Partnerships and strategic alliances get results in B2B. While launching a partnership program can take some work, it’s been proven that this business approach leads to an increase in quality leads, boosts in sales and revenue, better relationships, and a stronger ecosystem. Through partnerships, scaling customers and revenue becomes possible in ways that are efficient and support company growth. Simply put, you can get further with a solid partnership program than you could on your own.
Whether you’re planning on launching a partnership program, just got one off the ground, or are working to maintain one, there are a few best practices to keep in mind. We’ve consulted an in-house expert, Nikita Zhitkevich, to support a stronger understanding of a winning approach to strengthening your partnerships in the B2B space.
This is the ultimate partnership checklist for those aiming to create, improve, and maximize their B2B partnerships.
1. Getting started: Launching a partner program
Let’s start with the basics. When starting a partner program, you’ve got a few options for the kind of program to run, and deciding which to go with is key. Here’s what to consider:
- What industry your product is in and how it’s sold
- What your average deal size is
- What type of customers you want to target
- What your competitors are doing
- Which geographies you want to cover
You can run an affiliate, referral, or reseller program. How to choose? Let’s start with an example: say you have an IT solution that is less than $6,000 a year. You might be asking, “Should I be leaning into an affiliate or a referral approach?” In this case, you might want to focus more on affiliate and referral partners that target customers in the IT space. This is because smaller deals are easier to promote and refer, especially for products that are product-led motions (where customers can self-sign up and pay).
On the other hand, say your contracts are more than $10,000 a year and your product is a sales-led motion (where customers sign up and pay through a sales team). In this case, it would be best to use a reseller partner who will take over most of the selling. They’ll earn commission and you’ll outsource some of the heavy lifting.
Additionally, there are more focused tactics you can employ to help determine what kind of partner program is right for you. You can evaluate partner programs that are complementary to yours or check out what competitors are using as solutions to benchmark your product and potential partner programs. For example, suppose your competitor sells the same product as you and is having success with a referral program. Maybe a referral program is the way to go for you, too! Keep in mind the geography you want to sell in, since geography can impact you if you're working with reseller partners. You’ll need to ensure your resellers are doing business in your desired market. Since affiliate and referral partners don’t directly sell to a client, they aren’t restricted by geography in the same way.
Overall, understanding your product, evaluating other partner programs in your space, and considering geography are important when it comes to understanding what kind of partner program is right for you and your business.
2. Making friends: Growing your partner network
You’ve launched a partner program, congrats! Now, all you need is partners. While partner recruitment may seem complicated, it can be pretty simple in practice. It can even be as simple as heading to LinkedIn or Google and searching for partners in your desired industries. You don't need to rely on marketplaces anymore to find partners — these days, they’re everywhere.
When pitching to a potential partner, you need to have very clear messaging and value proposition for the partner to understand the benefits of this pitched partnership and why it’s relevant to them. Your assumption should be that the partner is already working with someone in your space, so they need to know why it's worth it to work with you instead. Don’t be modest; be clear about the potential of the partnership. Aligning your offer to their work and their needs and how it can further them is key.
Once you have a partner interested in working with you, you’ll need to train them. Depending on the type of partner you're working with, they may require more or less training. Here’s what to consider:
- Referral partners usually only need a one-pager to refer to
- With an affiliate, it’s important to work with them to make sure their messaging is correct
- If they are a reseller, you need to fully enable them to sell the solution you offer
Keep in mind that when you find a partner, there is the expectation that, with continued onboarding and training, they’ll be able to sell more and refer more business back to you. Enabling your partners to be successful in their roles leads to more success for you and your partner program: win-win.
3. Scaling your program: It’s all about timing
You’ve launched your program and recruited partners… Where to next? Scaling might seem like the obvious answer, but keep in mind that scaling is all about timing. Generally, it makes sense to scale if consistent business flows between you and your partners and processes are being built out to handle more volume. However, scaling should be on the back burner if you don't have a lot of business going back and forth just yet.
Understanding the performance of your partner program is pretty easy in practice; here are two things you should look at:
- Partner sourced revenue (top of the funnel)
- Partner closed revenue (which partners are closing what business and when)
For example, if reseller partners are not closing business with you, it's too early to invest in any scaling. However, at a high level, if you’ve had a few good deals closed with a partner, it might make sense to start developing larger-scale processes. A quick tip: should you find yourself with a partner who hasn’t closed any deals in a while, focusing on realignment should be your next step.
4. Creating an ecosystem: Becoming an ecosystem led company
You’ve probably heard the term: ecosystem. It's quite broadly used in the partnership space today, so let's clarify. While you want a relationship between you and your partner, your partner should ideally also have a connection between them and the broader ecosystem of the partners you work with.
As you scale up over time, your partnership program should resemble an ecosystem, with a network of connected partners working alongside each other, growing with each new connection. In practical terms, an ecosystem involves enabling your partners to work with other partners in your industry. A partner ecosystem can also leverage awareness around your brand and product and those of your partners. A practical example of a partnership ecosystem is Ingram Micro Cloud. Working through an existing ecosystem like Ingram Micro Cloud could help broaden their network and increase their ability to promote your product. Regardless of your route, always remember that cross-functional work between you, your partners, and the broader ecosystem is the best way to grow your business.
5. Everything after: Setting your partnership program up for continued success
You made it! With a tailored partnership program built to scale within a larger ecosystem, it might feel like you’re at the finish line, but this is actually just the beginning. With an eye on continual improvement, here are a few tips to help set your partner program up for long-term success:
- Make it easy for partners to work with you by keeping lines of communication open
- Ensure partners have all the resources they need through each stage of their growth
- As your product evolves, make sure their training adapts to keep product knowledge current
- Keep opening up new pathways to help them generate revenue and watch that ecosystem grow
This is the maintenance phase. Focus on listening to your partners, identifying and addressing any issues that may arise, and adapting together as you grow. Growing and improving together – this is the fun part!