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How to Rocket to the Top of Your Partner Management Career
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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.

Your years of experience in marketing, sales or customer support gave you an in. You wowed the hiring manager with your distinct combination of hard and soft skills. You were enthusiastically offered a role in partnership management. Now the fun starts!

Depending on the size of your company, the partner manager role can be a stepping stone that propels you forward toward a successful career path for partner managers. If you’re eager to hone your skills in this role, grow your career, progress over time and, of course, earn more money, you first have to know what this career path looks like.

What Roles Are Possible Within Partner Management?

Depending on the scope of a company’s partnership program, it’s common to see overlap between roles in partnerships, particularly the further up you get in the hierarchy. New, more defined positions may be created along the way, such as senior partnership manager or director of partner strategy.

It’s also common to see roles in partnerships referred to as the head of ‘alliances’ or ‘channel’. In many instances, the career path for successful leaders in the partnership space jumps around from organization to organization, rather than following a linear path to the top within the same company.

An example of career progression in partnerships could look like the following:

  1. Business Development Representative
  2. Account Manager
  3. Senior Account Manager
  4. Account Manager Team Lead
  5. Partner Manager
  6. Director of Partnerships
  7. VP of Partner Programs
  8. Chief Business Officer

A less linear career path could look more like this:

  1. Graphic Designer
  2. Creative Team Lead
  3. Marketing Specialist
  4. Graphic Designer
  5. Project Manager
  6. Partner Manager
  7. Branding Consultant
  8. Director of Partnerships

No matter your specific background or area of expertise, the role of partner manager is the entry point for the majority of career opportunities in the partnerships space. The typical qualifications for this position include a bachelor’s degree, proven project or campaign execution with results, excellent communication skills and the ability to form and maintain professional relationships.

Let’s take a look at each role common in the partnership management space, from entry-level up to senior-level executive.

Partner Manager

  • Average annual salary: $60,000
  • Traditional career path: 2-5 years in marketing, sales, account management, customer success or product management 
  • Roles and responsibilities: Initiate, maintain and strengthen relationships with partners and collaborate with internal teams on partner strategies
  • Reports to: Director of Partnerships or Sales Manager

Director of Partnerships

  • Average annual salary: $120,000
  • Traditional career path: 1-9 years as a partner manager or account executive, director of brand strategy or design, marketing director
  • Roles and responsibilities: Manage a team of partner managers, plan go-to-market activities, coordinate cross-functional strategies to achieve partnership goals
  • Reports to: VP of Partnerships

VP of Partnerships

  • Average annual salary: $140,000
  • Traditional career path: 5-10+ years in partnerships, plus entrepreneurial or consultant experience 
  • Roles and responsibilities: serving as the direct liaison between individual contributors and company leadership, defining strategy and impact of partnership programs and managing partner managers and directors 
  • Reports to: C-Suite Executives, e.g. Chief Business Officer or Chief Revenue Officer

After a few years of exceptional performance in the early stages of your partner manager career, you may be wondering what it takes to rise to the top. Or, at least, taking steps toward advancing along your professional journey in this field. These common next steps involve managing a team and having a larger role in expanding your company’s partnership program. 

Getting to the next level requires more than just letting your hard work speak for itself and hoping the right decision-makers notice. There are several actions you can take for rising the ranks and progressing as a partner professional. Note: A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that it will take about two years as a partner manager to make the right connections, fully understand the ins and outs of the role and have metrics to prove your success

5 Tips for Preparing to Advance in Your Partnership Management Career

  1. Build a Strong Network
    The world of partnerships, while relatively new, is ultra-connected. As you interact with your company’s partners and conduct outside networking for new partnership opportunities, consider which contacts could help you professionally as mentors or possible future colleagues.

  2. Choose a Specialty
    For more robust partnership teams, there’s opportunity for individual partner managers to specialize in niche fields or industries. Selecting an area of interest to hone your expertise and skills gives you an advantage, particularly if you look outside your organization for a larger role in partnerships.

