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How to Utilize Partners in All Aspects of Your Organization

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Once the groundwork is laid for your partner program, what’s the next step? Whether your program is taking off or you’re struggling to hit certain goals, evaluating the types of partners you’re working with is key to growing and scaling.

Taking a step back to evaluate gaps in your sales ecosystem can exponentially increase the results from your channel program, though. And this is where the value of adding new types of partners comes in.

A value-added reseller will help you attract new kinds of customers compared to an indirect reseller, for instance. A managed service provider will offer a more robust experience for your customers than a referral partner.

So, how do you figure out who else you need in your partnership community and how do you bring them into the fold? Here’s how to start adding different types of partners, where they can bring the most value to your organization, and the next steps as you scale.

Why Channel Partners Benefit from Dedicated Marketing Materials

There are numerous possibilities of partner type combinations and nuances that can elevate your channel sales program. The five most common types of channel sales program partners include referral, reseller, value-added reseller, alliance, and managed service provider partnerships.

Referral partnerships

Referral partners are third parties who promote your product or service directly to their own networks, tapping into the trust and credibility they’ve established with those relationships. This means the leads they send you tend to be highly qualified. 

This type of partner typically receives a commission or fee for sales associated with their efforts. Affiliate partnerships can fall under this category – if they’re posting a link to your product on social media, for example – but affiliates tend to be more hands-off.

Referral partnerships are particularly beneficial for your sales and marketing teams since these alliances help introduce your organization to new markets.

Reseller partnerships

A reseller partner sells your product or service to their customer base, helping you reach a much larger audience than you otherwise would have thanks to their connections. Unlike a referral partner that brings you leads, a reseller will typically be involved across all stages of the customer journey.

They usually make money from the profit margins, although they may receive a percentage of the sale.

Reseller partnerships are also valuable for your sales team, as they take on many of the standard responsibilities of the sales cycle.

Value-added reseller partnerships

Channel value-added resellers (VAR) partners are quickly becoming the most popular type for many businesses. Like a reseller, they extend your customer base by taking your product or service to new markets and adding a profit margin to it.

However, the difference is that they also provide additional value to the end-user which can be anything from services to customizations. This makes your product more competitive and tailored to that specific audience base. VAR partners are particularly helpful for increasing sales volume over a short period of time and getting products to market quickly.

Similar to reseller alliances, these partnerships are valuable to the sales team as they bring your product into established markets. However, VARs are also valuable for your product team, as they enable new capabilities through your product.

Alliance partnerships

Alliance partnerships are formed by organizations in a similar business – like software, cloud services, or other tech – that integrate two products into a single solution for the customer. To learn more about this specific partnership method, read Channel Partner Integration Strategies.

It can require more investment upfront to create a joint venture with an alliance partnership but the payoff can be significant, both in terms of the product offered and any co-marketing opportunities.

Alliance partners often receive a percentage of the sales revenue. In an ideal alliance, both sides benefit equally from sharing access to customers. It doesn’t have to be a 50/50 revenue split, though, if one partner benefits more in other ways. Take it on a case-by-case basis.

Alliance partnerships benefit almost every aspect of your organization. Of course, alliance partners benefit your sales and marketing teams, by introducing you to new markets and enabling enhanced capabilities. However, alliance partnerships also benefit your product team by integrating your solutions to create one, even more, valuable solution.

Managed service provider partnerships

Managed service provider (MSP) partners deliver ongoing services, like IT infrastructure, to your customers after the sale. This can make your software more attractive to a consumer because it removes potential barriers to implementation and upkeep, improving the overall customer experience.

Partners like this can receive a percentage of the sale, but also benefit from the ongoing revenue generated from value-added services. 

MSP partners benefit sales by reducing common barriers, however these partners also improve the overall customer experience, reducing effort required from your team.

Pause immediately if you have yet to flesh out your guiding channel partner marketing goals.

 Not only will the lack of direction make your campaigns aimless, but you’ll struggle to measure their success and make informed decisions based on the data.

Choosing the Right Channel Partner Types

When figuring out which partner types to add to your channel sales program, the choices can seem overwhelming. With so many options for partners, how do you know which ones are the right fit for your program at this point in time? 

If you are just starting out with a newly established partner program, you have both the advantage and the challenge of laying the groundwork. Before launching into half a dozen different categories of partners you’d like to work with, take stock of what you may already have running in the background. 

Most partner programs have roots in informal partnerships, like organic referrals or resellers, long before an official structure is developed. So, consider who is already working with you and what has already proven successful when you start to solidify your ideal partner types.

Targeting sales gaps and goals

Once you’re at the stage of adding additional partners types, start by identifying gaps in your ecosystem that partners can fill as the first step. After all, your partners are an extension of your sales team and so tapping into the extra capabilities they bring to the table can be a huge source of support for your internal team.

  • Is your team struggling with the number of leads coming in and needing help with a more hands-on approach to sales? A highly-motivated reseller might be a good fit.
  • Do you need partners who can generate their own leads? Referral partners with an established customer base or value-added resellers, for instance, can be a lifesaver.
  • Are you looking to improve the after-sales experience for your customers with ongoing services or support? Consider the benefits of managed service providers or alliances.

