In a recent survey, Relayware asked 160 channel partner organizations what the top factors that contributed to their loyalty to a vendor were. Far and away, the most important consideration was that their vendor responds quickly to requests for information.
Get that? More than the strength of the vendor’s product or branding, channel partners place a premium on timely communication and resourcing from their suppliers.
The nub of it is this: your partners need things from you—marketing materials, product updates, guidelines, etc. How are you going to get those things to them efficiently?
Enter the partner portal.
When it comes to giving your partners everything they need to sell your products and services, the partner portal is a fantastic solution. Take the time to develop a useful portal, and you'll equip your partners with everything they need to push as much of your product as humanly possible.
So far, so obvious.
Amazingly, however, an incredibly high percentage of organizations treat their partner portals as little more than an afterthought. In fact, 80% of channel partners report complete dissatisfaction with their portal experience.
So, in today’s post, I want to dive a little more deeply into this specialized subset of community management by considering the essential elements of an effective partner portal.
But, before we do that, we have to get one preliminary point out of the way.
Your partner portal is NOT a website.
One of the biggest mistakes an organization can make in designing their partner portal is to treat it as another version of their public-facing website.
A few points on why that's not a good idea:
- Websites are designed to inform and convert.
- Partner portals are designed to inform and empower.
- Websites are designed to bring outsiders into your community.
- Portals are intended to serve your already-existing community of partners.
Insofar as you treat your portal like a website, you’ll spend loads of time and money tweaking it to appeal to the wrong audience. Design matters, but at the end of the day there are much more important things to consider when working on a portal.
Without further ado, here are the 10 words you should strive for when designing and updating your partner portal:
What’s the first thing your partner sees when he or she logs in to your portal? A barely functional landing page with a handful of menus and a hastily snapped photo of their partner relationship manager?
Make sure your portal opens up to a simple, functional home page immediately after sign-in. Include the following elements:
- Welcome – Offer a concise word of welcome to your partners.
- News/Announcements – What’s new? Are there any upcoming changes that will affect your partners?
- Latest Resources and Promotions – Equip your partners to sell by giving them exciting new information to share with customers.
- Quick Links – Don't make your partners navigate 3 levels of menus to get to the essential functions they need every day. Provide a few links of your own, but let each partner customize this list according to his or her own preferences.
Your partners have too much going on to stumble their way through a complex partner portal “solution.” Cluttering your portal with a slew of non-essential factoids and other bits of extraneous material will do nothing but bog people down.
Keep it simple, silly; give partners an easy-to-use portal that won’t take hours to learn.
Partners shouldn’t have to ask for help to get to the most valuable areas of your portal. Time spent wandering is time that could better be spent selling your product.
Make your navigation simple and intuitive. Don’t make partners jump through hoops to get to the everyday resources they need most.
And please, whatever you do, don’t force them to use their browser’s back button.
What do you do when you need something on the web, but aren’t quite sure to find it?
So, imagine the frustration one of your partners would feel if you sent them on a wild goose chase looking for resources they just as easily could’ve typed into a search bar.
Make life easy on your partners and make your portal searchable.
Your portal is only as good as the use your partners can make of it. Yes, that includes providing timely, useful information on products and services. It also means giving them access to the marketing materials they'll need to sell your product.
More importantly, however, it means giving your partners access to tools and resources that will actually make their job easier. Whether that’s proprietary software designed to simplify the ordering process or a custom advertising generator, give your partners something that will make them want to log in and use your portal on a regular basis.
What type of device are you using to read this post right now?
If the studies are right, more than half of you are reading this on a mobile device right now. As mobile marketers of every stripe have been warning us for years, web traffic is moving increasingly towards mobile. We better get with the times.
Of course, your partners aren't immune from this trend. In fact, they're often more likely to be on the go they are to be sitting in an office somewhere.
That means you need a partner portal designed to be accessed wherever your partners do business. It can't be some trimmed down mobile version of your portal, either. Partners need to be able to access everything they would on a desktop.
At the beginning of this article, we mentioned a study in which 160 channel partners identified timely communication as their number one expectation from vendors. Well, people who value timeliness also appreciate up-to-date information.
Just imagine a partner—after reading about a promotion on your portal—making an offer to one of their customers, only to find out you had ended the promotion last month and simply forgot to take it down. At least a couple of people are going to be unhappy.
Keep your partners from embarrassing themselves and moving on to one of your competitors. Keep your portal up to date.
Too many partner portals feel like glorified bulletin boards. Don’t let your portal turn into a one-way information disseminator. Instead, use it to encourage a constant dialogue between you and your partners.
1. Invite Communication – On every page, make it easy for partners to request additional information from your product experts. Offer virtual-agent support on every page. Encourage partners to share their thoughts, questions, and concerns.
2. Develop a Partner Knowledge Base – Don’t stop with a basic FAQ. Compile each one of your partner support interactions into a searchable knowledge base.
3. Implement a Partner Forum – Encourage partners to communicate with one another via a public forum. There, partners can not only look for solutions to their own problems but can offer tips and solutions to help others make the most of their experience.
When I was a teenager, I spent a year working as a cashier at Wal Mart. One of the key indicators they used to measure the performance of their cashiers was items scanned per hour (IPH). The higher the number, the more highly they valued your performance.
The store I worked at even made a competition out of who could scan the most items in an hour. They posted leaderboards in the break room and offered prizes to the cashiers who could scan the most items in the least amount of time.
That clever little gambit worked. Every day, I would rifle items through my line faster than any of my colleagues. That may not have made me a better cashier per se, but it made me a faster one. And that’s what Wal Mart cared about most.
You can achieve the same effect by implementing gamification in your portal. By evaluating partner performance, indexing it to specific benchmarks, offering rewards, and making it public, you can motivate partners to perform better than ever before.
Here are a few ideas for features to implement:
- Leaderboards for top sellers
- A tiered ranking system based on production
- Badges for completing product challenges
- A spot on the home page to announce recent partner achievements
Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but when it comes to partner portals, it can be the deciding factor in whether people actually use it or not.
When partners browse your portal, they want to get in, find what they need, and get out as quickly as possible. If you’re constantly changing the structure of resources or adding additional hoops for them to jump through, they’ll get frustrated and move on.
While there may be some who argue that partner portals are an ineffective hangover from an earlier era of online B2B community building, I think they’re wrong. The reasons people get down on partner portals have less to do with the concept and more to do with its shoddy implementation over the last several years.
So, if you're one of those brave (and smart) organizations still laboring to make use of a partner portal, then good for you! If you want to make your portal experience a lasting and beneficial one, take these 10 words to heart and then get to work.