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I described in one of my recent columns how PRM (Partner Relationship Management) systems have evolved from electronic brochures to tools that help VARs manage their businesses.

Once the customer approves a proposal, the back-office integration kicks in. A purchase order is automatically generated back to Avnet. Shipping notices and invoicing are also handled electronically. Integration eliminates multiple manual steps, Sigg says. Accuracy is another benefit, as proposals, purchase orders and invoices all need to match.

Sigg says integration with Channel Connection has helped SIS grow its business without adding reps. That kind of productivity gain speaks directly to the bottom line.

Sigg’s experience sheds light on what distributors and technology vendors aim to achieve in partner community systems. Ray Fischer, Avnet’s senior vice president of services, describes a transformation in which a collection of tools becomes a suite of services that can help manage a reseller’s business and boost operational efficiency.

Chris Heidelberger, president of PRM vendor ChannelWave, has also witnessed this progression. He says first-generation partner portals were mostly “infrastructure replacement.” That is, companies deployed portals to deliver the same content they had delivered through mail and other means.

PRM’s real value, Heidelberger says, comes from helping channel players execute programs that, in turn, help partners build revenue.

And once that value is demonstrated, PRM goes from a nice-to-have feature to a “strategic imperative,” he says.

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