Deeper Dives

The Path to SaaS Channel Readiness, Part 1: Scaling the Partnerships Pyramid

Want to grow through indirect channels? In part one of this series, we provide a framework for scaling up indirect revenue with partnerships.

SaaS businesses are increasingly realizing the limits of trying to scale their business through direct sales alone. There are limits to how much you can grow your go-to-market teams because of the costs involved — and limits to how many potential customers those teams can actually reach, no matter how big they are.

Business buyers are increasingly looking to indirect channels like review sites, marketplaces, agencies and resellers to decide what software to buy. That's why the fastest growing software companies are driving more revenue through indirect channels, working with third-party partners that market and sell their product to many more customers (and often larger customers) than they could reach alone.

While launching a partner program isn’t that difficult on its own (especially if you use the right tools), becoming fully channel ready, meaning, ready to give channel partners the ability to sell and support your product entirely by themselves, requires some work to build up to.

That’s why we at PartnerStack have partnered with Ingram Micro Cloud to launch Pinnacle, a program designed to help SaaS companies at every stage of growth prepare to sell through the Ingram Micro Cloud Marketplace, home to 200,000+ resellers specialized in selling SaaS. And once you’re ready to sell through Ingram Micro Cloud’s Marketplace, you’re ready to sell through any indirect channel.

Becoming channel ready requires readiness across five areas of your business, including factors like:

Business readiness

  • Are company executives committed and actively involved?
  • Has the company allocated headcount and budget to partnerships?

Product readiness

  • Does your pricing and licensing model align with partner expectations?
  • Can partners independently sell your product and access support?

Sales readiness

  • Have you identified and documented your target market and customer persona(s)?
  • Do you have resources like videos, scripts, and competitive documentation?

Marketing readiness

  • Do you have success stories or case studies of existing partners to point to?
  • Can you provide partners with co-brandable marketing content?

Operations readiness

  • Will partners have dedicated marketing, sales, and success support from your team?
  • Do partners have access to their own sales and configuration tools?

If you’ve never worked with partners before or are just getting started, there’s a good chance your answer to most of these questions will be no, and that’s OK. The truth is it takes some time to become fully channel ready — but that doesn’t mean you have to wait to start driving revenue with partnerships.

We’ve worked with hundreds of SaaS companies to launch and scale their partner programs through our all-in-one partnerships platform. The approach we’ve seen show the most consistent success in the companies we work with is to start with partner programs focused on driving traffic and leads before building reseller programs that allow channel partners to sell your product themselves. We call this method of scaling channel revenue up from one partner program to the next the partnerships pyramid.

Within the partnerships pyramid, we classify partner programs into one of three categories based on how partners drive business for the software vendors they work with:

  • Affiliate partner programs: partners drive traffic to your properties through tracked links, and earn a cut when that traffic converts
  • Referral partner programs: partners send qualified leads to the vendor to close and support the customer (may sometimes involve co-selling)
  • Reseller partner programs: partners sells on behalf of the vendor (i.e. registers the deal, creates the account, and sets the end client up on behalf of the vendor)
pyramid with affiliate on the bottom, referral in the middle, and reseller on the top
The PartnerStack Partner Pyramid

Why Affiliate > Referral > Reseller

The best approach for most SaaS companies that want to sell through the channel is to first start with affiliate partners, scale up into referral partners, and finally launch their reseller partner program.

Affiliate programs tend to draw in the largest number of partners, but require the least amount of investment to succeed (relatively speaking — they still require investment!). As the complexity of the partner relationship increases from affiliate partners up to resellers, the average deal sizes increases together with the partners’ need for more detailed enablement material. Bigger deals, typically handled by resellers, require more enablement and support — which need more time and resources to develop well.

See more: How to become an ecosystem led company.

chart with number of partners, average deal size, and resources required explored among affiliates, referral partners, and resellers

Through the Pinnacle program, we work with SaaS companies to build their pathway to reseller partnerships by starting with launching affiliate and referral programs first, so that they can:

See partnerships revenue faster

From inception to launch, you can build an effective affiliate program in less than two months — we’ve even helped some companies (like Maropost) do it in as little as three weeks. But launching on sophisticated reseller channels like Ingram Micro Cloud requires dedicating significant time and resources, with typical timelines for launching a reseller channel sitting closer to 12 to 18 months. Simply put, affiliate and referral programs are the fastest way to start seeing revenue from partnerships, and help you build the foundation to scale up into the reseller channel.

Learn and iterate on their partner program more

You can see success with affiliate partners as long as you have some quality resources from them to work from. By contrast, referral and especially reseller partners require far more enablement and resources, often requiring new features built into your product itself. By starting your partnerships strategy with a focus on affiliate partners and their needs, you are affording yourself the opportunity to launch a program without a perfect Ideal Partner Profile (IPP), Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), enablement and support while still being able to realize success through traffic, new partners, and revenue. 

Build the foundation for resellers

Starting with the least complex program type, such as an affiliate program, forces you to focus on setting up the right infrastructure, integrations, and payout processes that will serve as the foundation of your overall channel strategy. This will also allow you to collect insights from the program and its initial partners that will be useful for refining the personas, enablement and support that will be needed when setting up more complex referral and reseller programs.

Framing the development of your channel strategy as concrete and iterative steps allows you to clearly map that progress. Once you can answer “Am I able to recruit, enable, support and realize recurring revenue from this type of partner?” with a confident “Yes!” you’re ready to scale up into your next, more complex program — provided you can dedicate the right resources to it.


This post is part one in our Path to SaaS Channel Readiness series. In the next part of this series, we’ll dig deep into how you can start driving revenue through affiliate partners, and how your affiliate program can lay the foundation for your company’s partnerships future. By the end of this series, you’ll have a complete roadmap to channel readiness that will prepare you to sell through large channel marketplaces including Ingram Micro Cloud.

Want to fast track your path to selling through partners in the Ingram Cloud Marketplace? Register for Pinnacle, a program designed by Ingram Cloud and PartnerStack to help you scale the partnerships pyramid while driving revenue ASAP. Learn more at

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Joint venture

[joynt ven·chr]

A joint venture is a business collaboration between two parties on a project. Both parties will benefit from bringing their shared resources and knowledge, and neither party will take on the sole burden of the risk.


Buyer persona

[bahy-er per-soh-nuh]

These depictions of target customers help to define your company's ideal target customers.


SaaS partner programs

[sas pahrt-ner proh-grams]

SaaS (software-as-a-service) partner programs are a systematic way that software companies form mutually beneficial relationships with agencies, influencers, and other companies to drive business results.

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