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How to Become a Partnership Manager
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Fast track your next promotion with this document to track growth, created by Ben Bassett, Senior Manager of Channel and Alliances at PayStand.

When considering furthering one’s education, one might look into majoring in business, communications, finance, or even veterinary science. But what about partner management? You won’t see many schools advertising, or even holding, this course of study, as it’s still a relatively new career path. Eager learners may not even be aware that it exists. 

The role of the partnership manager is vital for any business with a healthy B2B channel partner program. However, most candidates pursuing this field likely do not have years or decades of partnership management experience. It’s common to start a career in marketing, sales or support and eventually grow into the partnership realm.

There are numerous benefits to working as a partnership manager, and it all comes down to building and maintaining relationships that propel organizations forward. Whereas sales is all about convincing others to purchase a product or service, partner management focuses on the social or human aspect of becoming successful. Those who love creating alliances and channels will be a natural fit for a role in partnerships. 

So, how does one become a partner manager? We’ll take a look at the different careers in partnerships and, more importantly, how someone can break into the industry. 

What is Partner Management?

When two companies decide to form a partnership, someone needs to be in charge of the relationship from day one to ensure it runs smoothly and all parties are realizing benefits. No two partner manager roles will look the same, since partnerships can vary by industry, size and other factors. 

A career in partnerships means seeking connections between businesses and using those as opportunities that benefit both parties. Partnerships are used strategically by organizations to combine resources and promotion efforts to jointly sell products and services, then sharing the profits and reaping the rewards together.

Some businesses have established partner programs, while others may just be starting to build their network of partnerships. Smaller businesses may have employees who are pulling double duty between sales and trying to manage new partner relationships. Others may have several individuals involved in partner strategy and management.

Here are some examples of the roles involved in running partner programs:

  • Partner Manager: an individual contributor in charge of executing established partnership activities
  • Director of Partnerships: manages a team of employees involved in partner programs and maintains relationships with existing partners
  • VP of Partnerships: develops the strategy for partnerships and oversees the program to drive retention and revenue

It’s not uncommon for partner managers entering the world of partnerships to wear many hats. The higher up in the partnership career path, the more an employee will be involved in building strong relationships and developing a strategy that drives the success of the company’s entire partner program.

Defining the Role of the Partner Manager

Much like an account manager is in charge of actively maintaining positive relationships with customers and clients, a partner manager serves to ensure their business meets the needs of partners on an ongoing basis. 

Some responsibilities involved in partner management include:

  • Steering strategy for smaller programs
    Larger businesses may have a Director of Partnerships who reports to a VP of Partnerships, but small companies may appoint the partner manager as the head of all strategic program initiatives. This means the partnership manager will both develop strategy and regularly monitor or execute it.

     

  • Supporting new partner initiatives
    Relationship building and owning, managing and supporting multiple partnerships are at the forefront of the partner manager role, no matter the company size or industry.
  • Coordinating between departments
    Partner managers will work across teams to set all partnerships up for success. Partner managers will support internal training on the company’s partner program and play a key role in enabling co-marketing and co-selling initiatives.
  • Specializing in a specific vertical for larger programs
    Companies with large, established partnership programs will have a variety of partnerships, and they may appoint a specific partner manager to head the individual partnership type. Partner managers may also be in charge of specific partnerships by size or geographic location.
  • Seek out new partnership opportunities
    Great partner managers will always be on the lookout for relationships and alliances that can benefit their organization. Generating these leads may be part of the partner management role, depending on the size of the company.

 

A few skills project managers will need in their day-to-day roles are:

  • Networking
    Managing partner relationships means having an excellent set of soft skills and a knack for identifying new opportunities. Meeting and talking with potential partners means attending events, making calls and scheduling meetings on an ongoing basis.

     

  • Communication
    Maintaining great relationships is all about communicating. Listening to partners, addressing their needs and verbalizing expectations and strategy are all important aspects of the partnership management role.
  • Research:
    Combined with the social aspect of networking, digging into new partnership opportunities can mean searching online for partners that could serve your business best. It’s important to learn as much as possible about existing partners as well.
  • Software Proficiency:
    Partner relationship management software will be used to track and house all partnership initiatives, communications and resources. Understanding how to use this type of platform will be a crucial part of the job.
  • Sales: Having a background in selling products and services can help generate partnership leads and understand how to convert interested parties into official partners.

Since it’s common to transition into partner management with a background in marketing, sales or customer service, not every candidate will have a strong history of partnership-related skills and experience on his or her resume.

Highlighting certain aspects of your professional history will help you stand out to recruiters and hiring managers in the partnerships space.

Here are a handful of professional highlights to consider including on your resume:

  1. Job history in sales, marketing, customer success or product management
  2. College degree in business, communication or other related fields
  3. Creating and/or running a specific campaign and its results
  4. How you have worked to bring different functional areas of a team together
  5. Specific examples of successful collaboration and relationship-building

Remember that many partnership manager roles are entry-level for larger organizations, or they may be new positions for companies with brand-new partner programs. Highlight your ability to maintain relationships in a professional setting and offer examples of results that have stemmed from your past work experience.

How to Become a Partnership Manager

If you’re looking for a partnership management role at a new company, searching terms like “partner manager” or “partnership manager” will provide insight into what companies large and small alike are looking for in a qualified candidate. Past positions in partnerships are ideal, but there are several qualifications employers are seeking that can make the transition into partner management easier.

  1. Client-Facing Experience
    Employers are looking for candidates who have worked as account managers or business development representatives, where interacting with customers and prospects is a key part of the role.

     

  2. Project Management Skills
    Juggling several partnerships means having great multitasking abilities and seeing ideas and tasks through to completion. Working as a project manager or spearheading a successful project can give you the upper hand.
  3. Knowledge of Various Software
    Being tech-savvy is an important part of effectively using a PRM and other software solutions used for communication and driving sales.
  4. Strong Interpersonal, Persuasion, Presentation and Communication Skills
    Communication is key in building relationships. Evidence of roles in which you presented strong verbal and written communication with a variety of stakeholders can give you an upper hand.
  5. Roles as an Account Manager, Account Executive, Community Engagement Manager or in Public Relations
    A background in sales, client support or being the go-to contact that represents an organization will appeal to employers looking for a strong candidate to nurture their partner relationships.

How to Become a Partnership Manager

If transitioning into partnership management sounds ideal, and you’ve got the skills to succeed in this role, finding openings is the natural next step. Look internally at the company you currently work for. Does the business already work with partners? 

If there’s no formal partnership program in place, consider assisting in formalizing partner initiatives. if your company doesn’t have a partner program and you’d like to quarterback the initiative, create a plan and present it to leadership. This can present opportunities for new responsibilities and a new job title.

If you’re looking externally, companies with existing partner programs may be seeking someone to manage these partnerships. The following job boards are excellent resources for funding new opportunities in the partner management space.

As you begin your transition into partner management, becoming well-versed in partnerships will help you gain a better understanding of the role and responsibilities and prepare you for your new career path.

Check out the following resources to further your knowledge of the industry: