Investment in digital real estate is a tricky business. A lot of time and money can be spent on creating a potentially valuable asset that may struggle to gain traction. Yet, these days, it is almost a given that this should be done. For both Vendors and Distributors alike, having such an asset is virtually a prerequisite. But the well-worn phrase ‘build it and they will come’ is rarely applicable to Partner Portals these days (research shows that less than 10% of Partners access these Vendor Portals) and usually some deeper thinking is required.
Depending on both your company business and your business model you will have different strengths and weaknesses when creating a Partner Portal. For example, if your business means that your Partners need to check prices and/or order on multiple products regularly, then you will have a natural draw if you provide pricing through your Partner Portal. Or if your Partner base has made significant investment in becoming members of your Partner community then a Partner Portal might be adopted with few problems. But for the vast majority of businesses building a well used Partner Portal as a vehicle for the delivery of the Sales, Marketing and/or Support elements of the business can be somewhat more difficult and often leaves project owners struggling to justify their spending.
Some would claim that the reason for that lies in the quality of the portal created. Certainly aspects such as navigation, usability and access to the right information quickly are important. But anyone who has been through the experience knows things are a little more complex than that. The truth is that most ‘Partners’ have many relationships. They are therefore inundated with a multitude of ‘Partner Portals’ many of which they use infrequently at best. The vast majority of these portals are entirely passive doing little to drive engagement. Although a lot of work and effort often goes on in the background to build, update and maintain these portals, the intended users of these facilities are often blissfully unaware and often actually prefer to use the telephone to access details when required. So engagement is usually a significant problem at the end of the project.
So how do you get your Partner community to utilise the valuable asset you have developed?
Experience shows that there are a number of drivers which can totally transform the Engagement of an Ecosystem in using a Partner Portal. Here are just three of them:
a) A Partner Portal should, above all things, be a community asset. By which we mean try not to think of a Partner Portal as a simple ‘selling tool’ or merely a mechanism of delivery of information from one ‘fixed’ party to another. Rather ensure that all stake holders have good reasons to engage in the portal and that all stake holders have a lot to gain from its use. It can be quite a push but make the Partner Portal the ‘go to place’ for members of an Ecosystem. But by doing so, in the right way, that Portal will create a momentum of its own, needing far less ‘nourishment’ from you to have immediate and positive impact.
b) When you think about a Portal as a community asset you can often think much more broadly about how the portal is funded, which opens up options how to pay for it. Suddenly a portal that may feel like ‘an expensive burden’ to a hard pressed marketing department can be transformed into a shared project across multiple stake holders. Contributions and even budget can be forthcoming from across the Ecosystem. The dynamics are completely different.
c) Think Social Media. When you build your Partner Portal keep in mind how Social Media works. You want to enable your Ecosystem to engage in tightly targeted ways. Your Partner Portal needs to go above and beyond to provide features that enable your Ecosystem to reach out to each other easily and efficiently. If you do this properly you will become a powerful player in your Ecosystem, wherever you actually sit in that Ecosystem. It is therefore vital to use the kind of approaches Social media use if you want your portal to become something more than some kind of a passive ‘online ordering system’.
Engagement is not optional when you build a Partner Portal. Without it such projects can sadly become expensive vanity projects. So many projects fail to recognise this and set off down some kind of ‘information delivery route’. If you are heading off down this route you will probably find that, in the short term, Telephone and Email is usually cheaper. In the longer term you will likely be using a third party portal to achieve the goals you set yourself for the project originally. That might be a very big opportunity missed, there are alternatives…