Partnerships should be at the top of every business's priority list as markets shift and priorities change. In the B2B SaaS industry, relationships come first, making a good first impression matters, and aligning your business goals with those of your partner ecosystem is crucial. Getting to know your channel partners is a critical part of this alignment and relationship building.
To best set you, your channel, and your partners up for success, we are highlighting the dos and don’ts of channel partnership management — according to industry experts themselves.
4 tips for strong channel partnership management
1. Set OKRs that align with your partner's objectives
It’s easy to fall into the pattern of pushing our own goals and targets onto our partners. It might be simple to try to find a commonality with a partner to win revenue in the short term, but this can come at the cost of long-term success and alignment. “If OKRs aren’t prioritized by a partner's business model, you will be like sandpaper to the partner,” says Nicolette Lopes, manager of channel partnerships at PartnerStack. The best thing you can do is set your OKRs to fit into your partner’s objectives to ensure success both now and in the future.
2. Prioritize partner experience — it’s the best way to build trust
Even with a great product market fit, if a partner isn’t delighted by their experience in your channel program, they’ll be less inclined to sell or refer your product. Trust is earned and partner experience is a key piece in building that trust. Get to know your partners and what they like and strive to build a genuine relationship with them that goes beyond a transactional sales relationship. Leading with a people-first approach makes the less exciting pipeline updates and business objective conversations easier to engage with.
3. Flesh out the partner onboarding process before a partner walks through the door
Providing a clear path to success is often the distinguishing factor between a partner success and a partner flop. “The more structured the onboarding process, the faster a partner can start driving revenue, which sometimes for us happens within two weeks with strong onboarding,” says Sam McMullen, partnerships manager at Certn. Whether the partner came to you or you reached out to them, scheduling a kick-off call, setting clear expectations, and putting them through product training early on helps to get partners on the right path from the start.
4. Make your partner program as simple as possible
When launching a partner program, think about who’s on the other side first. Much like selling your product, you need to sell your partner program in a simple way. Partners must understand where you add value to their business in a quick and easy manner in order to want to join your program and then stay engaged in it. “If it’s hard for you to understand, imagine how the market will interpret it,” says Nikita Zhitkevich, director of partnerships and alliances at PartnerStack. Remember to think through the observer’s lens and use clear language and messaging when crafting a partner program.
Now that you know the dos of partner program management, let’s talk about what to avoid in channel partner management.
4 key things to avoid in channel partnership management
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1. Assume the relationship will always be 50/50
Channel partnerships will never be a perfect split of resources, especially early on in the relationship. Show your cards and be the partner to put more in up front to build trust. If you’re willing to devote your time and energy to the partnership in the beginning, a new partner will likely be more inclined to invest in you and your program as it matures. Spending the time to learn and understand your partner's business before teaching them about your own not only creates trust, but also helps with alignment and ensuring that the relationship and partnership are both a good fit.
2. Wait until your program breaks to invest in channel partnerships
Waiting until you hit a breaking point in bandwidth to make investments won’t only harm your team, but it will also harm your partners. Infrastructure, people, strategy, and buy-in are all essential when building out a partnership program. “Partnerships are always complex in nature with many streams running at any time which makes decision making that much more difficult,” says Lopes. “If you wait to invest in your channel, you’ll hit both your breaking point and your partners’, which can ruin relationships and your business.” Don’t push to scale your partner program until you’re confident that you have the investment, resources, and tools to support it.
3. Say yes to every partner looking to join your program
One of the worst things you can do early on is say yes to every partner application without a process to own the function, schedule, and bandwidth associated with your partner program. Having too many partners won’t do your program any good if you can’t engage with them, so focus on quality over quantity and prioritize the ones that are a right fit. “There must be true engagement on both sides, and organizational impact should always be prioritized,” says McMullen. “If the partner team on the other side is a champion for you within their organization, then you know you’ve done your job.”
4. Assume each partner will operate in the same way
Every partnership is unique, and every partner has different motivations and competing priorities. It’s up to the program managers to have a conversation and set expectations up front. “Some partners could want bi-weekly calls, enablement resources, and training, while others would prefer to bring you a lead when they see fit,” says Zhitkevich. Crafting go-to-market plans with each partner individually allows for customization where necessary so partners can drive revenue in a way that works for them.
With these new dos and don'ts in mind, you’ll be better equipped to make the right decisions when launching or scaling your partner program. Getting to know and getting aligned with your partners is a great place to start, and it’ll help you build a solid foundation for the future of your partnerships.