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By | Tony Lock 21st July 2006 09:18

Salesforce.com reaches out to the channel

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Comment Over the last eighteen months Salesforce.com has made a number of high profile and, more importantly, highly significant announcements as the company has rapidly developed its ability to deliver applications “on demand” to a wide community of users. This week the company has launched a Partner Relationship Management (PRM).

Partnerforce, Salesforce Partner Edition, is an application that seeks to address the increasingly common and notoriously tricky issue of managing partner channels to optimize sales opportunities for organizations that employ indirect routes to bring their offerings to market. In effect, Partnerforce will allow companies using Salesforce.com's Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool to make customer information available to its channel partners.

Information is made available to the partner community through a simple to use, and easy to access, Web portal that can be accessed via any supported Web browser. At the same time, the portal can capture key metrics on the channel partner's sales and lead management processes, potentially providing the organization with a near complete view of the entire sales pipeline, direct and indirect.

The software includes dashboard facilities to provide focused information to users on the realtime situation. Lead management capabilities are also included permitting leads to be distributed through both the direct sales organization and channel partners in line with company polices and agreements. The software has also been built to provide tools to help foster the entire partner recruitment, marketing, selling, and monitoring processes. The software will be available for use from July 12, 2006 to organizations using Salesforce.com's Salesforce Enterprise Edition or Unlimited Edition. The additional functionality will cost $1,500 per partner per year and includes subscriptions for five partner login identities.

The importance of Partner and Channel sales grows day by day. Even large organizations that have traditionally utilized direct sales as their primary route to market now recognize the importance of employing various partners in the sales process. The use of channel partners is particularly important to organizations that sell to the SMB (small and mid-tier market sectors). For the vast majority of organizations the only viable methods to reach this huge potential customer base are via the Web or through channel partners. Indeed, even selling via the Web is frequently more effective when utilizing a variety of partners. For these reasons there is clearly a viable customer base for effective PRM solutions.

However, the very nature of selling via channel partners poses problems for the suppliers of PRM systems and the vendors that could benefit from deploying such tools. Chief among these is the fact that channel partners do not typically use computing platforms managed by the vendor themselves.

Instead they have their own systems and support staff, the nature and skills of which may not match closely those of the primary organization. In these scenarios it can be problematic and expensive, if not impossible, to deploy traditional client-server applications. Equally the often volatile nature of channel sales relationships may also pose challenges to client-server solutions. The ability to access Salesforce Partner Edition via a Web browser in an ‘on demand’ fashion neatly avoids the majority of these technical challenges leaving organizations free to concentrate on using the software to the benefit of all concerned, namely the optimization of sales efforts.

We are firmly of the opinion that the accessing of centrally managed systems via Web browsers is the future for a very large number of organizations, large and small. If Partnerforce has the functionality required to assist the management of channel sales efforts in a simple-to-use fashion, it will attract customers. If its use is coupled with other solutions available on the Salesforce AppExchange platform then the potential benefits to organizations could be extremely significant. The AppExchange platform represents a very profound development in IT service delivery history.

While the release of Salesforce Partner Edition is another sign that Salesforce.com is becoming a very serious supplier of business applications, it is the AppExchange platform that holds the potential to change the face of IT service delivery and support in the years to come.

Copyright © 2006 Sageza Group

Tony Lock is research director, EMEA at The Sageza Group.

This article was originally published at IT-Analysis.com

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