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Partner portals aim to strengthen vendor-channel relationships

Technology vendors are launching or reworking channel program portals, offering partners the ability to register deals, receive training and obtain marketing materials online.

In the ongoing effort to make business easier for partners, many IT manufacturers are either adding features to their partner portals or launching new ones as part of their channel initiatives.

As manufacturers constantly look for ways to draw channel partners' attention to their latest products, new discount deals and incentive programs, partner portals have become increasingly sophisticated and have been used to create deeper ties across the IT channel.

A few examples underscore the point:

  • In a July 2016 EMEA announcement, Dell said its PartnerDirect program will let partners that source Dell products via authorized distributors take advantage of incentives through the company's PartnerDirect portal, which was previously reserved for resellers working directly with Dell. Registered partners can use the portal to find information on Dell's latest products and to update themselves on training courses, sales tools, marketing resources, deal registration and campaign materials.
Without the ability to leverage the type of information provided on the channel portal, the speed of doing business with many of our vendors wouldn't be possible in the form it is today.
Nathan Wiehevice president of integrated services, EST Group LLC
  • In April 2016, EiQ Networks Inc., a Boston-based company that provides hybrid software as a service security, launched a new partner portal that it says will provide EiQ's channel partners with easy access to documentation, marketing support and information on deal registration.
  • When Tufin Technologies Inc., a Morristown, N.J. company that provides network security orchestration offerings, recently decided to strengthen its global channel partner program, the company introduced a partner portal where partners can register opportunities, download demonstration products, access marketing materials and manage leads.

In Tufin's case, part of the company's plan is to align its partner portal with its philosophy: Treat partners like members of Tufin's own sales force.

"How can a technology vendor expect their channel partners to be successful and self-sufficient if the tools and resources needed are not readily available?" asks Mike O'Donohoe, Tufin's U.S. channel director.

Partner portals bolster vendor relationships

Nathan Wiehe, vice president, integrated services, EST GroupNathan Wiehe

From a partner perspective, partner portals can be integral to the success of the relationship between vendors and their partners, said Nathan Wiehe, vice president of integrated services at EST Group LLC, an IT solution provider headquartered in Arlington, Texas.

Wiehe said his company has leveraged partner portals in a myriad of ways, including training and educating technical and sales staff on vendor products and technologies, obtaining marketing and product pricing to enable EST Group to go to market faster, as well as providing the ability to register opportunities to protect the company's investment in their customers.

"Without the ability to leverage the type of information provided on the channel portal, the speed of doing business with many of our vendors wouldn't be possible in the form it is today," Wiehe said.

Stanley Louissaint, president, Fluid Designs Inc.Stanley Louissaint

Stanley Louissaint, president of Fluid Designs Inc., a Union, N.J. company that provides IT services, described partner portals as the connection point that constantly keeps the partner engaged with the vendor.

"I may not have time to pick up the phone and speak to a vendor, but I do value the ability to get access to the needed information through a portal," Louissaint said.

To engage channel partners, Louissaint added that portals should have several key features, including the price of products, the ability to order products online (depending on the product), a section devoted to helping the channel partner actually sell the product or service and a mechanism in the portal to track subscriptions, expiry dates and other information relevant to the partner and the vendor.

"A portal can serve as a storefront for the channel partner to buy from the vendor," Louissaint said. "I should be able to fully educate myself on the vendor and their products and services."

Louissaint said his company uses portals to track incoming leads from a vendor, manage existing orders and monitor the services that the company uses from certain vendors. He added that many partner portals lack information that tells partners when licenses, subscriptions and incentive programs on products and services expire and when to renew these offers.

"All partner portals are not created equal, so you won't be able to pull the same type of information out of all of them," Louissaint said.

Vendors roll out portals, measure impact

Vendors, meanwhile, aim to simplify channel interaction.

Part of EiQ's strategy to introduce a new portal is to support its plans to expand its Security Monitoring and Vulnerability Management reseller program, said Kim Ann King, EiQ Networks' vice president of marketing.

"It made sense to introduce an online 'one-stop shop' to help streamline activity in and support for the channel," King said.

Kim Ann King, vice president of marketing, EiQ NetworksKim Ann King

King added that the new portal makes it very easy for partners to register deals, which was the number one functionality the company wanted to create as it developed the portal.

"Partners can download a great deal of collateral, sales tools and presentations, as well as request the creation of co-branded collateral to support their sales efforts. In this way, the portal serves as both an administration hub, as well as an educational outlet," King said.

At Tufin, O'Donohoe said the company's portal is not intended to replace its personal interaction with partners, but will enhance the experience partners have with Tufin.

He also said he plans to gauge the success of the portal by evaluating metrics such as usage, certifications (attained via curriculum on the portal), deal registrations and several other factors.

Feedback from partners is also important.

"Some questions I will be asking are: 'Does the portal make it easier to do business with Tufin? Has the Portal enabled you to better support and service your customers?' There are several other questions, but the point is, partner feedback is my number one gauge of success," O'Donohoe said.

Mike O'Donohoe, U.S. channel director, TufinMike O'Donohoe

One company determined to make its portals work for partners is Zebra Technologies Inc., a manufacturer of industrial printers, barcode scanners and RFID products based in Lincolnshire, Ill.

To build portals, Zebra Technologies uses technology from two cloud computing companies: Salesforce and Channel Mechanics Inc., a company based in Galway, Ireland that helps manufacturers custom-build partner portals.

"Portals solve a very important business need, and without them, it would be difficult to provide a mechanism for partners to participate in our partner program or, indeed, do business with us," said Guenter Alde, channel operations manager at Zebra Technologies.

Zebra uses portals for partner registration and for updates on partner programs being offered. The company also provides tools to help partners manage products for their indirect business.

Wanted: Dynamic partner portals

Guenter Alde, channel operations manager, Zebra Technologies Guenter Alde

Alde noted that, in some cases, Zebra uses portals, while in other cases, it provides portals for its partners. While newer technologies are improving portals, some websites still lack the ability to be dynamic, he said. That is, vendors fail to provide a website that ensures that, when partners log in, they see the correct content or offers.

Other portals don't have the capability to allow a business user to create and configure the portal, and still others don't have the support for file uploads, imagery, multi-language, various currencies and ease of integration with other systems, such as single sign-on.

Kenneth Fox, CEO, Channel MechanicsKenneth Fox

As manufacturers think about how they want to present their goods and services to channel partners, Kenneth Fox, CEO of Channel Mechanics, said many vendors that want to launch a promotion or an incentive program at the simplest level have difficulty developing a portal that works for their channel partners and, as a result, the partner suffers.

According to Fox, manufacturers that have thousands of partners across the globe need help building out dynamic portals for partners to use to participate in the promotions they offer. He added that partners need a "clean" and "easy to use" portal that allows them to quickly and easily see what they are entitled to receive based on the tier of the program in which they are participating.

Portals can also help vendors gauge the popularity of their products among partners while having a clearer view of their inventory, pricing and distribution across the supply chain. In addition, gathering actionable information on products and services through a portal helps vendors build loyalty, Fox said.

"Having a partner portal that is truly partner-focused and has ease of doing business at its core will create a competitive advantage for a manufacturer, as opposed to a competitor that might have a portal where partners search through five web pages to find what they want," Fox said. "If you build a dynamic portal that shows everything a partner is entitled to, it eliminates confusion and encourages partners to do repeat business with the vendor."

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