April 6, 2021 – G2Crowd, the world’s leading business solutions review website, released its Spring 2021 Report on Partner Relationship Management (PRM) Software. Allbound continues to be recognized by G2Crowd Grid Reports due to the responses of real users for each...
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, especially as the business and marketing landscape continues to shift and evolve.
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? What tactics from past programs need to be revisited in the current market?
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 A CHANNEL MARKETING STRATEGY
As with any component of your marketing, the first step in your partner marketing program should be developing a strategy. This strategy should be built on company business goals and priorities and, if done right, will help you shape your partner program for maximum success and select your best-fit tactics.
The key components of a traditional marketing strategy apply to partner strategy, too, but there are several nuances. One key difference is that you often need to think about both levels of the program at once: both your strategy for reaching partners, and your partners’ strategy for reaching end-user customers. Another is that the skill sets needed to run a successful partner program might be different from a traditional sales or marketing role.
Consider the following areas of your partner marketing strategy:
• Target Audiences: Discuss and select your target audience. Do some research and build personas to help you understand how to best reach them. A partner persona specifically is critical, as it will help you understand what partners need to be successful, what will motivate and enable them to sell, and how they want to be supported.
• Goals: Set specific, measurable goals for your partner program that are aligned with high-level company goals. Examples are a set revenue target or number of new opportunities within a certain timeframe.
• Competitive Landscape: Perform a competitive market analysis for both your core offering and your partner program to help you determine your unique value proposition (UVP) and position in the market.
• Messaging: Establish a core messaging platform to support your content development and sales enablement activities. This document should cover the pain points you solve, the business value of your offering, competitive differentiation, and your UVP.
DEVELOPING YOUR PROGRAM STRUCTURE & PROCESSES
Once you have a high-level strategy in place, you should think out your structure and specific processes: Which steps do you want your partners to go through as they join your program and grow the engagement?
Here are a few examples of process considerations as you build your program structure:
• Tiering: Determine whether you have premium partners—top performers who can gain access to co-branded collateral and premium content that’s not available to your other partners. What steps qualify a partner for the top tiers?
• Content Utilization: Think about the flow of content along the buyer’s journey. Which pieces of content should partners use, and when?
• Customer Outreach: Recommended outreach cadences for customers can help structure the sales process—plus, if you have a process in place, you can see what is and isn’t working.
• Analysis: Regular review of your partner program is a process, too! Track partner performance metrics periodically to see what can be improved or expanded.
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?
Utilize Channel Insights, or business intelligence, to discover which learning tracks, playbooks, or co-branded content top performers are utilizing. Similarities in high yielding partners can be utilized as a framework, or a playbook, for other partners. Think about any processes that could be automated or optimized to save time and increase your ROI.
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?
• Do you have metrics to show what’s being used?
“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
Target Audiences & Messaging:
In order to be successful, content has to resonate with both partners and end-users. Within the partner company, you’ll need to think about the different roles: sales representatives, marketing teams, and technical sales engineers will all get the most value out of different kinds of content. On the end-user client side, different audiences 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. For more information on this register for the Allbound + Magnetude Consulting webinar on March 10th.
Different types of content include:
• Article – this is typically a casual blog with the aim of educating end-users. Education can vary from first introduction to a seasoned veteran, so it’s important to have a persona in mind when writing a piece.
• Webinar – this format works really well when it comes to engaging with end-users on a personal level. This gives you the opportunity to showcase your brand personality and gives opportunities to be interactive with your audience.
• E-Book – these longer form content pieces are ideal for topics that may contain multiple learning opportunities.
• White paper – a white paper is typically utilized as a quick runthrough of your offering.
• Customer success story – there’s no better way to showcase your company, or partnership, than to social proof. Include growth statistics and measurable KPIs to make a true impact with this content.
• Template – when an end-user is at the beginning of their journey a template is a fantastic way to solidify yourself as a trusted source in their progress.
Keep your content current. It takes maintenance to keep things fresh and relevant. You should make it a point to review and update your content on a regular basis, as this will help ensure it stays current and useful for partners.
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: Wondering where to start? Perform a content audit. By auditing 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.
KEEPING YOUR PARTNERS EDUCATED
Keeping your partners educated and up to date is imperative when it comes to building out a successful partner program. In fact, in a recent survey of partner program managers, 40% indicated that training and onboarding programs had a direct impact on revenue.
