Monday, October 27, 2008

Channel Management Solutions Landscape 1

Channel Management Solutions have been hot lately. My company, MarketBridge, is investing heavily in this space, and it's made me hyper-aware of the competition across many dimensions. There are many different flavors and functions of Channel Management. I tried listing some of them (those I can think of) and I'm counting on readers to fill in missing spaces:

  • Inventory management

  • Order fulfillment

  • Point of sale data capture

  • Partner marketing campaign automation

  • Partner marketing digital asset distribution

  • Partner marketing list distribution

  • Data analytics and reporting

  • Partner lead management / transparency

  • Service tracking

  • Channel capacity planning / coverage planning

  • Rewards distribution

  • Data aggregation / lists / proprietary

All of these functions seem destined to end up in one place--a channel portal--for a big company. For example, companies like IBM or Cisco have partner portals that should have all of the functions bundled, where a partner can access those features that they are "qualified" for. Some of them, like channel capacity planning, would only be availabe for the OEM. So is this where we're headed? Some kind of consolidated "PRM" space that shares much with CRM? Or does PRM just merge into CRM? This is certainly the vision.

I tried to do a partial inventory of all the companies out there and organize them into a framework. I ended up settling on two dimensions: "marketing vs. operations" and "insight / strategy vs. software." I felt this was a pretty good matrix, but I might change it if people come up with some more descriptive dimensions.

So here's the initial list of companies with what they're good at. Think of this as a bookmark list for channel management companies...

  • EverythingChannel / CMP. This company has probably the best list of U.S. channel partners out there. They fill multiple roles and play in all kinds of channel managers' daily lives. List providers; marketing channel; information aggregator; PR vehicle.

  • MarketBridge. Yes I'll shamelessly hawk my company. Fitting firmly on the "insight" side of the equation, we're the strategy /analytics / capacity planning expert for channel marketing in high-tech. We've built a lot of the channel strategies in use out there across many big companies. Getting into the software side of the house these days with DemandStream.

  • BearingPoint. Have a "channel management solution" and are also a key consulting player in the channel space.

  • Channel Management Solutions. They've firmly anchored themselves in the channel management space. Their list of capabilites, of which I can't evaluate the reality, is impressive. It spans incentive management, channel management and channel marketing. I think they're software led but also have a services arm. Clients include NetApp, AT&T and VMWare.

  • RewardStream. I used them when I was doing some work at Cisco--pretty slick. Run the PRP (Partner Rewards Program) there. I think they're basically a pure software play but as far as directly motivating AEs and SEs, they are definitely top-notch.

  • Escalate Retail. Formerly Blue Martini, these guys are more on the retail front but I know they do a lot with management and connecting pipes in the partner space.

  • Oracle / Siebel. One of the originals for partner channel management. Strong suit is (I believe) point of sale insight, and particularly linking all this up with internal GL data.

  • They've been pushing their partner solutions for a while, and with good reason. The idea of getting all partners on one CRM system--basically seeing the same thing all the time, without worrying about data security, etc.--is really cool. The problem I see with this strategy is, without a dominant market position in CRM, is everyone going to want to "switch CRMs" when working for one OEM vs. another?

  • BlueRoads. Just saw a Blueroads demo the other day. They position themselves as more "go to market" than "partner management", which is fine. Saw digital asset management; lead management; list parsing; etc. Interface looked a bit 2001.

  • NetSuite. A SaaS partner management portal / engine is one component of NetSuite. Haven't used or reviewed it.

  • Share Methods. Built around document management, this "extranet" solution is billed as a solution for partner marketing / management. Not sure how robust it is other than that.

  • Channel Advisor. Not sure about the applicability of this, but they are out there and seem to have a solution called "store advisor" but it's exclusively for etailers... e.g. companies selling through multiple online channels. Pretty narrow but worth checking out.

  • InfoNow. InfoNow is definitely one of the biggest / best companies out there from a channel management perspective. Their strength is in aggregation of point of sale (POS) data and providing a holistic view of performance across channels. Their front page really trumpets this ability--for a true view of end customer dynamics in a tiered distribution model.

  • Distributors. The big distributors--Ingram, TechData, etc.--are essentially positioned as solutions providers across partner management. At least, they should be. I think they are getting it and will be much powerful as general channel management solution providers soon.

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