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The Partner Channel Podcast Episode #28

Picking the Right Portal for Your Partners

Show Synopsis

In his debut Partner Channel Podcast episode, Meshach Amuah-Fuster sits down with Glenn Robertson from Purechannels to discuss how to pick the best partner portal for your partners.


  • The rise of partner power and partner experience
  • What to look for in a partner portal
  • The 5Es of partner experience

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The Script

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: Welcome to the Partner Channel podcast, The Voice of the channel, I am Meshach Amauh-Fuster, general manager for EMEA here at Allbound excited to be here with me is Glenn Robertson, CEO of Purechannels. Welcome, Glenn and thank you for being on our show.

Glenn Roberston: Pleasure. Nice to be here.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: Absolutely. Could you start us off by walking through your background in the tunnel and how you ended up at Purechannels?

Glenn Roberston: Yeah, sure. So, as I say, Meshach, thanks so much for inviting me to appear on the podcast. Great to be here. Listen to the show and love it. Feel privileged that you’ve asked me to appear. So thank you. I’ve been a Purechannels now since since 2012. I actually started here as an account director and then with the owner leaving to develop new software. I gradually spent some time taking over and then running the agency until acquiring Purechannels outright in 2018. As, as now owner and CEO of Purechannels it was originally founded in 2005, by the former owner. Previous to me being here in 2012, I have spent most of my career either in tech businesses or in agency. Previous to arriving at Purchannels, I was at a B2B tech agency called DNX, which was subsequently been acquired by Ogilvy. So I see it as a little bit of back story over the last 10 years.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: Fantastic. So you actually came up in the ranks of the organization instead of just being appointed CEO? First and foremost.

Glenn Roberston: Yeah, exactly in 2012 I arrived as an account director just to kind of take over some of our take over, run some of our major clients. And then within 18 months or so, I became a director at another 18 months or so became MD. And then the previous owner kind of stepped out a little bit to concentrate on his software. And we got to a point in 2018 when that when I acquired outright.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: Fantastic, it’s a great success story. OK, so one of the topics Purechannels writes about often is partner power. Over the past year, Purechannels has reported an increase in partner power. Could you explain what this is and how you see it impacting the channel?

Glenn Roberston: Partner power is about looking at the channel model. For years, we have accepted the vendor-led top-down channel model and in a lot of cases kind of almost vendor dictation. Partner power is more about placing the partner at the heart of the channel. In any B2B, B2C, retail, direct and indirect channel all roads lead to the end customer. The channel is really just another way of getting that another way of getting to the customer. So if we had to place so much emphasis on the customer and therefore the experience of the customer, we talk a lot, obviously, and have done for years about CX (customer experience). It follows that anything that affects that and has an impact on that has to be super important. So if we’re one stage removed, the next closest thing to the customer is the partner, which is why, we did call this very early on, you probably would expect that we are the channel agency, it’s that we do and everything that we focus on. So if we focus for so long on customer experience, if we one stage removed in getting to that customer and we’re at the partner stage. Partner experience (PX) has become more and more important. And this understands actually to partner business, being so close to the customer is the most important thing. The tech, the product, the speeds, and specs are becoming less and less important now as a USP, as a differentiator. And it’s the experience that is becoming much, much more important.

Glenn Roberston: And of course, over the last 18 months or so since covid buying habits have changed massively because we’ve been in a different environment. So B2B buyers have become more and more consumerized in their behavior, spending more time doing their own research before getting ready to make buying decisions. So the only way vendors can assume more and more reach or coverage or awareness of a wider audience and to be in front of those buyers when they’re doing their research is to ensure as much as possible that their partners have everything that they need. Not everything that vendor wants, but everything the partner needs to be able to sell more and better. This is why we talk of PX at Purechannels. We’ve developed our own model of partner experience, which includes engagement, education, enablement, evaluation, and then evolution over time in response to all of the other things. So we kind of call as well. We have to understand what we do. We switch the pitch. So we switch it from a vendor-led proposition to a partner-led proposition. Understanding and responding to partner needs will have a far greater impact than blindly follow in just what a vendor wants. And partners are becoming more and more sophisticated, especially over the last 18 months, and are rightly, I think, demanding more of their vendors. The vendors that respond to partner need are those ones that will succeed as we move out of the pandemic and into what I consider and think is going to be a new channel future.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: I’m so glad you say that because we’ve done some studies and we found that clients that tend to be the most sticky are the ones that have a great partner experience the partners who actual praise the portal and praise the ability to understand what to do next, ease of use and so forth. So I’m really glad that you say that, that we’re great to be on the same page there. How is partner power influenced and changed how companies choose partner portals?

