As partnership ecosystems continue to grow and develop, so too does the role of a partner manager. Navigating challenging landscapes — decreased workforces, smaller budgets, and internal competition between departments — can make growth difficult. Savvy partnership managers have prevailed with some critical learnings and takeaways in 2023.
Partner managers put the focus on data
One way partnerships managers can secure higher budgets is by emulating marketing departments or paid search campaigns by setting measurable goals and carefully tracking data. Partner managers should ask themselves:
- What is the partner’s lifetime value
- What does life value mean to their company?
Partner managers can use that information to obtain larger budgets for high-value partners and, in turn, experiment more with rewards and incentives.
“We’re seeing that shift, where you can evaluate your partnerships program almost the same way a marketing team would evaluate the success of their campaigns,” says Tellos, adding that well-run partnership programs can often be more efficient than traditional marketing campaigns.
Partner managers look beyond revenue
A data-driven partner manager with a deep understanding of how the program is performing is critical for channel partners’ success. Partner managers should take it a step further by also comparing results to past programs and other revenue-generating campaigns within their B2B SaaS business. However, it’s also essential to look beyond revenue. When evaluating the success of partner programs, be specific with KPIs and OKRs for partnerships.
“Look at things like customer lifetime value or the difference between the customers you get from Google versus the customers you get from partner relationships,” says Harding.
Consider the following questions:
- How long did the customer stick around?
- If not, what caused their churn?
- Does that customer spend more?
- Do they upgrade faster?
Harding advises, “Get granular and try to understand all of the different possible metrics that could speak to the quality of customers that partnerships bring in and also what your partners are looking for.”
She adds that part of successful partner relationship management is finding ways to use data to serve and understand network partners better. It’s also key to know when to pivot if partnerships aren’t as successful as they could be.
Partner managers seek out strategic allies
To speak the same language as a marketing, sales or customer relationship management team, partnerships managers must communicate effectively with those departments. Unless you have a data background or are comfortable with analytics, it’s an area where many partner managers may need support.
“Learn how to partner with other departments,” says Harding. “It’s 100 per cent true. Finding this kind of data is tough and takes time, but learn to be able to partner within your own organization and work on those soft skills within your own company that you’ll need for actual partner relationships,” she explains.
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By partnering closely within the organization, partnership managers can come to a better understanding of how others measure success. In turn, this can influence their own success metrics. “It’s a lot about partnering internally,” Harding says.
Harding adds that partner relationship management is mutually beneficial for other internal departments, likening it to a helpful sidekick to every department within an organization. Partnerships teams can help marketing close deals faster, work through customer service issues and give product feedback to development teams. “Partnerships are the mortar between the bricks,” she says.
Prioritize partnership resourcing
Although partnerships managers can be symbiotic to other internal departments, Harding maintains that partnerships should not be an afterthought. To be successful, companies need at least one dedicated person to partnership management, someone who can effectively scale partner programs.
“It’s a different way of doing things. If you’re not dedicating at least one person to your partnership program, you’re not resourcing appropriately,” she says. “Who’s working on enabling your partners, supporting them, taking the time to pull these kinds of data and then pivoting the program based on that data? You reap what you sow and even if you resource one person towards your partnerships program, it’s a good resource.”
Partnership managers are flexible with rewards
Using data to create flexibility with partner rewards rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to programs is another shift Harding has noticed as competition in the partnerships landscape grows.
“A lot of vendors are now really considering multiple reward offerings, depending on either the partner or the programs specifically,” she says. “It’s less painting every rewards program with the same brush for all partners and more considering other factors.” Some of the factors she identifies include:
- How much effort is the partner putting in?
- Are they top of the funnel? Mid? Bottom?
- What value is the partner currently deriving from my partnership?
- Is it worth their time and effort?
Tellos adds that as you bring larger companies to your partnerships, keeping up with competition and offering appropriate incentives is essential.
“To work with a large partner, you’d have to give them a cost per click (CPC) or a cost-per-signup reward structure,” he explains. “That’s something we’re seeing happen a lot more now that wasn’t the norm before. We have to set up different reward structures to accommodate those partnerships — those bigger fish you’re bringing into your program.”
Partner managers are innovating the customer funnel
What if your entire customer funnel could be partner managed from beginning to end? It’s an exciting trend Harding has noticed starting to come up more and more in conversation.
“Vendors [are] overhauling their entire partner program and dividing partners into managed and unmanaged,” Harding says. “As staff gets more integrated with distribution partners, it’s an interesting way of bridging the gap and offering further support where not all leads have to be done by your sales team,” she says, noting that “it’s a really cool future thing”.
Partnership managers are networking
PartnerStack recently launched an external Slack channel to put clients in contact with one another and encourage them to share tips or ideas for their programs and partner onboarding.
“It’s a better way to disseminate information and truly have a partner ecosystem in place,” Tellos says. “They share what’s working and what’s not working. There’s a very active dialogue there going on. Our clients check it and post in there, which is really cool.”
On the business growth potential of partnerships, Harding adds. “Partnerships is such a new industry and notion, and the way partner managers can level up the fastest is to talk with other partner managers. We very much encourage our partner managers — especially our new partner managers or companies just dipping their toes in partnerships — to talk to other people who are doing what you want to do.”