tracking as many elements of it as possible.
"I think we've got two macro-trends working in our favor," said Chris Heidelberger, ChannelWave CEO. "The first is that partnering is becoming more and more of a strategic imperative. The second is that people want to buy software in different ways than they did in prior generations. Web-based architecture allows for really fast deployments compared to earlier technologies in the CRM and ERP space."
According to Heidelberger, the shift coincides with the tightened economy and the arrival of more powerful Web-based applications. He said that potential clients are asking more than ever before to automate channel strategy and align channel automation with products' life cycles. Among the specific applications users are asking for are more effective training and certification programs along with more traditional sales and marketing tools.
"There are an awful lot of companies who look at the channel and try to get more info," he said. "The automation takes what was a $200,000 per-year channel sales person and boils their intellect into functional applications. This allows a company to bring that value through a broader group of partners than ever before."
At present the firm is busily rolling out its ChannelWave 5 suite to customers in the technology and telecommunications fields, but company officials are setting their sights squarely on other vertical markets including the insurance industry.
The current offering promises to overreach the capabilities of traditional PRM software to support the end-to-end lifecycle of pre-sales, sales and post-sales functions through a suite of Web-based applications.
One company already seeing results from its ChannelWave implementation is IT hardware and copier maker Toshiba of Canada. While the company does not build machines in North America, it relies heavily on a network of distributors and resellers to sell and service its products across Canada. By implementing ChannelWave 5, the company claims to be recording a sizeable return on its investment.
"Back when we started trying to figure out how to leverage the Web into our channel strategy there was no such thing as PRM," said Mark McCullough, director of marketing for Toshiba of Canada. "But we knew we were spending a lot of money and time developing support information and tools and releasing those to our normal channels through distribution partners."
The top benefit that Toshiba of Canada has seen is a more efficient way to distribute information to anyone who sells, services or does business with the company.
According to McCullough, the PRM applications have also become invaluable tools for its channel partners. If a partner's technician is in the field trying to service a broken piece of equipment, the service representative can now look online for technical advice or troubleshooting hints instead of working through layers of supervisors.
"Ultimately the system keeps us from ever looking flat-footed in the field and that travels down to our partners," said McCullough. "That kind of perception is crucial to differentiation in our market."
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