Glenn Roberston: With portals being such a hugely influential part of any program, you know, it should be and it has to really be about how vendors provide what a partner needs and make as easily accessible as possible, but not in a one-size-fits-all way. We’ll talk a little bit about that in a moment. But in a per partner way, Portals can and should absolutely be about the partner. And it’s funny, Meshach, because we hear so many vendors talk about our partner portal. Right. And for me, that’s getting it entirely wrong from the outset. Any vendor that talks about it being their partner portal, I believe, is simply wrong because they start from the wrong position, the wrong perspective, and they create the wrong expectation. A partner portal is about the partners. It’s their portal, it’s not the vendor’s portal. So this has to be about ensuring partners have what they need as and when they need it. It should be about simple, clear access to information, support, training, sales, and marketing assistance. Understanding what a partner wants and then that can simply be about asking them what it is that they want or in a more sophisticated way, tracking their activity across the portal as and when they use it. And When they used present the things that they need or the things that they’re most, most most likely to need when they arrive at the portal.

Glenn Roberston: So this is about partner preference and it’s about personalizing the experience. But the thing is as well, the key to this actually happens way before the partner accesses a portal. And this goes back to the first stage of our PX model of engagement. If your partners aren’t engaged, doesn’t matter how good the portal is, it will appear like it’s either not performing or it’s rubbish, or it’s not working. But let’s be clear, and I do say this quite a lot, I hear so many times the vendors and vendor people talking about their portal being rubbish or their portal not working. But as I say, let’s be clear, right. The portal works. It’s, unfortunately, the people that don’t. The portal’s been built, it’s been coded, it’s been tested, it’s been amended and further coded and added and bugs have been sorted out. And it continues to have that process on a daily basis. Very rarely will the portal itself not actually work. Portals absolutely work. It’s just the people that don’t. And see by that what I mean is that it’s not about the tech, it’s not about the product, it’s about the experience, the set-up, the configuration, the customization, the launch, the comms, the engagement, the PX model again, the education, the enablement, the evaluation of the time.

Glenn Roberston: This is what makes things work. And all of these things are people-based. They’re not they’re not product-based. We tend to refer to it in a cycle. And it’s this cycle that can dictate the success or failure, or perceived failure, of a portal. A vendor invests in a portal they think it’s going to be great, but then they take too long to set it up and then they lose motivation. The launch is inadequate. Then they don’t engage the partners. Then usage and uptake is low. So they blame the portal for not working. Then they look for when the contract is up. Then they create a new RFP to get a new shiny portal and then they invest in a new portal because the old one didn’t work. But then actually it takes too long. And so the merry-go-round continues. And it’s a peculiar cycle. It’s one that’s been in the channel for many years. But it’s a real cycle and it’s one that we’ve seen before. We saw twenty years ago when websites became a thing. It was like everybody needed to get a website, but it wasn’t actually the website that was the issue.