  3. Gain Outside Experience
    It’s not uncommon for partnership managers to enter this career path as an entry-level position, then move to another company to gain more experience. Working in partnerships at multiple organizations can offer different perspectives you can then take to a smaller startup in the future to lead efforts in building out partnership programs and manage a team.

  4. Align Teams
    A key part of any partner manager’s role is coordinating across departments to achieve singular goals. The more you prove how well you can lead strategies, campaigns and projects that involve input from multiple departments, the bigger upper-hand you’ll have when vying for management or leadership positions down the road.

  5. Document Everything
    Keep good records of your successful partner initiatives and results, not only to prepare application materials for future roles but also to better perform within your current position. Documenting goals, meeting notes, partner objectives and detailed descriptions of each partner will help you more clearly define which tasks need to be completed and further aligns the teams you’re working with.

Metrics for Success

As you advance in your partnerships career, you’ll have a more active role in building out partner programs and coordinating individual contributors to achieve overarching goals. So, how do you make your partner program stand out, and what will success look like? Consider both of these questions as you navigate the partner landscape and work to get executive buy-in.

Steps to Building Our Your Partner Program

First, determine whether the partner program you’re leading is brand new or already established. In either case, prove you can work with, expand and retain existing and new partner opportunities. Regularly ask questions about partners’ goals and gain a deep understanding of how the relationship will help both parties succeed.

Next, figure out where you want to go as you settle into your leadership role. Which partners do you want to attract? Where does it make the most sense to show your company’s product or offering? Which companies will be most powerful to form alliances with?

These are all great questions you will work to answer, but don’t worry if you can’t answer all of them in the first few weeks. The most important step is to just get started. You can experiment early on and iterate on your partnership strategies and initiatives later on.

Take Action Depending on Program Maturity

New programs allow for some wiggle room and creativity. However, you have to work to build an internal culture that supports partner goals to get everyone rowing in the same direction. Focus on this internal buy-in while working to build an external network of partners. Creating a solid foundation first will drive more revenue and value both for your organization and your partners.

Established partner programs require you to deliver on predetermined revenue goals as a baseline, then expand upon existing strategies with new integrations, technology for automation and operationalized go-to-market plans. Keeping the program fresh while continuing to nurture and refine what’s already working will increase your chances of success.

Measure the Right Data

Identify areas to improve, expand and repeat by reporting on metrics that matter. Zoom out to view your big-picture goals. Where do you want to take your partner program in the first 60 days, 90 days, six months and/or year? Having larger goals will help you incrementally break down your plans into smaller, actionable steps. Then, you can measure the results of these smaller tasks to see if you’re on track to meeting those bigger milestones.

Set the following KPIs and parameters for analyzing your success within a given period:

  • The # of new partners
  • The # of new leads
  • Revenue directly tied to deals your partners made

Revenue influenced by your partnership (i.e. you closed the deal, but your partner offers an alley-oop to help you get through the hoop).

Grow and Scale the Partner Program

No matter what phase of your partner management career you’re in, you will have a hand in growing your partner program and contributing to the success of your organization and partner network. Follow the steps below to better prepare for program growth and scalability as you travel along your career journey in partnerships. 

  • Get a mentor: Learn from others and stay curious; form close relationships with mentors who can help you navigate the world of partnerships and are rooting for your success.
  • Expand your team: As you advance, hire the right partner managers with specific skill sets and areas of expertise so you have a strong, solid and diverse team.
  • Wear lots of hats: A varied background is beneficial in partnerships because you’ll be taking on many responsibilities; remember, if you’re not an expert in a niche field, hire someone who is.
  • Set mutual goals: Support partners by aligning on your goals in a given time and checking in on progress using the same indicators for success.
  • Drive revenue: At the end of the day, all actions you take should play a role in boosting revenue for your organization – this will help you get the executive buy-in you’re looking for as well.
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