May 6, 2016
Today, many companies rely on channel partnerships to deliver their products or services. As a partner network grows, it will take a dedicated partner portal to facilitate partner network management, boost a vendor’s sales and enhance communication with partners. But what are the key issues to keep in mind before you launch a partner portal? Here’s the answer that stems from our hands-on experience in Web portal development.
What should you know to get started with a partner portal?
Partner portals are invaluable for real-time communication and support of partners. But being an information source is only the tip of a partner portal evolution that in reality goes through the following three stages:
- The informative stage: the portal provides relevant and comprehensive information about the brand and products;
- The tool stage: the portal assists partners with tools that are easy-to-use and help them at sales;
- The engagement stage: the portal starts to engage partners.
Making the first steps in partner portal development, a vendor company should focus on the first two stages — information and tools — as the basis for future partner portal engagement. Partner engagement is like a vendor’s guiding light, because it is engagement that encourages partners to sell more products of the vendor.
Now let’s return to the initial stage of partner portal development, which begins with the following key idea:
Extend contact groups at your partners’ to facilitate communication with them.
If partner relations are based on a single vendor manager’s contacts, the rope that ties the vendor to the partner consists of the one and only thread, and much information exchanged between the vendor manager and sales people stays beyond a vendor’s reach. With this, it gets much harder to encourage a partner’s salespeople to offer an end customer your product instead of a competitor’s one. If a partner’s salespeople directly use the portal as their daily assistant in sales, offering your product becomes a preferable option for them.
Note that each employee of a partner should have a personal login to avoid confusion when performing their portal activities.
When done right, a partner portal can also be the predisposition of your partners’ employees and ensure your competitiveness. In case their company decides to switch to other providers, they will be more likely to vote for you as a vendor. The question is, how to make them love working with you.
How to win your partners’ key employees?
By partners’ key employees we mean those who influence the end customer’s buying decision and thus make a direct impact on a vendor’s business growth. We’ve come up with the HICE (Helpful, Informative, Convenient and Engaging) formula to suggest an answer to this question.
H&I: Helpful and informative resources assist partners in selling your products
Make the portal informative adding sections with useful resources (selling, marketing or collaboration). To avoid overloading it with information, you should pinpoint the most relevant and valuable content to your partners in the most convenient way. If you have a number of product lines and target several market segments, your sales and marketing materials (such as price lists, promotions or training materials) should be logically arranged by products or partner types. This will enable partners to quickly navigate the portal and sort out irrelevant content.
Give insights into partners’ problems with problem-oriented content based on your experience and research findings. Solutions for acute problems will turn the portal into your partners’ guide. When the portal becomes a virtual consultant for a partner’s staff, they will use it more often and willingly. Moreover, news and event announcements personalized by a partner’s type or specialization will keep partners in the picture.
Provide helpful tools and marketing assets to support partners in the moment of truth. Your partners may handle multiple products and thus may need to switch between several partner portals. So, you can opt for customizable sales and marketing assets, as well as metrics and tools to assist them on every stage of your product sale. Sales and marketing assets, such as sales guides, will make it easier to communicate the benefits of your products. And by complementing them with sales-related tools (such as configurators or calculators), you enable a partner to easily offer your product. It’s obvious that salespeople are likely to first offer the product they know and can sell better.
Come up with progress-tracking tools. Dealing with many vendors, partners will appreciate if the portal enables them to track progress right away. So, you can provide tools to keep up with the sales plan.
Note that if your tools become quite sophisticated, you should consider designing a help section with FAQ, tips and tutorials.
C: Convenient navigation saves partners’ time and improves user experience
Mind partner convenience on every step of your co-operation. It might seem a no-brainer, but it’s important to ensure your partner portal’s structure is logical, transparent and enables an easy access to materials, resources, tools, if any, and the partner community. Many portals become a headache for partners as they make their staff browse through webpages in search of relevant resources, and eventually ask for help.
Be always in touch via a live chat, e-mails and phone on every page since it is inconvenient for a partner to check the help section every time.
Provide a search option to enable easy access to useful content and make sure a partner can find relevant content using it. Partners need quick access to tools and resources, and a search engine will assist them if the logical organization of content fails to give it.
E: Engagement of partners enables you to influence them
If the portal remains only a box with information, salespeople won’t use it regularly in sales, and hence you won’t exploit the portal’s potential to the full to promote your products.
In the beginning, you can engage your partners in the portal activities via two-way communication. For example, use help and feedback sections or enable contact with your experts. Gathering feedback on their user experience will hint at the ways to improve the portal, and experts will ensure partners can get competent advice on current issues.
One more option is community building. Many successful partner portals have a space for inter-partner communication with their own blogs or social networks. This enables partners to learn from each other about best practices and contributes to a stronger partnership through the staff’s personal motivation to use the portal.
At the early stages of partner portal development, a company may want to get the partner portal up and running in the shortest possible time. Then the basic functionality that brings the most value to partners should become the starting point (such as managing membership and profiles, resources, sales and pricing information, certifications and support). Anticipating the future business growth, a company may need to extend the portal functionality and content sections. In this case, a pre-planned expandable UI will prevent possible reworks and cut down on extra expenses in the future.
Getting started with your partner portal, you will need to start by outlining the right approach and then implementing an efficient partner portal software. If you set your partner portal requirements according to the HICE formula (helpful, informative, convenient, and engaging) you will definitely benefit more from the portal’s potential.
Vadim Belski is head of the web portal department at ScienceSoft, a software development and consulting company headquartered in McKinney, Texas. With more than 13 years of experience, he has been taking part in web projects with a primary focus on large-scale IT engagements, such as Viber (an instant messaging and VoIP app with 700 mln active users), Globus VPN Browser and others.