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.
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.
To get started, put a recommended process in place for partners to follow as they work a deal. 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.
Monitor key metrics for deals as they progress, such as deal value, number of touches, and the rate it moves through the stages. When you’re ready, 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. This gives you the ability to add more complexity to the program and introduce efficiencies that can help add value.
When a Magnetude Consulting client realized that their channel program was in serious need of a boost, they used sales enablement to drive real results. After refining their sales and product message, fortifying their partner portal, and creating a cadence of outreach, they targeted training and continued engagement to help their partners succeed quickly. Here are a few techniques that worked:
• Customized training programs for partners’ sales teams—from the corporate level to the on-the-ground reps
• Specific questions to teach reps to identify leads and tackle the sale.
• Sales feedback loop to coordinate what was (and wasn’t) working.
Their sales enablement focus paid off—to the tune of $2 million in net new opportunities in just three months.
There are a couple of different ways to educate your partners and keep them updated on the latest and greatest company and product info.
Digital Resources: Create digital sales enablement resources that are informative and easy for partners to access. These resources can include:
• Sales cheat sheets and battlecards
• Fast facts about your company and offer
• Value statements
• Qualifying questions
• Sales playbooks
• Shared success stories
• Email and campaign templates
Educational Opportunities: Actively educate partners on topics they should know, provide regular updates, and build a relationship. Tactics include:
• Blog posts
• Lunch & Learn or Coffee Break sessions – virtual or in-person
• Check-In Meetings or reviews
An ideal sales enablement strategy uses components of both: Provide resources for your partners, but also consider what educational delivery method will work best.
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. For example, Allbound recently produced a Partner Actions that Lead to Revenue Study to help their partners determine how best to grow their sales. When partners are educated and invested in a partner program, it increases sales and lessens churn.
If your partner organization allows it, you should also consider offering performance incentives. This both rewards partners and helps keep your company top of mind. Each of these incentive formats could be a topic by themselves, but examples include:
• Employee certifications: For some industries and companies, a certification from your product can be a great portfolio-builder for partners, and can even be tied to higher compensation.
• Spiffs or direct payments: Provide monetary incentives or gift cards for sales reps who reach a certain threshold or complete a goal. Work with your partners to determine the best format given their business.
• Company swag: Incentivize partners with high-value prizes – ideally something they’ll use often at work to keep your company top-of-mind. Who doesn’t love a good logo sweatshirt?
• Incentive-based gamification: Encourages partners to educate themselves with points that convert to gift cards or other prizes.
BUILDING A MARKETING DEVELOPMENT FUND PROGRAM
Offering 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.
Although there are many benefits for partners to use MDF, they’re often underrated and underused. A Channel Marketer study reported that the IT sector alone leaves around $25 billion of unused MDFs dollars on the table each year.
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. 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. It can be helpful to pilot a tactic with one partner and get feedback before rolling it out to the whole program.
• 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.
• Communicate and provide support – each partner will have a different level of experience with marketing. Share stories about what’s working, educate partners on the top channel marketing techniques, and encourage them to come to you with new ideas.
• Try incorporating MDF as part of incentive programs or offer different levels based on partner tier.
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.
Here are a few Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you should be tracking for your partner program:
• Sales: While there are many benefits to a strong partner program, ultimately, you’re in it for the sales. Measure revenue per partner, both individually and as an average. Track how the sales compare among different partners and partner types to identify and enable top performers—and look for potential areas of growth for bottom performers.
• Deals: It can also be valuable to measure the number and size of deals that a partner brings in, even if not all of them result in a sale. Deals are often easier metrics to measure initially because there is a higher volume and faster cycle—you can see what tactics are working sooner.
• Resource Utilization: You put a lot of time into creating quality resources for your partners—make sure they’re using them! Track number of downloads, co-branding requests, or resources sent.
Tip: With Allbound Channel Insights in the marketing tab you can track:
• Total content pieces
• Percentage of content that has gotten engagement in the last 30 days
• Engagement trends MoM and YoY
• Channel content breakdown by content type
• Top 15 completed learning tracks
• Top and bottom 15 engaged content
• And more
• Customer Satisfaction: Make sure end-user clients are satisfied with the product or service, as well as with the support they receive from your partners. Monitoring customer satisfaction helps you protect your brand and improve your retention rate.
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.
