As the summer winds down, some of us are reminded of those long family drives to a vacation destination when someone inevitably asked, “Are we there yet?” Depending on how long the journey or how many times the question had already been asked, the answer could either confirm our hopes and expectations, or be met with a stern rebuff.

Why haven’t channel programs stopped asking themselves this question as it pertains to the buildout of their partner portals?

One answer might be that, in an effort to provide low-touch, systematic support, suppliers keep emphasizing the use of the portal by partners. As a result, it becomes necessary to provide partners the tools they will need during their relationship with the supplier. It’s where they manage opportunities; where they process their MDF claims; and where they go to gain knowledge through a supplier learning management system. In fact, the portal has become a meeting place for all types of partner applications. Because of this amalgamation, it has become unwieldy and cumbersome to use, requiring that suppliers give their portals a facelift every year or so to keep it usable for partners.

In an effort to keep the portal evergreen, we now see companies focusing on two areas of development: 1) creation of a wrapper-like application that provides a front-door approach to multiple applications and 2) integration efforts to connect the portal to internal customer relationship management applications and marketing automation platforms. Coincidentally, suppliers’ need to gain better visibility into partner activity and performance often fuels both efforts.

In this digital age, as long as there are channel programs, there will be partner portals; in fact, portals have succeeded program handbooks as the front door to partner program content. They act as the repository for marketing assets; they are where partners go to register deals; and they are where suppliers and partners jointly engage in processes implicit in the business relationship, such as business planning and co-marketing. The partner portal has become less an item to be checked off on a list of partner program “to do’s” and more a vehicle for communicating with partners and engaging them on a continuous basis. We may never “get there” – that is, complete the partner portal, but we may have to take the trip over and over again to ensure that the portal keeps pace with partners and the ever-evolving supplier programs it’s intended to support.