Webinfinity Blog

Why do your business partners hate your portal?

[fa icon="calendar"] Nov 7, 2016, 12:37:00 PM / by James Hodgkinson

James Hodgkinson

How implementing a comprehensive, personlized content portal can resolve the current challenges faced by partners.

Imagine if your channel manager could confidently say that your partner portal had enabled your organization to close more sales, track every client deal effectively, and build profitable on-going relationships with your business partners.

Whilst this seems an obvious goal of any partner portal, the reality is that most partner portals have fallen so short of expectations that many organizations no longer even think of them as sales enablement tools. Partner portals have been relegated to an administrative tool.

The challenge with existing partner portals

Today’s partner portals are used predominantly for tasks like registering new leads, updating opportunities, posting business plans and searching for up-to-date marketing collateral. From your partner’s perspective these are all administrative tasks. These activities have little direct benefit for the partner and are seen as time consuming and distractions from their real goal of increasing sales. Even from the channel manager’s perspective the benefits are small as their effectiveness is measured by new revenue, not new registered leads.

A consistent mistake is that most portals are a concerted effort to put a glossy front end onto an enormous business product catalogue or legacy system. In fact the user experience is often not the primary driver for a partner portal’s original development. Rather, the legacy portal design was focused on highlighting data from one particular platform and adding in links and bespoke features to fill in any gaps.

Too much focus has also been given to the needs of the vendor and not enough to those of the partner. Yes registering a lead or updating an opportunity is important to the vendor, but what is in it for the partner? How does the portal help the partner close more business?

Partner portal users are increasingly critical of poor design and usability. A common problem with a ‘platform’ based portal approach is that the structure of these portals often end up data-heavy, can limit idea sharing and user collaboration and can also have severe restrictions on individual user personalization.

Here are just a few reasons why partners perceive your portal as being poor for their needs:

  • It is difficult to find what they need quickly or at all
  • A ‘one size fits all’ portal with little personalized content in context with user interests and needs
  • Clunky, dull and uninspiring partner portal layouts and user interfaces that are hard to navigate
  • Lack of responsive site layout and screen adaptive and mobile and tablet device compatibility
  • The challenge of providing all of your information into one portal – hard for one system to do it all
  • An increasing issue with portal platform development cycles being out of step with IT user trends
  • Cost and complexity of system integration, from databases to web data to critical business systems

So why have portal users become so critical?

Over the last few years people’s expectations of the way that partner business portals should look, operate and deliver information have been radically altered. This has been affected by their experience of the simplicity and user-friendliness of home, connected web TV, mobile and tablet technology.

These new personalized, intuitive and user-friendly home technologies, designed for everyone to use at every age and level, have left even the best partner portals of the last few years looking dull, tired and outdated in both their layout and usability.

A common partner portal user can be faced with screens full of lists of hyperlinks and lots of navigation steps at multiple levels. In fact little that’s visual, interesting or appealing to the two thirds of us that love and use a modern smartphone.

Worst of all, try to use some of these partner portals on your mobile device or tablet, and the results can be almost impossible to navigate or read. In fact few portals offer fully responsive page layouts or have been designed for viewing text and graphics on wide or small high-resolution screens.

There is a need to take a page from the consumer experience and focus on removing the complexity from business applications.

Developing the perfect partner portal

Apart from the obvious system integration required from SFA, CRM, ordering or invoicing systems, the challenge is that one central portal cannot easily offer what each of its users specifically needs. Some users might be sales staff, others could be customer service people and a third group might be technical specialists based in an office abroad, who don’t even speak English. So how can you possibly help them all understand your corporate goals, brand message or to help drive partner sales efforts with one portal?

There is one simple answer to help meet user needs – personalization. In the same way that users of the latest highly popular range of Windows tablet devices and Nokia phones are able to set up their own home screens to deliver the social elements most important to them, business users should be able to create their own view of the needs and priorities of their particular world through visual icon links in your partner portal.

If bespoke user personalization sounds like a big deal then it’s not. Some of the latest technologies use sophisticated User Interfaces and robust APIs to ‘surface’ exactly the information partners and users need. More importantly, by offering information in a highly visual ‘tile’ based format, this makes complex information easier for people to digest, understand, use and act upon to get their day-to-day jobs done.

A comprehensive partner portal also requires many other elements to work together in order to be successful. With modern cloud based technologies and sophisticated APIs this is now readily achievable:

  • Personalized information based on user goals, interests, location, time, role, department etc
  • An intuitive interface that makes users want to look at what you have to offer, each and every day
  • API integration with databases, web data and other systems to bring everything together for users
  • Business process management delivering timely and relevant information and alerts needing action
  • Alert based visual prompts that directly help users to make better business decisions more rapidly
  • Accurate portal search and intelligent filters to reveal the latest data, information and documents
  • The ability for portal users to collaborate, interact and find and learn from others in their network
  • Business analytics based on set business goals and a focus on both sales targets and user needs 

Conclusion

Your partners are overwhelmed by the enormous amount of information they get every day, so your portal needs to provide a concise and easy to digest visual summary of all the elements important to partners. The key challenge is to take all of the information, often in disparate systems that feed your portal, and deliver exactly what your partners are interested in and the alerts and information they need to do their job better and faster. By making this information personalized by location, time, role and personal interests, this will also ensure that your partner portal gets adopted and that your partners use and interact with you on a daily basis, driving profitability from critical partner channels.

Business analytics based on set business goals and a focus on both sales targets and user needs.

Are you thinking of investing in a new partner portal? Before you make that leap take a look at our white Paper Is a partner portal enough?

James Hodgkinson

Written by James Hodgkinson

I am a Founder & Chief Executive Officer with Webinfinity, which is redefining the partner experience by weaving together systems and content in a single digital fabric and replacing the traditional PRM.