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Perfect Your Partner Management & Sales Framework

A partner sales program runs like a well-oiled machine when supported by a robust framework. It’s never too early to build or reinforce the skeleton on which your partner strategy can thrive in the short and long terms. While a smaller program can get away with cutting corners, it’s only a matter of time before lack of foresight causes unnecessary work or curbs growth potential. Therefore, make sure you have a plan for the following essentials to any partner program framework: 

  • Measurable goals that align with your greater organizations’ 
  • Coordination with fellow teams (Direct, Marketing, etc.)
  • Process mapping
  • Financial management 
  • Performance measurement and reporting
  • Partner relationship management (PRM) technology

Feeling shaky about one or more of these partner management fundamentals? We explore each with greater detail in the following article so you can build your program’s framework with confidence. 

Plan Your Partner Ecosystem to Meet Defined Goals

When asked why you want to have a partner program, the answer may seem simple: to make more money, obviously.

However, you should be able to provide a much more in-depth response. After all, you will need to defend why you want to invest time and resources into your channel partners rather than Direct Sales, inbound marketing, etc. More specific benefits of channel partners can include:

  • Reaching new audiences, such as international customers or a new use case
  • Piggybacking off of partners’ authority to build your reputation
  • Limit upfront investment costs 

Determine your specific program goals, as this will influence the types of channel partners you recruit, the resources you develop, and future projections for how your channel ecosystem will develop.

Build a Dedicated Internal Team to Manage Your Program

In its very early stages, a partner program requires at least one hire who dedicates all of his or her attention to recruiting and managing relationships, developing assets, and creating strategies. With time and success, the team’s head-count should increase with a greater diversity of roles and responsibilities, such as:

  • Channel Account Managers (CAMs) – If technology is the backbone of your partner program’s framework, CAMs are its beating heart. These are the individuals who nurture relationships with partners, providing them with a friendly face and listening ear. It’s common to have some CAMs dedicated to prospecting while others focus on existing partnerships. 
  • Partner Operations – