Partner programs are an excellent way to increase your sales, meet your goals, and grow your business. Many companies that implement partner networks have reported wild successes, so it’s not surprising that an increasing number of marketers are looking to grow and improve on their partner programs.
However, building out an engaging and successful program is a lot easier said than done. Effective marketing strategies are the key to engaging your partners, ensuring they’re happy with your program, and empowering them to sell more of your product—but how do you make it happen? How do you get started?
This guide is designed to help marketers create strategic plans to assist with partner relationship management (PRM) efforts. Our goal is to provide you with a helpful resource that you can leverage when building and improving on your partner program.
CREATING AND DISTRIBUTING CONTENT
When it’s done the right way, content marketing is the foundation of any great partner program. Content creation is an excellent way to strengthen your program and provide your partners with helpful resources. It aids in winning mindshare, gaining trust, and empowering your partners to sell more of your product, with the goal of helping their end customers. With that said, there are many factors that make or break how well a piece of content performs. When you’re creating content, you should make it a point to talk to your partners about what they actually need—what questions do they have? What questions do their customers have? What type of content do your personas respond to?
“I look at content through the lens of the partner —what would be useful for them that they can take and brand for themselves?”
– Chris Samila, Partnerships Manager at Optimizely
In order to be successful, content has to resonate with both partners and audience. Because your partners have different audiences, some may need a deeper description and more background information. That’s why it’s important to create content that addresses the entire sales funnel, along with topics for sales, support, and end users.
The ideal type of content (article, webinar, e-book, white paper, and so on) depends on the target audience and the goal of the piece. When deciding which type of content to enable partners with, look internally to make sure the type of content, the topic of the piece, and where it’s used in the funnel are all in line with the tactics used internally with the direct marketing and sales teams.
When distributing content, you want to make it as easy as possible for partners to access it. It should be easy to share and download—after all, nothing kills a deal faster than if you can’t get content to your partners when they need it the most. By building out an organized, established content library, you can ensure your partners are kept up to date and don’t feel like they’re floundering.
Tip: When distributing content, you want to make it as easy as possible for partners to access it. It should be easy to share and download—after all, nothing kills a deal faster than if you can’t get content to your partners when they need it the most.
TRACKING PARTNER DEAL FLOW
Tracking is an extremely critical part of every partner program. It helps you streamline and optimize sales processes, measure performance, and ensure partners always have the support they need when they need it. By tracking partner deal flow, you can gain advanced visibility into your channel performance and the status of each opportunity.
For example, as a partner, it doesn’t matter if you’re bringing in your first or 100th customer— either way, you take them through the introduction of the content first and then direct them to prospect pages. These are customizable pages that consist of content that’s relevant for a specific prospect. This allows you to create a much more engaging, personalized experience and then track progress along the way.
You can leverage a partner relationship management platform like Allbound to track deal flow and take you through all of the steps to the final stages of the sale. This will help ensure the data isn’t siloed and offer you a holistic view of performance. A PRM solution also integrates with your customer relationship management (CRM) tool and allows you to create notifications so that both the partners and internal sales team can see where content is and at what stage a deal is in at any given time.
KEEPING YOUR PARTNERS EDUCATED
Keeping your partners educated and up to date is imperative when it comes to building out a successful partner program. Your partners can’t sell something that they don’t know anything about, right? However, despite the obvious importance of arming partners with educational resources, many programs fall short in this department.
According to Brainshark, only 35 percent of companies have effective coaching and development for channel partners.
Alternatively, you can better enable your partners by keeping them updated on the latest and greatest company and product info. You can do this in multiple ways—for example, weekly newsletters and blog posts are great opportunities to update partners on new happenings at your company.
Create digital resources that are informative and easy for partners to access. These resources can include tips for selling, fast facts about the company and its products, value statements, and more. If you’re unsure of areas where your partners could use additional education, ask them! You can survey your partners or incite direct feedback to learn where they’re lacking information.
And don’t just focus on your product. Focus on delivering value that your partners can’t access anywhere else, such as industry research, thought leadership, and premium content that’s not available on the web. When partners are educated and invested in a partner program, it increases sales and lessens churn.
You should also consider offering employee certifications and performance incentives. For example, incentive-based gamification encourages partners to educate themselves with points that convert to gift cards. This both rewards partners and helps keep the partner portal top of mind.
CREATING PROCESS-ORIENTED STEPS
First, you should think out your processes: Which steps do you want your customers to go through? Processes should be analyzed, optimized, and redesigned continuously to create efficiencies within your program. Are there certain things that should be completed stepwise that would be repeatable?
You should take a similar approach to the way a marketing team builds out a content generation road map for direct marketing by thinking out your internal processes and the steps that you want customers to take. This ultimately leads to happier clients and reduced churn—sounds like a win-win, right?
In order to build out a successful partner program, there are a few critical steps you should take:
- Perform a content audit. By performing an audit of all your existing content, you can determine which personas and sales stages are covered, as well as where there are currently gaps in your content library.
- Make sure you understand the persona. Do some research and make sure you understand whom you’re talking to (partners, prospects, and so on) and then decide which groups you’ll be sharing your road map with.
- Determine whether you have premium partners. For example, premium partners might gain access to co-branded collateral and premium content that’s not available to your other partners.
- Keep your content current. It takes maintenance to keep things fresh and relevant. You should make it a point to update your content on a regular basis, as this will help ensure it stays current and useful for partners.