Additionally, 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, as well as provide specific feedback to partners and stay top of mind. Research shows that regular touchpoints are key to success: Nearly 50% of partnership managers report that meetings, check-ins, and interactions with partners helps drive more revenue.
These reviews are also 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.
Finally, it’s important to get comfortable with partner data in your tracking process. Partner data can be messy, and sometimes messy data is hard to analyze. 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 the information and to gain helpful insights into your partners and your program.
“There are many benefits to a well-executed partner program, but ultimately, you’re in it to drive sales. Measure your sales and revenue first as the key indicator that your program is performing.”
– Leslie Bishop, Senior Channel Marketing Consultant, Magnetude
FINDING THE RIGHT TOOL
There are a lot of components to a successful partner marketing program, and a little additional support can make it much easier.
A PRM solution 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.
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 onboard, train, and 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. Choosing the right tool for you will help enhance your processes, create efficiencies, and improve your program overall.
GETTING SUPPORT WHERE YOU NEED IT
Building and optimizing a channel program requires ongoing investment: generating quality content, implementing partner engagement and demand generation programs, managing incentives and spiffs, and more. Many in-house sales and marketing teams find they don’t have the capacity to do justice to their channel program needs in-house and benefit from outside support. Additionally, not all in-house marketing teams have experience with partner programs, so it can be helpful to bring in an experienced external team who can help you strategize, build your partner program, recruit and support partners, and analyze and optimize your program to support your growth goals.
Areas of support can span from pure execution assistance to a strategic review and optimization or expansion of a partner program. Typical areas for outsourcing supporting execution include adding manpower to produce collateral and educational content, creating and sending partner newsletters, partner training events, and other logistical tasks.
Other firms need more than just the channel marketing execution manpower; their partner program might be in its infancy and they need to determine where to make the smartest marketing and sales enablement investments. Or the program might be underperforming and require a reassessment to determine what changes to make and the best approach for doing so. Often, a strategic review by a seasoned channel consultant uncovers some quick wins and low-hanging fruit that can have a big impact in a short timeframe, in addition to setting the right broader strategy.
When looking for the right marketing firm to support your partner program, perhaps the most important consideration is their knowledge and expertise of channel and partner marketing strategies and programming. The team should have a proven track record of helping similar clients, a demonstrated process for optimizing and enhancing your partner program, and should take the time to understand your current efforts and be able to speak to strategic opportunities that will help you achieve your goals.
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:
• Form a channel marketing strategy that sets your program up for success.
• Create and distribute content that empowers your partners to sell.
• Provide your partners with frequent training and educational opportunities.
• Track partner deal flow to gain visibility into the status of each opportunity.
• Utilize MDFs to help your partners fund different marketing initiatives.
• Measure your results and make adjustments to your program as necessary.
• Leverage technology (like PRM software) and external resources to drive program improvements.
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 and strategic resources 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.
If you’re interested in exploring outsourced marketing support to help build or augment your channel marketing efforts, Magnetude offers a free channel consultation to discuss your program goals and needs and provide directional recommendations. Having helped with over two dozen companies launch their channel program or increase its revenue impact, Magnetude’s unique channel expertise can help you strategize, execute, and optimize your partner program for the biggest impact. Request a free channel consultation to learn about key strategic considerations for your program and get advice on how to grow in the smartest way.
Allbound’s partner relationship management (PRM) tool allows you to automate partner training, manage MDFs, co-brand, and gain visibility into what’s working all while integrating with your favorite tools.
When your business relies on partners, it’s vital to empower them to sell better and more efficiently. Allbound is a flexible SaaS platform that helps any size business recruit, onboard, measure, and accelerate growth through sales and marketing partnerships.
Make every engagement between you and your partners – and between your partners and their prospects – simpler, productive, rewarding and engaging.
Magnetude is a B2B marketing firm that pioneered the fractional marketing approach for small to medium tech-related businesses. The firm offers a wide range of strategic and execution-focused marketing services to seamlessly dovetail into client growth goals. The company specializes in growth strategy consulting and fractional marketing department services including marketing strategy, messaging, branding, websites, content development, digital marketing, demand generation, sales and channel enablement, and brand visibility.
Magnetude services clients across the globe and brings specialized expertise in areas including cybersecurity, big data/AI, SaaS products, B2B professional services, and emerging and established technology related products and services.
Needham Heights, MA
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