Glenn Roberston: It was the traffic and the user experience. And now we’re seeing it with portals. Another cycle we see that we are hopefully and currently transitioning through is one where vendors will kind of say, what do we include in the portal? What do we need, what do we need? And up until very recently, we were seeing a movement of this kind of in order to justify how good our portal will be, we need to throw loads of stuff in it. And the more stuff we’ve got in it, the more stuff will make the partners happy and therefore we justify the expenditure. We’ve justified the budget and we’ve justified our own existence. But the reality is now that we’re seeing that it’s not a great approach to just put absolutely everything into the portal and make it accessible to absolutely everybody, all of the time. Partners just don’t want to navigate their way through everything they think they want to see and access the things that are important to them and the only they can access in order to be able to do their job as efficiently and as effectively and access it as quickly and as easy as possible.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: You know, there’s three things you kind of mentioned that and which I wholeheartedly agree with. I’ll start at the end of work backwards. So I also believe less is more. If you ever been abroad and you go to like the city center, a typical tourist, you go to the restaurant with six different cuisines and one menu and there’s a lot and you don’t you get choice paralysis, right? Yeah. Those are like a really maybe upscale market. I’m sure you do Glenn there are maybe like 12 items and it’s quite easy to pick what you want because there are not so many things to pick from. And I think that kind of logic takes place in terms of partner portals in terms of content, available training materials, and so forth. So wholeheartedly agree with you in terms of the amount of stuff that would be in there. The other thing you mention is it’s not the features and functionalities, it’s the experience. Again, couldn’t agree more. So, you know, most portals will have some kind of place where content sits or a place where you can register a deal or a place where there’s some kind of element of reporting and analytics layer. Right. But that doesn’t mean that they’re all kind of built the same.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: So how do they differentiate each other in terms of the engagement piece or from a PX piece, as you mentioned? I couldn’t agree more. And the last thing is, working in this industry, we have been saying things like my partner portal, right, which you mentioned before, you know, I used to work for an organization who shall remain nameless and we had a CRM which was terrible. It was I hated it. Right. But we had to use the CRM because it was all CRM forced to use it whether you like it or not. But with a partner portal, your partners don’t have to use your PRM. They can maybe use somebody else’s or maybe one of your competitors. So you have to create an experience that is specific to your partner with a partner in mind, not the vendor in mind. It’s such an obvious thing but there’s a lot of organizations that will focus on what they want as opposed to maybe what the partner will. So you’ve mentioned three things which I 100 percent agree with, and I’m glad you bring up. Great. So next question. So what are the most important things vendors should look for in a partner portal to ensure partners are put first when buying a partner portal?

Glenn Roberston: Yeah, most important things. OK, so I think I think one really important thing, and this is kind of fundamental really across the channel, but very definitely when assessing and looking at the need for a portal. I kind of mentioned a little bit earlier, switching the focus. What is it that your partners need? Vs. what do you want in a portal? OK, so as you just mentioned, it shouldn’t be about vendor want. It absolutely has to be about partner need and that should be at the heart of any sorts of portal project, should be at the heart of any part of the program, but certainly, at the heart of any portal project, the single most important thing should be how will it benefit our partners and help them to sell more of our stuff better. We talk about two drivers really in anything that we do for clients, but very definitely around any portal work. And those two things are impact on value. So we speak to vendors about encouraging them basically to just ask themselves a question. If we do this, what impact is it going to have on us, on our people, but importantly on a partner and their people and their business? And then that is the consideration of the positive impact it can have and that it will have on a partner business and department people as a whole, but also an understanding that they can actually be either very real or perceived negative impacts; time, cost, resource knowledge. These are all very real. That can be very real or sometimes perceived negative impacts in order to become sufficiently engaged in using a new portal to the benefit of their business.

Glenn Roberston: So the first thing is to consider impact both positive and negative. And then in terms of value, if we’ve understood the impacts and how will a new portal impact the business. Then we need to be encouraging our partners to use it to drive value and increase value for the partner and their interaction with the vendor. So, you know, understanding these things impact and value, what impact will it have and how can it drive value? Obviously, this is key to the successful purchase and deployment of a portal. The other thing is that the vendors need to understand and accept the impact this will have on them and their people. So time and resources on the vendor side is also often underestimated, which leads to frustration internally and externally, which then affects performance. And then that cycle that I spoke of earlier continues. I genuinely believe that vendors should be seeing a little bit of it, and I hope we see much more of it soon. But I really believe that vendors should start employing dedicated portal managers, portal people and shifting the responsibility of managing portals and everything that goes with it away from PAMs and CAMs and channel marketing managers and partner marketing managers and regional marketing managers to dedicated portal employees focused on what is a hugely important element of their partner program. And if we’re placing so much emphasis on portals, then we need to accept that investment in people is also needed. This responsibility should not just be lumped into the existing roles that people have. I think it’s far more important than that.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: It’s absolutely correct. I mean, you know, just in terms of the opportunity as well and in terms of this place, you know, reported almost three billion dollars in software revenue from 2020, almost six billion forecasted to be generated in partner portals by 2026. So there’s definitely this kind of paradigm shift in terms of attitudes to channel. Channel’s has been around for a very, very, very long time. But I think our approach to it is changing. I believe that changing for the better and I believe organizations like yourself, Purechannels, are perfectly equipped to definitely help organizations in that regard. So I very thank you much for your time, Glenn. I’m going to slightly pivot here, if that’s OK, in transition to the final four questions but if you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

