How to Choose the Best Partner Portal for Your Team

Updated June 27, 2024
Published in Partner Portal Management

At some point in every partner leader’s career, they’re tasked with purchasing and implementing “the best partner portal” for their organization.

That’s a lot of pressure. After all, your partner portal sits at the heart of your program — it’s where partners learn about your product, get certified to sell it, work leads, and send deals your way. And if it’s unintuitive, doesn’t have the functionality you expected, or simply doesn’t work, you’re up a river without a paddle.

To help alleviate your worries, we asked three seasoned partner leaders for their advice in choosing the best partner portal for your program — and their responses may surprise you (hint: feature comparison is just one part of the decision-making process).

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s first review what a partner portal is and what it isn’t.

What is a Partner Portal?

A partner portal is partners’ gateway to the information and strategies they need to promote and sell your product. The best partner portals are self-service, meaning partners can access that data themselves, on their own time, using your content, training, and sales and marketing tools to grow their businesses by selling your products.

Trish Rilling, Founder of Grititude, points out, “One of the biggest benefits to having a partner portal is that it gives you a 10,000-foot view of what’s going on in your partner ecosystem. At a glance, you can know how many partners are registering deals, what marketing content is resonating with the channel, and whether or not your partners are getting certified.”

We won’t dive too much into the common features of a partner portal here — we cover what to look for in another section — but its functionality covers the whole partner lifecycle, from planning to recruiting and onboarding to successful activation and ongoing management. 

What a Partner Portal is Not

To that end, it might be helpful to clarify what a partner portal is not. It’s not:

  • A CRM. A partner portal may hold potential customer information that gets passed along to your internal team. But if your sales team is handling those leads, the monitoring and follow-up takes place in something like HubSpot or Salesforce
  • A marketing platform. While a partner portal may have features like marketing development funds and co-branded collateral, they are more of a repository for marketing information. You and your partners will actually launch co-marketing email or ad campaigns through martech software.
  • A quoting system. Though you may connect your partner portal to a configure, price, quote software (for example via Zapier), partner portals generally do not come with quoting features out of the box.
  • An e-commerce solution. The majority of partner portals don’t have built-in order processing to sell specific products. However, depending on how flexible your partner portal is, its native functionality may be adapted to collect deal registrations or referrals as orders, and send them to a different platform for processing and fulfillment. The best partner portals have an open API, enabling your in-house developers to directly integrate to whatever parts of your tech stack you need to.

A Guide to Picking the Best Partner Portal

If you’ve ever participated in vendor selection before, you know a lot of discussion happens around specific features and functionality. And, of course, you want to know that your partner portal will do what you want it to do. 

best partner portal

But knowing what features and functionalities will best support your specific needs requires some significant pre-work — and there may be other, tangential things you need to take into account that you may never have considered. Here’s our distillation of expert advice from:

  • Sarah Muzquiz, Alliances Manager at Particle
  • Tony Luzza, Channel Consultant and former Head of Global Channels at RetailNext
  • Trish Rilling, Founder of Grititude, a strategic advisory firm for startups

1. Take a Hard Look at Your Existing Partner Base

Not all partner portals serve all types of channel partners. So before you even begin setting your sights on a partner portal, figure out who you’re serving and what they want.

Tony says, “There are lots of solutions out there that focus on affiliate or consulting partners versus VARs and distributors. Look carefully at the makeup of your partner base, prioritize which ones are most critical to support, and only then start seeking out potential vendors.”

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Download a list of your partners, along with their type.
  2. Review the type column.
  3. Stack rank partners by the types that generate the most revenue.
  4. Pick a handful of partners in the top two to three types to chat with.
  5. Ask them what they would want in a partner portal and their expectations based on other portals they’ve used in the past.

Having these requirements in front of you will steer your research in the right direction, ensuring that the portals you choose to demo are the ones that will serve your most important partners best.

As Sarah puts it, “As someone who’s run several programs, the number one piece of advice I have is to pick a portal that doesn’t make it hard or annoying for your best partners to work with you.”

2. Know Your Internal Resources and Capabilities Going In

Your partner portal won’t be live the day after you buy it. You’ll have to configure it, add to it, integrate other tools with it, and test it before launching it to partners. And that implementation may require expertise that you don’t have.

“Really do your due diligence on what it’s going to take to go live. A six-month timeline can easily turn into a nine-month timeline if you don’t have the right resources in place internally — even if you have the most intuitive portal,” Tony notes.

For example, you might:

  • Schedule time with your CRM administrator to talk through their needs for an integration or any unique questions they might have for partner portal vendors. You may even want to put in a ticket with them early so the PRM/CRM integration work gets prioritized.
  • Put in requests with your partner marketing team for specific one-pagers, battlecards, or event sponsorship information so it’s ready to add to the portal right away.
  • Start planning your approach to partner training and certification. Often members of the customer success and engineering team need to be involved — and they are some of the busiest folks at your company, so it’s important to get this project on their radar early.
  • Meet with your finance, procurement, and security teams to gather any questions they want you to ask during a partner portal sales call.

