The rapid rate of technological innovation, driven by a reshaping of customer buying patterns and priorities, continues to rattle along at break-neck speed.
Such innovation, and such end-user demand for adoption, is culminating in the birth of new and emerging vendors, creating countless new ways to engage through the supply chain.
“In this information age any organisation selling through the channel needs to rely heavily upon a digital interface, called the partner portal, to connect, communicate and collaborate properly with partners and drive commerce,” observed Sugata Sanyal, CEO of Zinfi Technologies.
“These are the 4Cs (connect, communicate, collaborate and commerce) that fulfil the purpose of a partner portal’s existence. However, most partner portals do not work well.”
Yet that digital interface that vendors like to build up constantly - not forgetting that “single pane of glass” of course - is an interface that represents challenge and complexity for partners.
Does the channel need another partner portal?
Snap polls across New Zealand, Australia and Asia Pacific markets suggest the answer to be a resounding no, with one partner telling Reseller News - on the condition of anonymity - “partner portals are a terrible existence. They are clunky, different to navigate and time consuming to use.”
A strong statement perhaps, but the collective industry comment from publications Reseller News, ARN and Channel Asia - spanning the entire region - is that partner portals have reached a crossroads.
And to borrow a well-used phrase from vendor marketing campaigns, it’s time to ‘change or die.’
For Sanyal, in speaking as a US-based channel veteran, the core issues of portals can be attributed to five key areas, spanning mobility, ease of use, personalisation, application flow and analytics.
“I could go on, but these five core problems explain why most partner portals do not work today for the channel,” he explained. “The good news is that these problems can be easily fixed.”
1 - Mobility
For most partners today, irrespective of vertical and industry expertise, selling through the channel involves accessing the partner portal via mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets.
“Desktop-based access is still common, but mobility is a trend that’s definitely on the rise and it won’t be going away,” Sanyal said.
“Unfortunately, most partner portals are not designed with mobility in mind, and users who try to use the portal from a mobile device are likely to get frustrated.”
2 - Ease of use
According to Sanyal, the “biggest challenge today” is that the typical partner portal tends to work as an aggregator of discrete applications rather than as an integrated, unified tool.
“Partner portals often function as a gateway that connects multiple applications: documents, assets, lead management, market development funds, marketing tools, sales tools and so on,” he explained.
“In many cases, organisations have patched-up a number of discrete tools to perform these functions. The result is a portal that presents a multitude of interfaces and is very difficult to navigate.”
3 - Personalisation
Due to the issues raised above - lack of mobility and ease of use - Sanyal acknowledged that it can be a “huge challenge” for partners to find the specific applications and content that they need.
“The only way to eliminate this challenge is to provide profile based-access where, for example, a partner that is in the healthcare vertical sees only healthcare-related content,” Sanyal added.
“Surprisingly, most partner portals today lack this basic capability.”
4 - Application flow
For Sanyal, this is another “major issue” in the channel.
“When a partner portal has been assembled by combining a variety of stand alone applications for different functions, the flow of information from one application to another tends to get disrupted quite frequently,” he added.
“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, after all. When data does not flow seamlessly between one application to another, partners have to constantly switch from one interface to another, which is both confusing and inefficient.”
5 - Analytics
In the opinion of Sanyal, vendors cannot improve something if it cannot be measured, a theory which is “especially true” when it comes to managing the partner base and selling through the channel.
“When the applications in the partner portal do not work well together, it is almost impossible to run analytics across applications to figure out what is being used by which partners and understand how to improve the user experience,” Sanyal added.
“Because of that, many organisations are unable to make their partner portals work better.
“Instead of constantly evolving through a process of running analytics and reconfiguring to enhance the partner experience and productivity, partner portals tend to stay the same.”