In 2015, vendors need three things to ensure success with channel partners. First, a good product — partners want to work with market leaders. Second, attractive margins — partners require good margins as a reward for building your market. And third, you must be easy to work with. The heavier the lifting, the less likely they are to stick with you.
Unfortunately, the last criterion is a stumbling block for many, and yet, in today’s competitive market, it can ultimately make or break your business. Customer experience is the new Holy Grail that defines success. A groundbreaking Harvard Business Review article stated that, “In our research and consulting on customer journeys, we’ve found that organizations able to skillfully manage the entire experience reap enormous rewards."
For a company that sells through indirect channels, the front gate of that experience is the partner portal. Unfortunately, for many, the partner portal is also the “ugly stepchild" of their Web portfolios. Often, it’s a homegrown site, cobbled together from outdated info or re-purposed from a tangled mess of one or more CRM systems. Typically, these sites have a huge technical debt, with a dated look, dated content and dated capabilities. They tend to be an SSO nightmare mix of sign-in issues. One of the portals we recently replaced for a big name technology still said, “For the best browsing experience, use Netscape Navigator v4 or later."
How is it possible that this company hadn’t updated its partner portal, the “front door" to over 80 percent of its revenue, in 12 years?
Partners have had enough. They want what can feel like a fictional “one site to rule them all" experience from the vendors they engage with. Falling behind competitors on the ease-of-doing-business front is unforgivable in today’s market. Independent analyst research proves this over and over.
“Partners regularly report to Forrester that the ‘transacting business’ element of their vendor relationships is the most burdensome to them and is the one thing that causes them to shift their investments and wallet share to other vendors," wrote principal Forrester Research analyst Tim Harmon recently.
Both sides crave a more modern way to navigate the vendor/partner relationship. In reality, you’ve probably been aware of the issue but put it off — for years. You’re not alone. So, what’s the holdup?
Here are the top three barriers organizations typically face, and how to break through them:
The “too hard" barrier: Messy navigation, old content, CRM system-integration needs, a multitude of poorly integrated solutions from different vendors for market development funds (MDF) and deal registration, no real internal best-practices expert and a fear of months of work — all combine into what feels like something that will distract the organization from other tasks.
What to do: Look for an easy-to-deploy SaaS solution that fully integrates the tools you need to use to service your partners. At minimum, insist on automated onboarding, deal registration, MDF management and lead distribution. And, look for a solutions provider that is fully versed in best practices and can truly be your steward in helping you make the transition successful. When you can outline a best-practice solution and a simple transition process that everyone can wrap their heads around, you’ll inspire confidence in your organization that the transition can be made without grinding business to a halt.
The “too expensive" barrier: Partner management is not a new technology area, and over the years, some systems have become massive, and massively expensive, demanding buy-in from multiple stakeholders and internal time wrangling endlessly customizable options with very few best-practice guidelines.
What to do: Look for a solution that encompasses the functionality you need with a simple pricing model. Don’t just focus on initial price; consider professional services and add-ons. Look for a clear, simple and fast onboarding and transition process to help minimize service costs and get you up and running fast.
The “my IT team is worried about integrating another technology" barrier: As the SaaS market has exploded, so have technology options. Marketers and sales folks are worried about the customer experience, and the IT team is worried about solutions that don’t integrate well with existing technologies or could cause system vulnerabilities. Very often, the IT team assumes that in its enthusiasm to transform the customer experience, the sales or marketing team has overlooked or underestimated IT infrastructure requirements.
What to do:Ask potential solution providers how they integrate with leading CRM systems (without locking you in to any CRM provider) as well as how they address security concerns and set and meet SLAs. Platform independence is key.
If your partner portal is keeping you up at night – and letting your competitors sleep well – it’s time to take action. Your partner portal is not just a portal. It’s your front door. Make it welcoming.
This article originally appeared in Channel Partners Online on August 17, 2015
Impartner delivers the industry's most advanced SaaS-based Partner Relationship Management solution, helping companies worldwide manage their partner relationships and accelerate revenue and profitability through indirect sales channels. Impartner PRM is the industry's only turnkey solution that can deploy a world-class Partner Portal in as few as 30 days, using the company's highly engineered, three-step Velocity™ onboarding process. Watch Impartner's interactive demo here.