“Do you have access to our portal?”

Partner Relationship Management (PRM) platforms (or ‘Partner Portals’) have long been the foundation of vendor partner programs throughout the channel and should be classed as a business-critical system.

Done well, PRM’s can be highly successful in unlocking the potential of the partner ecosystem, providing them with everything they need to establish and grow their business. So why is the adoption rate so low? Research tells us that industry wide adoption is just 17% with those questioned sighting ineffectiveness and outdated software as reasons for not embracing vendor provided portals.

Partner research carried out by Purechannels on behalf of vendors shows that the majority reference portals as a key component to partner programs, expecting their vendors to offer PRM platforms with the information and tools to help them do business, allowing them to sell solutions with the greatest of ease. Now more than ever, with what we at Purechannels call Digital Transformation 2.0, the right portal can provide the resources, training tools, materials and certifications your partners need to feel empowered to infiltrate the market and successfully grow business, for themselves and the vendor. But it’s not just about what the partner gets from the deal – vendors benefit from partner visibility and reporting, being able to closely monitor MDF activity, spend, deal reg and ROI as well as communicate with and train partners all under one roof.

We are living in one of the toughest times in modern history. In a new digital world of remote working the portals most likely to be incorporated are those designed with Partner Experience (PX) and driving partner engagement at their core. Recent research by the 2112 Group reinforces the notion that channel partners view vendor portals as critical elements which underpin all enablement resources.

Leveraging the power of a state-of-the-art PRM solution can impact revenue, productivity, and partner engagement. Impartner – a leader in the PRM space – conducted research that shows using a PRM platform, increases vendor channel revenue by 31% and overall partner engagement surges 53%.

But there are lots of PRM providers out there. Forrester’s Jay McBain released his Channel Software Tech Stack 2021 identified 27 firms competing with $401 million in revenue in 2019. Some of the more significant including Allbound, Impartner, Salesforce, Zift Solutions, Webinfinity and ZINFI Technologies, all help to connect the dots between partner planning, recruitment, onboarding, enablement, incentives, co-selling, co-marketing, and management, providing critical integrations to back-end systems such as CRM, enterprise resource planning, and marketing tools.

So how on earth do you know which one to choose? How do you design and craft it to the needs of your business? Most importantly – how do you ensure your partners adopt it, visit regularly and make the most of it so that it has the best possible impact on them and their business? After partnering with several of the top PRM providers for a number of years, we have compiled several helpful hints and tips to help you on your way to implementing a PRM system that works for you and your partners. Below are a few of the most common scenarios we see/hear, and we will be sharing many more soon.

“We’ve spent loads of cash, resources and energy on a new portal, and our partners don’t use it!” 

Didn’t we learn this lesson 20 years ago when websites started to become a thing? A shiny new website is great but with no visitors, it’s pointless. Same with your portal. And unfortunately we hear this a lot; partner portals becoming nothing more than expensive technology gathering dust. The most successful portals – regardless of PRM vendor – are built from the partner up, not built on what the vendor assumes the partner is looking for. Take the time to understand how your partners are delivering their solutions and find out what they need to be able to do the best job possible. When was the last time you asked what they wanted – in general and specifically regarding the portal? Portals that have a high cost and low usage will frustrate partners as there is no incentive to use the portal. This can lead to vendors becoming resentful and claiming the portal doesn’t work – at which point another PRM vendor swoops in with their shiny new platform to save the day. However, unless the root cause is addressed, getting a new portal only really serves to extend the cycle, not address the issue.

Functionality is important but engagement and overall PX are everything!

Vendors often view partners as employees and forget that they are essentially a customer. With dozens of vendors and products to work with and sell every day, partners are simply too busy to waste time browsing and drilling down into portals to find assets to help them sell effectively. This is only exacerbated when they access several PRM’s a day. Remember, your product is just one of many that fit into the partners’ portfolio so it is essential to ensure you engage the partner and set yourself apart from the crowd. The easier it is to do business with you, the more sales you’ll generate. Honestly it can come down to two simple questions – WHY? Why should a partner visit your portal? Let them know why your portal (over your competitors) will have a positive effect on their business, giving them access to an experience they can only find from the logged in environment on your portal. And then ‘HOW?’ – how easy is it for them to find what they want, need and that is relevant to them? Not just as a business but is it relevant to the job role of the user?

We advise our clients to conduct regular surveys and even try to establish a portal advisory board. This helps build lasting relationships, creates a forum where partners can have their say and makes them feel more included in the process, coming up with the content and strategy around both portal and programme. Once launched, ensure you keep them in the loop when you want to make changes and include their feedback when making plans for the future. If you know what your partners want at the end, you know where to start and this helps strengthen relationships and increase the likelihood of portal adoption.

Oh… and don’t just add ‘everything to do with the portal’ to the job description of the Channel Marketing Manager, the PAM/CAM or the Channel Sales Director – to be successful now and in the future, invest in a dedicated head to manage your PRM. Or bring in a suitably experienced agency to do it. If you as a vendor organisation don’t place the required level of importance and dedication on the impact your portal will/can have on your partners, you cannot expect any of your people to, if they are having to manage it alongside their existing role.

Make it personal and targeted.

Remember, one size does not fit all. Your portal needs to appeal to different audiences, partner business and their individual users, so you can acknowledge them for their status, tier, roles, industry, which language they use, how much revenue they contribute, the volume and type of training they have completed and/or their forecasts and growth. That way, the portal may be for all, but their section feels like their own.

At the basic level, this will allow you to create bespoke portal pages and send tailored communications to certain users. With a high likelihood that each partner will have multiple users with varying job titles and functions, you don’t want them all to see the same content. You wouldn’t do this to a customer so don’t do it to your partners. Tailoring content also shows a level of understanding and respect for their business. And if you can make it so they can tailor their experience, give them the option.

Consider creating different partner journeys to fit the individual situation your partners are in. It is crucial you know where each partner is in their journey and that you make it clear to them that you do. Set definite schedules and boundaries, but allow them also the option to go at their pace and offer next steps at a speed that matches the partners level of need and interest. Creating these journeys for your partners, helps to ensure they are onboarded and maintained according to their needs, creating loyalty and an increase in revenue. Some will want speed and some will want depth – you want partners enabled/onboarding in the best way possible to ensure they do the best job possible.

Comms – launch and ongoing.

How can you expect someone to know about something if you don’t tell them about it and help them to understand the positive impact it can have on them? You know what… there is so much more to this, we’ll leave this one till next time.

With the channel, business and digital landscape more unpredictable than ever, your PRM platform/Partner Portal needs to help you stay adaptive, relevant, and transformational at the same time as ensuring your partners have what they need when they need it – as quickly and easily as possible. Get it right and your portal can become the greatest tool in your arsenal and the essence of an amazing partner program. Take the time to understand the needs of your partners, deliver a solution they need and help to ensure they fully adopt it as part of their day-to-day sales cycle.

The Channel Agency: Purechannels – have been delivering dedicated services to the indirect channel since 2005, and have established relationships with a number of the world’s top PRM vendors. If you are struggling to cut through and make the most of your PRM/Partner Portal and the impact it has on your partners, then please get in touch.

Daren Bach

Daren Bach (FCIM)

Chief Creative & Digital Officer
The Channel Agency: Purechannels
Helping Channel Marketing teams unleash indirect revenue through creativity, digital and storySelling.