When you’ve established the baseline needs for your channel sales program and what gaps should first be filled, take a step back to focus on the more long-term business goals.

What are the ultimate results you hope to achieve with your channel sales program? Do you want to enrich your product with tech partners? Are you hoping to build up a pipeline of resellers?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution for the best type of partners to include in any given channel sales program. And the best type for you will likely evolve over time as your program grows and your business goals shift.

That’s why it’s so important to set performance goals for your overall channel sales program and regularly review what’s working. Ensure your expectations are clearly communicated to your partners, you’ve given them the material and support they need to sell successfully, and you’re measuring the results.

Improving customer stickiness and support

Partners can also be leveraged to improve overall customer experience and support, leading to increased retention rates and lifetime value.

  • Are you struggling to keep up with support requests and customer needs? An MSP may be able to help bridge the gap.
  • Do you experience a high level of customer churn? An alliance partnership can increase the stickiness of your product by providing additional value to users.

Leverage exit interviews and conduct a deep dive into support requests to fully understand where you’re falling short on customer experience. From there, evaluate potential partners to fill solution gaps and drive additional user value.

Expanding marketing reach and capabilities

Your channel is an invaluable resource for reaching a broader audience and extending your marketing team’s capabilities. Through tactical asset distribution and targeted content creation, you can work with partners to reach more potential customers than would be possible for either of you alone.

  • Does your organization struggle to produce certain asset types, like webinars? Consider working with referral partners or affiliates to develop strategic campaigns leveraging each of your strengths.
  • Have you found your marketing campaigns to only reach the same set of audience members? Collaborating with a referral partner, reseller, or alliance partner can effectively broaden your potential audience, without requiring additional effort from your team.
  • Are you limited by a tight marketing budget? By combining your resources with referral partners and affiliates, you can do more with less.

Optimize your content library and PRM for your partners to get the most value out of your content. Assets you develop can have an exponential impact when picked up and distributed by your partners. Meanwhile, you can achieve greater results by combining your resources to run powerful campaigns.

Help Your Whole Organization Get Value from Partners

While partners have the power to benefit your entire organization, you must take a few steps to ensure your team can get the full value. Consider the following strategies to ensure every aspect of your company — from sales to marketing, through product and beyond — can benefit from your partner ecosystem.

Conduct org mapping

Conducting org mapping early is a critical step to ensuring teams across your organization can benefit from your channel partners. Through org mapping, you introduce the relevant stakeholders from your team to those on your partners’ teams. This is critical to ensure each team knows who they’re working with and who they can reach out to when they need support.

Just like sales, marketing, and product teams, partnerships deserves a seat at the table when it comes to discussing the impact on your organization.

Develop a shared partner directory internally

Your team should be able to access your PRM, with information on all of your partners and what they do for your organization. This will make it easier for various teams to know about the resources in your ecosystem and leverage them when applicable.

Recruit and Reward Each Partner Type Differently

Just like you’re looking for distinct benefits from these different channel partner types, each partner will also weigh the advantages of working with your organization. What motivates each partner type can vary greatly depending on where they’re coming from.

Thoughtful recruitment messaging and incentive packages tailored to the distinct goals of your individual partners can go a long way in building long-lasting relationships that are successful for both parties.

A partner who is referring a set number of new leads to your sales team each month, for instance, may simply be looking for a set commission on each successful sale. One who is helping you close the deal or is more actively involved in co-marketing efforts will likely be looking for a more competitive commission structure. 

On the other end of the spectrum, a tightly-knit alliance that requires significant investment and effort from both of you upfront – often the case with technology or SaaS partnerships – would need a more comprehensive compensation plan that doesn’t just include monetary rewards.

That could include free certifications or training, the ability for their teams to use your technology solution at a reduced price or strategic visibility to build up credibility. The biggest benefit to a solution partner alliance is the opportunity to multiply revenue from the services offered over the long term. A $100K deal can lead to two or three times that in ongoing revenue from services provided.

Ultimately, the rewards you can reasonably offer are informed by and reflect the responsibilities, required effort, and results for each partner type. 

Consider Partner-Preferred Incentives to discover top reward options partners appreciate.

Reward Your Internal Team for Partner Engagement

Rewards aren’t exclusive to the partners you work with. You can also incentivize your team for their engagement with partners. For example, you can develop commission structures to reward your sales team for appropriately involving partners in the sales cycle.

Similarly, you can create annual and quarterly goals around partner engagement for your marketing and product teams. Suppose you want to launch one new co-marketing campaign per quarter, you can provide bonuses to your team for achieving that goal.

Go-To-Market Strategies for Different Partner Types

As you optimize your channel program to include new types of partners and expand your sales reach, your strategies will become more sophisticated, as well. The types of partner content you create, the way you onboard participants and how you go to market with them will evolve. 

In our new channel partner go-to-market guide, we explore the best ways to increase revenue, expand reach, and boost credibility with your channel sales partnerships for all partner types.

Ali Spiric

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