How to turn your channel partner portal into a competitive advantage

Industry analysts Gartner and Forrester agree that developing a channel partner portal is a necessary step on the road to channel management maturity. In fact, both firms include portals within the levels of their channel management maturity models. While partner portals have become a staple within the channel, they also serve as an opportunity to amplify your channel partner relationships and engagement. But turning your portal into a competitive advantage first requires a basic understanding of what a partner portal is and what channel partners expect from it.

Recognize the basics

TechTarget defines partner portal as a “web-based application that allows a manufacturer’s established partner (usually a distributor, reseller, installer, service provider, or other strategic partner) to obtain direct access to marketing resources, pricing and sales information, as well as technical details and support that are unavailable to other end users.”

At the most basic level, partner portals are a mechanism for manufacturers to provide information to their partners, and good portals will broadcast information such as:

  • Information about the structure of the manufacturer’s partner program, including tiered discount levels and credentials required
  • Any added incentive programs offered, including requirements and benefits to participate
  • Product information and training schedules
  • Marketing tools and materials, including downloadable collateral and customizable sheets on which partners can place their own brand logos, contact details, and other digital creative materials

However, the better partner portals are more than just a content repository. Rather, they also provide a convenient and secure way for partners to interact with and send information back to their manufacturers, such as:

  • Deal registration (within high tech, this is an essential capability of any partner portal)
  • Customer support requests and ticket tracking (particularly useful for partners providing Level 1 helpdesk support for end users on behalf of the manufacturer)
  • Customer contracts and statements of work (SOWs) for review, support, and assistance from the manufacturer

Other functionality includes online training and testing so partners can achieve required certifications, and fund management and allocation for Marketing Development Funds (MDFs), with proof of reporting for reimbursement.

Establish a best-of-breed channel partner portal

When establishing your channel partner portal, it’s important to first identify your channel partners. You likely have relationships with distributors, vendors, retailers, systems integrators (SI), value-added resellers (VARs), and any number of other types of organizations, all with their own business models and needs. Instead of creating a generic portal that might not satisfy all of the requirements of each organization, manufacturers should consider providing role-based navigation, information, and materials that speak directly to the needs of each of their partners.

Organizations should also look beyond the basic needs and expectations of their partners to establish partner portals that support through-partner enablement to achieve end-user success. Here are three examples of through-partner enablement to include in a best-of-breed channel partner portal:

  • Cooperative business planning between the partner and manufacturer, based on fact-based analytics
  • Scorecards that measure partners’ customer satisfaction and that manufacturers can evaluate as different dimensions of partner performance
  • Marketing programs that embrace and fund all of the cross-functional elements required to sell products, such as added training, developed demos, redefined sales steps, funded customer promotions, and more.

Establishing a partner portal is an important step in serving partners in a manufacturer’s sales and go-to-market strategy. However, establishing the portal and populating it with content is only the first step. To ensure that the portal is effective in supporting sales, manufacturers must constantly evaluate the quality and type of information provided, assess the modes in which partners are engaging, and define a roadmap for evolving their portal from good, to better, to best.

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