Partner Portals Should Be Combined with Customer Portals

Why Not Design Your Partner Portals to Surround and Complement Your Customer Portals?

October 4, 2007

The first goal of a partner portal is to support customers throughout their lifecycles. So a partner portal has, at its core, many of the capabilities that are required in a customer self-service portal. Why not combine your customer portal team and your partner portal team? You’ll save time and money and you’ll deliver a much more seamless experience to customers and partners.


Portals provide a popular way to make it easy for your channel partners—the people who sell and service your firm’s products—to do business with your firm. Today’s modern portal platforms make it relatively easy to provide account-specific, role-based access to all the information, applications, and resources that your partners need to do their jobs. Whether partner representatives need to access your latest product marketing collateral, to coordinate a co-marketing campaign promoting your products, to help a client select the right solution for his situation, to provide a competitive quote, to book an order, to renew service, to expedite delivery, and/or to troubleshoot a problem, a partner portal provides secure access and “one-stop shopping” for all of these partner activities.

Don’t design your partner portals in a vacuum. Our customer co-design sessions have taught us that partner portals should be designed to support end customers’ most important activities first, and partners’ business processes second. If your partners can’t use their portal to service your mutual customers, it won’t be valued or used.


Partner portals are hot! Lots of companies have replaced proprietary client/server applications with Web-based extranets or partner portals. The goal is to make it easier for partners to do business with your firm.

Consider Combining Your Customer and Partner Portal Teams

As we’ve worked with companies to refine their esupport strategies for their channel partners and to develop and deploy partner portals, we’ve noticed an important critical success factor: It works best if you design your partner portals to support your end-customer portals (and the rest of your cross-channel customer self-service touchpoints).

Your customers, and the channel partners that sell to and service many of your customers, all need access to a common set of information, tools, and resources. For example, both customers and partners need easy access to product information and specifications, to decision-making tools that will help them select the most appropriate solution, to competitive comparisons, to answers to questions, to troubleshooting and diagnostic tools. While there may be differences between the information and prices that are appropriate for partners and those you’d want your end customers to see, those differences can be easily managed by using the role-based access that’s part of any portal platform.

If you have separate and distinct teams housed in different parts of your business driving your customer portals and your partner portals, you’re probably wasting valuable resources. And you’re probably not able to deliver a seamless customer experience across channels.

The Customer Lifecycle


© Patricia Seybold Group Inc.

Illustration 1a. Customer portals should support customers through all the stages in their entire lifecycle for each product or service they buy and use.

Partner Support for the Customer Lifecycle


© Patricia Seybold Group Inc.

Illustration 1b. Partner portals should make it easy for partners to support customers throughout their lifecycles.

Who Are Your Partners?

Does your company use channel partners to sell and/or service some or all of your customers? Lots of companies reach some or all of their business and/or consumer customers through channel partners.

Sometimes these partners are “captive.” They represent only one supplier’s products and services. Other times, partners sell and service products from a variety of suppliers. Your firm may have dedicated partners or independent partners.

Before we talk about how best to support your channel partners, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about the kinds of partners we’re describing. We’re talking about the business partners that represent your company and your brand to your customers. The experience customers have in dealing with your representatives reflects positively or negatively on your brand.

Some Examples of Channel Partners

There are lots of different kinds of channel partners in a variety of industries. Here are some examples:

  • Insurance agents sell and service policies for insurance companies.
  • Investment advisors and brokers sell financial services—from stock trades to mutual fund investments, to annuities and bonds.
  • Manufacturing representatives sell equipment and supplies, often assembling all the components for complete bills of material from a variety of suppliers.
  • Car dealerships sell and service vehicles.
  • Farm dealers sell agricultural supplies, irrigation equipment, and tractors.
  • Franchisees sell rooms in their hotels, meals in their restaurants, and tools and diagnostic equipment from their mobile showrooms.
  • Value-added resellers and system integrators sell, integrate, install, and service high-tech systems and applications.

One-Tier, Two-Tier, or N-Tier Distribution Channels

Depending on the industry, many dealers, agents, brokers, or representatives purchase through distributors. Distributors typically aggregate products from many manufacturers, manage inventory, and extend credit. If a customer buys a product from a dealer that, in turn, purchases that product and finances it through a distributor, that’s considered two-tier distribution. Occasionally, a wholesaler comes into the picture, making it a three-tier distribution chain—that is, three levels of parties between the buying customer and the actual supplier of the products.

Complex Relationships Lead to Complex Requirements for Partner Support

Often, customers don’t get to choose whether they transact directly with the product supplier or with a partner that represents that brand of products. Does your company have a channel strategy that determines which products you sell directly and which products you sell through partners, to certain sets of customers, in certain markets? If so, you’re in the majority.

Selling through channel partners is not a bad thing from a customer experience standpoint. Many customers often prefer to deal with a partner that understands their particular situation or business and that provides local and/or tailored service than to deal with a large, impersonal supplier.

But lots of customers also want the option of dealing directly with the supplier. Customers often go right to the supplier’s Web site. Customers typically feel that they get more authoritative information or support—information and support they can trust—directly from the supplier...

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