Glenn Roberston: One superpower? Flight I think, yeah, fly. Just to maybe the hours in the day are becoming less and less right. And I think if we could if I could fly I might be able to get there quicker. Just do a bit more stuff, visit a few more places. I mean, there’s a caveat to that. If I can fly, then I would have to either have the ability to be able to have some kind of carrying mechanism that I can take my family with me or give them the ability to fly as well so that we could travel together.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: The perfect. One mistake and one success you’ve had in the channel, I bet you’re glad I said in the channel.

Glenn Roberston: We haven’t got long enough. I don’t know if I can call it a mistake. But one thing I do genuinely believe in is “the channel” in inverted commas, the channel as we know and love it and wake up every morning and go work in it. I think it’s massively underpromoted. I say that because when I was in school, and I guess the same for you Meshach, but when I was in school, nobody, no careers adviser, nobody came to me and said, do you know what? There is a space where there is an unbelievable amount of opportunity, huge potential, and an amazing chance to forge a massively successful career. And it’s called the channel, right? Yeah, obviously, it’s not an industry, it’s a model. But, you know, we do refer to it as an entity, you know, so I don’t know if it’s a mistake because I guess the mistake is not getting involved in it early enough or earlier than I did. But I think that’s down to lack of knowledge and education because nobody promotes it. Nobody says, you know, this is a space where you can have some unbelievable experience, success, opportunity. And I don’t think it’s lauded enough in school, you know, amongst kids to show them, you know, we talk about career progression and careers and what you want to get into. And actually, our channel globally is an unbelievable place. And unfortunately, whoever left school going to want to work in the channel, you know, it’s the same whoever left school kind of thinking, I want to be a B2B marketer, I want to be a top salesperson. Cultural and geographical differences aside. But, yeah, it’s kind of that. I think we need to do genuinely a better job of educating kids on what a remarkable career they could have in the channel because it is a great place to be and there’s a huge amount of opportunity and success to have. I think I shifted the emphasis of that question. That’s okay. Blame my mistake on to education. The success, I mean, success has to be moving to Purechannels from Dynex in 2012. And now and now I’m owning it. I think since I took over we’ve seen a great trajectory of growth having trebled in size in the last 15 months alone now with an office in the US as well. But yeah, I think, you know, the thing is, it’s difficult to identify maybe anyone. Probably winning CRN Best Channel Marketing Agency for the first time and in 2015. And then we won it again in 2019. The first agency to every have won it twice, which is pretty cool. Until this year Rivera have done that, but we were first, so we’ll keep that in the bag. I think there are quite a lot, there are quite a lot because I just think this space is an amazing place to work and I’m very grateful that I do.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: You know, it’s interesting when there’s a very famous film that was released maybe 10, 12 years ago, which mentioned being in the perfect middleman. And everything in sales is really about being a middleman, whether you’re a search engine or whether you are an estate agent. It’s about being the perfect middle person. And I think channel could have epitomizes that, doesn’t it, because you have got one entity which has IP, another organization that has maybe system integration, specialty or technical specialty or agency specialty or VAR or MSP or whatever it might be. Just someone who’s good at development and being able to leverage those different factors and bring value to different entities in the ecosystem is is is really amazing and fantastic. Right. I mean, you kind of live in that space throughout our careers, if we know it or not. So, yeah, I think your point about promoting this in schools is a good idea. It doesn’t have to be specifically working in the channel, but just the ideology of working in a cohesive environment that leverages other people. I think it’s a great idea.

