The term “portal” does not cause hearts to skip a beat. Almost two decades of boring, barely-functional portals have done immeasurable harm to the term; their intended audiences ignore them, and the people who manage them see them as busy work.
But if you sell through indirect channels, the portal is the key to growing and boosting the productivity of your channel program. If it’s being developed and nurtured the right way, it can be a one-stop self-service site that answers partners questions about marketing, training, technical support and more.
That’s not just a nice convenience for partners. It can reduce your channel support costs dramatically -- and it can give you a serious leg up over your competitors, allowing you to grab greater wallet-share by making you easier to work with than those with plodding portals.
How do you re-energize your thinking about your portal? Break it into stages. First, ensure that you have the basics covered. Next, personalize what your partners see. Finally, make it a go-to site for your partners.
That sounds daunting -- but it really isn’t.
Cover the Basics
Covering the basics is really table stakes for running a partner program. The basics include on-boarding, enablement and training, marketing, deal registration, delivery and support. Many companies are lacking in some of these areas; handling them while re-thinking the portal allows you to kill two birds with one stone.
There are some other basic aspects to consider, too.
Is your portal hard to look at? Fix it. Just because it’s a portal doesn’t mean it has a license to look ugly. You’re competing for your partners’ limited attention; if you make their experience unpleasant or come across as amateurish, they’ll spend their attention elsewhere.
Do you hand out new passwords for different functionality, so partners have to manage several passwords? Figure out a way to provide a single sign-on. If partners can’t manage passwords, the best you can hope for is a ton of calls to your IT department asking for password help, which is expensive for your company. The worst is that IT’s phone is silent -- that means your partners are using a competitor’s portal instead.
Is your content refreshed regularly? If not, figure out ways to create new content of your own and curate content from other sources. I recommend updates at least once a week -- more is better, but this is a starting point. The portal is not a billboard -- and if you treat it like a billboard partners have no reason to look at it more than once.
Personalize the Content
The next step is to play off that content by personalizing the portal for each visitor. When you added partners to your program, you learned some things about them: their size, the markets they serve, the regions they cater to and so on. You should use this information to create a profile of each partner, and you should modify the profile based on what they do as partners -- the training they take and the certifications they earn, their revenue contribution, their tier in your program, their year-over-year growth as a partner, etc.
Armed with this profile information, you can then deliver content to partners on every visit customized to who they are and what they most need to see the moment they log in. Again, since you’re competing for a limited amount of attention, make sure you deliver the maximum return on your partners’ investments in time.
Next, make the portal a place to return to regularly. One great idea suggested by former Forrester analyst Tim Harmon is the idea of a news ticker on the portal; by aggregating headlines covering the industry the partners play in and news about the channel, the partners have a service offered via the portal. Instead of having to visit multiple sites to get this news, the partner can simply log on -- and get the latest news about you, the vendor, in the process.
Other ideas, like leader boards, play off notions of gamification, and really smart portals serve as tools that allow not just conversations between vendor and partner but between partner and partner. If a deal requires partners to team up to provide the right skill set or geographic coverage, isn’t it better as a vendor to facilitate that -- and isn’t it more likely that, once you’ve facilitated it, that the partners will favor you over a competing vendor?
Studies show that the average reseller company deals with eight vendors -- and many partners work with far more partners than that. It takes a lot to cut through the noise that partners hear from their vendors. By whipping your portal into shape, you can transform your portal from a dull, infrequently-used repository of data into a site that provides partners with exactly the information they need when they need it, making it into the tool for communication and support that you originally envisioned.