- Get comfortable with partner data. Partner data can be messy, and sometimes messy data is hard to work with. By becoming comfortable working with partner data, you can make it easy for yourself to analyze and optimize based on your findings. A PRM tool like Allbound helps with this, enabling you to make better sense of messy data and to gain helpful insights into your partners and your program.
Tip: Tracking is an extremely critical part of every partner program. It helps you streamline and optimize sales processes, measure performance, and ensure partners always have the support they need when they need it.
USING MARKETING DEVELOPMENT FUNDS
Marketing development funds (MDFs) give your partners the flexibility to fully market and brand your product, as well as to help build brand presence and accelerate channel sales. You should decide whether an MDF or CO/OP strategy is best for your partner program, as there are different benefits to both depending on your needs. Either of these can be used for several marketing activities, from advertisements to sponsored events.
Although there are many benefits to using them, they’re often underrated and underused. MDFs sometimes get a bad rap for seeing a low return on investment, but it’s almost always because people don’t know how to use them correctly.
A Channel Marketer study reported that the IT sector alone leaves around $25 billion of unused MDFs dollars on the table each year.
When used properly and with a strategic approach, these funds can actually result in new leads and deals. For example, paid social that’s producing leads is a great use of these types of funds. Partners can also use MDFs to run paid search campaigns in specific verticals where they perform well already.
Follow these MDF best practices to ensure success:
- Establish a clear strategy and program guidelines. You should create a strategy with clear program guidelines up front to ensure you and your partners are always on the same page and avoid miscommunication.
- Understand that your guidelines need to be flexible. It’s important that your guidelines are clear, but leave some room for your partners to express their creativity, try new things, and adjust to unique circumstances.
- Test, repeat, then test again. By trying different tactics, analyzing how successful they are, and optimizing based on your results, you can make sure you’re getting the best possible use out of your MDF dollars.
- Don’t put all of your funds in one basket. Create an accurate and strategic budget for your MDF that allocates funds toward different initiatives, as this will help you make the most of your marketing spend.
- Track your results and repeat what worked. Part of the testing process is tracking your results, repeating what worked, and quitting what didn’t.
- You should also make sure to align your partner campaigns back to your CRM tool. This will help you gain visibility into campaign attribution and return on investment, allowing you to make the best decisions regarding the use of your marketing funds.
Tip: Focus on delivering value that your partners can’t access anywhere else, such as industry research, thought leadership, and premium content that’s not available on the web.
MEASURING YOUR RESULTS
After all is said and done, how will you know if your efforts are successful? Measuring your results is a critical part of any marketing strategy—and partner programs are no different. The best way to improve your strategy is to refine it over time. Try new things, leverage data to assess how successful they are, and adjust your approach based on the results.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s working and what’s not—for example, if you’re arming your partner with resources that they’re not taking advantage of, why? If your partners aren’t making use of your content, you should try to figure out what the barrier is. Is the content hard to access? Is it difficult to share? Is it dated or boring? You may think you’re checking all the boxes by providing resources for your partners, but those resources will be effective only if your partners are using them.
You should make it a point to hold quarterly business reviews with your partners. This will help you identify weaknesses and areas with room for improvement in your partner program. These reviews are a great opportunity to talk to your partners about any frustrations and pain points they may have. They can also help you learn better ways to communicate, teach, and empower your partners to be more successful in the future.
“I look at content through the lens of the partner – what would be useful for them that they can take and brand for themselves?”
– Chris Samila, Partnerships Manager at Optimizely
FINDING THE RIGHT TOOL
All of this is much easier with a PRM solution, which can help with channel sales enablement and address many of the common pain points that are associated with partner programs. However, despite the many benefits that come with investing in a PRM tool, not all companies take advantage of one to manage their partner program.
According to CSO Insights, approximately 61 percent of companies surveyed had no PRM technology in place.
Whether you need a PRM tool depends on the size of the program and how many partners would leverage the tool. This is entirely dependent on your specific program and your needs. Some say that a good rule of thumb is that you need a PRM once you’re working with five or more partners, while others want a PRM in place to help recruit the highest level of partners and grow their program. Essentially, you need a PRM when it takes a substantial amount of time to communicate with all of your partners and keep them updated via email.
When you do invest in a PRM, it’s important that you choose the right tool to meet the needs of your organization. Some PRMs are an allin-one, while others—like Allbound—act as an integrated layer of a tech stack. While some companies and industries require that type of end-to-end solution, others prefer to add to their existing systems. Choosing the right tool for you will help enhance your processes, create efficiencies, and improve your program overall.
A CLOSING THOUGHT
In summary, there are a number of strategic changes you can make to accelerate sales, enhance partnerships, and ultimately improve on your program as a whole. When in doubt, remember to:
- Create and distribute content that empowers your partners to sell.
- Track partner deal flow to gain visibility into the status of each opportunity.
- Provide your partners with frequent training and educational opportunities.
- Analyze your current processes and find ways to create process efficiencies.
- Utilize MDFs to help your partners fund different marketing initiatives.
- Leverage technology (like PRM software) to drive program improvements.
- Measure your results and make adjustments to your program as necessary.
With the right marketing strategies in place and tools at your disposal, you can take your partner program to the next level and accelerate your sales in the year ahead. And just like the right strategy, the right technology can make all the difference. If you’re thinking about investing in a PRM solution to help you manage your program and improve the experience for your partners, learn why one of our customers said they couldn’t live without Allbound.
You can also request a free demo of our PRM software to learn more about Allbound and how our tool can help accelerate your sales, empower your partners, and ultimately grow your channel business.
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