Glenn Roberston: I think it should be celebrated genuinely. You know, I joke but, you know, whoever was in school kind of guy and I really want to be a sales guy. I really want to be a salesperson and the same with marketing. You don’t go through, year 10 and 11 and then go you know what actually, I’m going to be a B2B marketing leader. It feels like you kind of just end up here, you go to university and then you have your personality traits and you become a character and you do all those things. We might not go to university and you’ve done six or whatever or straight out of GSCs courses and everyone goes, you’d be a great salesperson or brilliant in marketing? You can go. All right, then I’ll give it a go. And then all of a sudden you join a company and then you progress a little bit, sell a few things or market things and have some good ideas and do some stuff. And then you kind of go oh, I’ve been in the channel for 10 years. If we switch the pitch a bit and actually start with intention, you know, we might actually be able to, you know, to celebrate a little bit more and encourage more people to come and start and have wonderful careers as we’ve kind of ended up having.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: Exactly. I mean, I remember exactly how I fell in sales. I graduated and all I wanted to do was just make money and I was going for commission-based roads. I wasn’t interested in just a basic salary. If that’s for you, great. But for me, I wanted to have something which had a direct impact on my level of my quality of work, the quantity of work, my siblings, a lot of them, are teachers. And that’s great. But, you know, we’re kind of different in that regard. OK, so third question, what is one business book you recommend someone that aspires to channel leadership?

Glenn Roberston: I have to confess. I have to confess. I’m not a big book reader. I’ll tell you what my favorite best ever and book that I’ve returned to the most is a book called As You Think by James Alan.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: I’ve read that. Is it As a Man Thinketh?

Glenn Roberston: Mark Allen wrote the original As a Man Thinketh But then James Allen did a rework of it call As you Think. He kind of broke it down, simplified it a little bit. But it’s exactly that. And it is a great book. I picked it up 20 odd years ago when I was living in the States. It’s just a simple reminder that actually we are in control of what we do for the most part and the way that we think and the way that we see the world and the way that we perceive the world and yet has a massive impact on what happens to us. So, yeah, there’s a good book. It’s not necessarily a business book.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: That’s great. Yeah. I’ve read the original. I loved it. I read it maybe six years ago. I’ve probably read it twice but definitely need to pick up a and I think it’s important to kind of remember some of those learnings

Glenn Roberston: As I was remembering it earlier I did a quick check on Amazon and is currently available at 7.85 pounds. So I’d say 7.85 pounds very well spent on Prime and get it tomorrow.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: Absolutely. Final question. So five years from now what will be the major changes in the channel that people should think about now?

Glenn Roberston: That is a good one. PX isn’t going away, We’ve just I think we’ve only just kind of tipped the iceberg on that. PX is going to be picked is going to be big. I’ve read written about that. The way that vendors understand, accept and support their partners, I think is going to change. We’re already seeing huge changes in it MDF and, you know, seeing my paper on my belief that we need to kind of move away from the language of MDF into much more of something that is more inclusive, maybe BDF (business development funding). So I think that’s a big piece, I think partner power is going to grow. There will be the emergence of of of of bigger, stronger partners, some of whom will actually end up being bigger than some of the emerging vendors. There’ll be, so we have seen it definitely over the last 18 months, this move to digital and the impact of digital and social can have I think we have to be careful. LinkedIn is becoming flooded somewhat at the moment. But then I think that might be the emergence of more online places. We’re seeing ecosystems we see in marketplaces, a lot of e-commerce now run directly through this kind of self-service type environment that is becoming more consumerized, that it allows people to do their own research and purchase with a lot less human interaction.

Glenn Roberston: Not saying I like it, but I think it’s facilitating easier purchase in an easier buying behavior. And I think there’ll be an increasing move towards that. One thing that I know will also change within the next five years is that actually more and more business will continue and be done through the channel. At the moment, it’s something like, what, 70% of the world’s trade goes through the channel. I think that will increase. I think the B2B organizations and I think vendors and board-level people will start to switch on to a much greater acceptance and support of the power of the channel and what that means in that business. We still see unfortunately, fortunately for us, a much higher kind of emphasis being placed on direct to customer model when actually in most cases, much more revenue comes from the indirect route to market. There’s a gradual shift with the emergence of channel chiefs in the last few years actually being a thing. People being actually given that title, at the board level. And I think we’ll continue to see that because of the new world that we live in and so, yeah, I’d say wider acceptance, partner power, increase digital and social activity and online marketplaces and ecosystems, communities as well, being been the place where the channel is going to go in the next few years.

Meshach Amauh-Fuster: That’s great, Glenn. Thank you very much for your time, Glenn Robertson from Purechannels, and thank you to the listeners for joining us here at the Partner Channel podcast. If you like what you heard, subscribe to our podcast episodes wherever you like to listen to podcasts.