Unfortunately, there’s no secret formula for creating a successful partner program. Other than hard work, grit, and determination, there’s not much we can offer in terms of fail-safe steps to success. What works for one company may be a disaster for another.
That said, there are certainly some steps you can follow to ensure proper implementation and execution.
To be the best, sometimes, you have to learn from the best. So, to help illustrate how to run a successful program, consider these three software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies that operate prosperous partner programs:
Over the last couple of years, HubSpot has solidified itself as an industry standard for successful SaaS partner program stories. In 2014, the partner team consisted of more than 100 employees and generated a substantial amount of monthly new recurring revenue. In fact, in the first half of that year, the program generated nearly 42 percent of the company’s customers and 33 percent of its revenue.
What’s HubSpot’s secret? For starters, the company is rooted in sound marketing techniques. According to former Vice President of Sales Peter Caputa, the company built its foundation on inbound marketing. “From day one, we started hosting a lot of education webinars that were directed specifically at marketing agencies and consultants,” Caputa writes. “When they were over, I just sat back and watched the interest in our program fly in.”
In addition to focusing on resellers’ challenges and the end client’s success, Caputa also claims that it’s up to you to prove that the economics work in channel sales. He claims the best reason to start a channel sales program is because it works for your business. Prove that your program is scalable and work to achieve buy-in across the entirety of your organization.
Caputa concludes that SaaS reseller programs require an entirely different mindset. Across your organization, partner success should come before company success. And for your partners, the end user—or his or her customer’s success—should be the priority. You must work hard to deliver more value up front and work hard to be paid back.
Since its inception in 1999, Salesforce has established itself as a leading customer relationship management platform. In addition to offering a successful SaaS solution, the company has created a massively successful partner program.
The average Salesforce partner respondent reported annual revenue growth of 38 percent and expected annual growth of 45 percent over the next three years, according to IDC. What’s more, by 2020, it’s expected that for every dollar of Salesforce revenue, the combined partners will generate $4.14 of revenue.
What does this illustrate? That the Salesforce Consulting Partner Program is not only strong in its current iteration, but that demand is high, and the program will continue to scale. To meet this growing demand, Salesforce recently outlined a few facets that will drive the future success of its program:
- An emphasis on cross-cloud delivery capability in partner tiering: The updated program will emphasize a focus on cross-cloud capabilities, which will enable partners to better serve their end users.
- Increased focus on expanding an expert consultant ecosystem: The updated program will focus on hiring Salesforce-certified consultants. Partners that train consultants with multiple certifications will benefit the most.
- Increased focus on product and industry specialization: Salesforce Consulting Partners will be able to specialize across products and industries, which allows partners to leverage their own vertical expertise to drive better success.
As we’ve discussed, channel leaders still struggle to tackle issues that plagued the industry a decade ago—issues such as deal registration, margins, demand generation, and incentive programs. If anything, these bulleted points outline Salesforce’s attempt at modernizing its program by offering cross-cloud capabilities across its teams, updated training and incentive programs, and a structure that rewards and leverages specialization.
What does this all mean? That it’s important to stay relevant, address modern demands, and work hard to restructure your program around the needs of your partners.
NetSuite, the cloud-based financial and omnichannel commerce software provider, was given a five-star rating in CRN’s 2016 Partner Program Guide. Launched in 2002, the NetSuite Solution Provider Program saw a major revamp of its partner program in 2011, including:
- Free first-year training in the NetSuite sales training and methodology courses for up to three reps
- Comprehensive go-to-market support, including marketing templates, start-up leads, and access to ongoing leads
- Waivers of first-year program enrollment fees for new channel partners
- Access to SuiteStart Service, a program designed to provide partners with immediate mastery of the cloud and a path to immediate wins
As this illustrates, successful programs provide reps with immediate training tools (SuiteStart Service), incentives (waiver of feeds and free training), and go-to-market support (marketing support and access to leads). NetSuite’s program is built on benefits that start in the recruitment stage, encourage sales and marketing enablement, and offer ongoing training and education.
However, to take things one step further, in 2016, NetSuite announced Partner Altitude, its new program that incorporates tiers based on four core concepts:
- Commerce measures a partner’s ability to sign new customers.
- Competency qualifies partners based on certifications.
- Customers consider success and retention with existing customers.
- Collaboration covers alignment with NetSuite.
Much like Salesforce, NetSuite’s changes represent a move to reward top partners with more credentials. As NetSuite channel chief Craig West claims, the program was introduced to differentiate partners in an increasingly crowded SaaS space. While the new program will recognize the value of each partner, West claims that growth is the most important metric.
How will you build or revamp your SaaS partner program for similar success?