3. Develop a List of What You Really Need

Finally — we’ve made it to the feature comparison stage. At this point, you should have a good sense of your requirements. Your portal must:

  • Suit the particular partners you serve
  • Be relatively simple for you and your peers to configure
  • Accommodate your CRM and other components of your tech stack

Beyond that, you may want to break your requirements down by category. For example, at Channeltivity, we group our PRM’s main features into:

  • Revenue Drivers: Referrals & Commissions, Deal Registration, Lead Distribution, Distributor Management
  • Partner Enablement Strategies: Partner Recruitment, Resource Library, Training & Certification, Multi-Language
  • Partner Engagement Plays: Business Plans, Social Media Sharing, Forum
  • Channel Marketing Tactics: MDF Management, To-Partner Email Marketing, Co-branded Collateral
  • Integration Capabilities: HubSpot, Salesforce, Zapier, Open API
  • Reporting Must-Haves: Analytics and Reporting, Dashboards
  • Security Essentials: Granular Partner Permissions, SSO, GDPR and CCPA, SOC II Type II Attestation

Prioritize Modular Partner Portals

The best partner portals are also highly modular, meaning you can go live with a few features — say Deal Registration, Partner Management, and a Resource Library — and add more — like Co-Branded Collateral, MDF Requests, and Lead Distribution — when you’re ready. 

“Look for vendors that are willing to let you try out a module for a while,” Trish suggests. “You don’t know what you don’t know when you have an immature program, so having time to test additional features or add-ons to experience the benefits is really helpful. The best partner portal platforms prioritize that kind of collaboration and communication with their customers.”

Having your requirements divvied up into categories helps you prioritize the most important ones while staying within your budget.

“What’s nice about a platform like Channeltivity is that you don’t have to buy the whole kit and caboodle right away,” Tony says. “You can go live with what is absolutely vital for launch and tack on more modules as your budget and your internal resources allow.”

This approach helps you get things moving without overwhelming your team or your partners.

4. Don’t Sleep on Ancillary Features

When most people think of a portal, they think of all the features we just discussed. But there’s more to the best partner portals than those attributes.

Customer support, for instance, is a big deal. You want:

  • Implementation assistance
  • Integration help
  • Knowledgeable reps
  • Timely replies

Without those things, you may have to extend your launch date or deal with downtime. And that can strain your partner relationships.

Tony highlights, “Going into any agreement, you want to know the vendor’s approach to implementation. Are they just going to install and walk away? Or will they be there to support you in the long run with high responsiveness?”

You also want to know that your partner portal is highly secure. Without the right protocols in place, you’re putting your data and your partners’ data at risk. The best partner portals:

Another thing that’s commonly overlooked? Marketing tools.

Sarah shares,“Communicating to partners, adding a partner’s logo to a flyer, and providing sales materials should be super easy for you and your partners. You don’t want to be waiting weeks for the marketing team to prioritize it.”

And don’t forget reporting. The best partner portals have robust analytics, making it easy to collect, format, and present your progress to go-to-market leadership. 

“Reporting lets you know whether partners have skin in the game,” Trish notes. “Channel managers should be deep in those reports, analyzing how engaged partners are — whether they’ve completed trainings, downloaded materials, co-branded collateral, etc.”

5. See the Portal in Action

It’s sad but true: anyone can write anything on their website.

A demo or trial of your potential partner portal is the best way to know what you’re seeing is what you’re getting. You’ll be able to tell a lot about a portal’s intuitiveness and whether the functionality will fit your requirements by seeing it live and asking the vendor to show you that it can meet your needs.

Tony advises, “Before you go into a demo or trial, pull out your list of requirements and ask how the portal handles all of them.

I made the mistake of going with a vendor that said they already had a feature, but I didn’t actually see it in the demo. In reality, that feature was still on the product roadmap and wouldn’t be in production for 18 more months.”

To avoid a situation like that, really dig deep with your questions and ask to see everything you need to feel comfortable and confident with your decision.

It’s not about having every feature on your checklist,” Sarah explains. “It’s about having a majority of those boxes checked and making sure it’s in a fully integrated, consolidated platform that actually works and enhances the partner experience.”

For Your Consideration: A Consistently Top-Rated Partner Portal

You need a partner portal that checks all of your feature boxes, but it also needs to come with a team you can count on, the flexibility to support the rest of your tech stack and internal processes, and the ability to make changes on the fly — without disrupting the flow of business.

Channeltivity has it all, from a deep feature set to extensive documentation to an open API. Here’s what makes our platform different:

  • It’s completely self-serve. Our software is easy to use, understand, and configure on the backend and intuitive on the frontend. No more logging IT tickets to get small things done — you can make adjustments anytime, anywhere.
  • Our help docs. Our knowledge base is chockfull of articles with step-by-step instructions for all modules of the partner portal, guiding you through any updates you need to make at your own pace.
  • Experience. High tech companies have been running their channel programs on Channeltivity’s partner relationship management software since 2007. 
  • Product value. We’ve continuously and consistently invested in our software, prioritizing in the features that bring the most value to our customers — most recently, automatic translation for global partner programs.
  • People that care. Talk to any of our customers (or head to our G2 profile), and you’ll hear that our team is responsive, knowledgeable, and pleasant to work with. 

Interested in learning more? Schedule a demo to see the portal live and start a conversation with our team about how to build a top-tier partner experience.

More Resources to Help You Pick the Best Partner Portal:


Your Partner Portal is not a Website


Partner Relationship Management (PRM) Definition?