Manufacturers: How to create a distributor support portal that actually works
What is a B2B distributor portal?
If you’re a manufacturer your website should be a hub for all things related to your business. It can serve as a valuable tool to market your products and services, but more importantly, it can help you better engage with the distributors who sell them.
A distributor portal is an area on your website designed to engage with, and provide information to your distributors.
Once you have a B2B distributor portal on your website, what are the best ways to make it work for your business and your distributors?
Provide a secure login area
Your distributor portal might be publicly accessible, but there could be content or functionality that you don’t want to show to everyone. This could simply be non-public information, or it could be unique pricing for different distributors.
A secure portal area also allows you to monitor which distributors engage with your portal and how often, so you can gain insights into how your portal is used.
Interactive product catalogues
You may have thousands of products in your online catalogues, so your distributor portal should include an easy-to-use search function that allows distributors to quickly filter products by category, price range, application, or other criteria.
This will allow them to easily find products they need, or that their customers need. And you could also link this up to ecommerce if you allow ordering through your portal.
B2B online ordering
You can include online ordering capabilities in your distributor portal if relevant. Here you can showcase all your products in one place, which makes it easier for distributors to purchase or order from you online.
By having online ordering behind a login, you can set different price levels and availability for different distributors. You can also run promotions or incentives for distributors to buy.
You don’t need to take online payments either, you could just accept order requests that are paid on invoice or integrated into your accounts systems.
Offer free resources for your distributors to use in their marketing campaigns, including:
- Brand assets including logos and brand guidelines
- Promotional literature they can use in marketing campaigns
- Photos and videos of your products that they can use on their own websites
Distributor list and location finder
You can allow your distributors to update their own profiles. This could be basic information such as contact details, or it could include multiple contacts and locations. You can even use this information to power a “distributor finder” or “dealer locator” type feature on your website.
What’s a distributor finder?
It may seem obvious, but if someone doesn’t know how to find your products in their area, they won’t buy from you. Your website can include a map with pins showing where each distributor is located and use a postcode search so customers can find their nearest distributor.
This information can all be powered by the distributor profiles and locations in the portal. And if distributors can update this themselves, it can be reflected on the website immediately (or via an approval process if you prefer).
Don’t forget a clear call-to-action button so consumers know how to contact their closest distributor. You could even include a form that will automatically copy in the distributor when someone makes an enquiry.
News, updates, and exclusives
Your distributor online portal is a great place to introduce new products, and it's also a way for distributors stay on top of the latest news and updates. Distributors who regularly visit your portal will be more successful because they'll have access to the newest product lines, as well as information about events and sales promotions.
Offer new and exciting products or product lines through your website portal first before releasing them anywhere else. This will make your distributors feel more special, while also giving them an incentive to use your portal.
Add your news and podcasts to your distributor portal. Your distributor portal should be a place where you share company updates and other relevant information. One way to do this is by adding a news section on the front page of your portal that highlights recent developments in the industry and new products or services coming onto the market, as well as other relevant topics that may interest potential customers. You could also show this information on your public facing website.
Case studies can allow distributors to share examples of how they have used (or could use) a product or service successfully in their own businesses. You could provide a form in your portal where distributors could submit their case studies too.
Lastly, to make sure your distributors return to your portal regularly, send out regular email newsletters with a preview of your latest updates. But don’t give it all away in the email, link your previews through to the full information on the portal.
Training and support
One of the best ways to help your distributors be more successful is through training. Training gives your distributors the understanding they need to better sell your products and increase their sales.
Add training assets to your distributor portal such as training videos, product guides, and technical downloads. Good training and support can make all the difference when it comes to helping distributors do better.
If you run training events, webinars, or offer one-on-one training, you can also allow your distributors to book these through your portal.
Custom-designed portals vs. off-the-shelf products
With a wealth of options available, the decision between investing in a custom-designed portal or opting for an off-the-shelf product can often be challenging. Each avenue comes with its own unique benefits and potential drawbacks, depending on the specific needs of your business.
A custom-designed portal is tailored to fit the specific requirements of your company. It provides a high-level of detail and personalisation, ensuring that all tools and features of the portal are in alignment with your existing business processes.
- Customisable: Each aspect of your portal is designed to meet your unique business requirements, providing a cohesive experience in line with your existing workflows and systems.
- Scalable: A custom-designed portal can easily be scaled as your business grows, supporting the expanding needs of your company.
- Competitive advantage: Custom portals can impart a unique value to your business, offering services and information that your competitors don't have access to.
- Higher initial cost: Given their tailored nature, custom-designed portals often require a higher upfront investment than off-the-shelf alternatives.
- Requires more time to launch: Custom solutions can be time consuming as it requires detailed planning, designing, and testing before implementation to ensure that the portal effectively meets all the business needs.
Off-the-shelf products offer ready-made solutions fitted with general features that align with typical distributor portal needs.
- Speed of implementation: Given that these are pre-built tools, they can be implemented quickly with minimal setup time.
- Lower upfront investment: These products often have a lower initial cost compared to the custom-designed portals making them more accessible to smaller businesses.
- Fixed functionality: The product might not match the unique workflows or needs of your business. Any customisations could be limited, costly or in some instances not even possible.
- May become obsolete: Off-the-shelf solutions may also become outdated with time as they might not be updated or improved at the required pace of your organisation's growth.
Distributors help you reach more customers and increase your sales, so giving them the support they need will be good for everyone.