Partner portals, where to start? They’re such a bugbear for many brands. Realistically, partners not only work with you, but also with many other suppliers, your competitors, each trying to make sure that partners never leave their portals. So how can you possibly begin to encourage partners to stay engaged with yours?
It’s a tricky one!
That’s why in a recent webinar we asked experts, Cath Hackett- Transformation Director- Go to Market Strategy- Konica Minolta, and Gary Morris- CEO and Founder, Successful Channels, INC to weigh in with their opinions on this matter. Both are only too familiar with the challenges brands face. So, what do partners and vendors really need from a partner portal?
Let’s start with the absolute fundamentals; the real point to having a portal in the first place.
A partner portal should:
- Support partnerships
- Help partners collaborate with you
- Help you work better with partners
- Complement what your account managers don’t do for these partners
- Support partners cost- effectively
- Enable the community to form partnerships with each other
- Be the face of your partner programme.
In summary, a portal should replicate what is happening in a face-to-face environment between your account managers and your top partners, and offer this to all of your partners, cost effectively.
As Gary says ‘The most effective partner portals are organised around the needs and interests of the partner.’
What partners want
Recognition - Several partners with whom Cath has worked before wanted to receive customer awareness of them as a partner. Think of your partner locator and recognise the various levels of partner engagement and collaboration you see.
Support - Partners come with varying levels of need, many of them being very small, with limited resources. For this reason, they ideally want to be enabled in terms of running their own business. This includes marketing right through to sales. They need that support, but also want to maintain a high level of control and for many to execute this themselves. For this reason, Cath says, ‘It’s important to understand the business models of the partners so then you can offer that enablement.’
Simplicity - As previously mentioned, partners will not only be working with one vendor, they’ll be working with many. Therefore, they need an easy to use portal, where they can efficiently find what they’re looking for.
Cath makes an excellent point here, ‘Everyone tries to differentiate their partner portal and make it totally different for the brand experience. But actually, using a structure that a partner understands and that a partner will be using with a number of vendors is more likely to increase usage and traffic to the portal.’ So, keep that in mind!
Access - Information should be widely available to ALL partners, not just your top partners. Partners need this. They need that support from you. If you’re not supporting them and making information widely available, they’re more likely to look elsewhere at a different vendor, thus affecting potential partnership and revenue opportunities in the future.
What vendors need
Deal registrations - From a vendor perspective, above all they need to prove that their partner communities are driving revenue growth. This way they can establish, if necessary, what action needs to occur to improve their performance. This includes making it as easy as possible for partners to complete deal registrations. Cath understands that sometimes training is required to explain to partners the importance of this and how it can benefit them.
Reporting capabilities - It’s vital that vendors can view, access and analyse how engaged their partners are, identify what they’re clicking on, downloading and how often they log in. If this is rare, it allows vendors to establish who their latent partners are, and speak to them about the next step in their journey.
Flexibility - When working with partners globally, vendors require a solution which enables all resources and modules to be available in the desired language, whilst achieving this cost effectively and easily.
Easy to manage - Vendors require a portal that is easy to control, so they can add and remove resources or modules as and when necessary. A complicated portal is no good for anyone.
Adaptability - With the marketing environment constantly changing and different types of partners being added to the portal, it’s imperative that it can adapt to the partner’s requirements and the knowledge based economy. As Cath says, “There will be different requirements for those business models, and your partner portal will need to be able to manage those different requirements.”
Partner journey - Cath learnt this the hard way: ‘Think of your partners as a customer and the partner journey that they will go on in the portal.’ Only by doing this will you be able to establish how functional and easy to use your portal really is and if it provides enough relevancy for them.
Relevancy - Where a lot of vendors go wrong is by providing too much irrelevant content, causing partners to struggle to find the information that really matters to them. Providing content in the right language, that is of interest to the partner will make a drastic difference to portal engagement.
Retaining interest - Gary makes a really interesting point ‘What’s worse than being talked about? Not being talked about! Give channel partners a reason to come to your portal.’ Examples for achieving this could be using notifications and regular updates to encourage them to stay in tune. If you aren’t generating traffic and your partners are not coming to your portal for meaningful reasons, it will fail.
Ownership - Data and keeping it up to date is an issue for every brand. Enabling partners to update who has access to the portal and their contact details, encourages less data issues. Think of it this way, it’s unlikely they’ll notify the vendor when a colleague leaves or retires.
An incentive - Both Gary and Cath recognise the benefit of creating an incentive because it’s a way of encouraging partners to do something that is important to us, the vendor. Gary however makes a great suggestion, for separating your brand from all the other substandard portals and your competitors. ‘Ensure that you look at what is important to the partner and align your incentives and gamification around what’s most important to them.’ Only by doing this will they really be on-board with your program.
So, yes portals can be a nightmare, and we’ve all experienced the pain of them. But it’s good news, there really is hope out there for brands, to engage and keep our partners at close proximity to us. The trick here is to invest in a program that makes it as easy and as cost-effective as possible for both parties to be happy. Good luck!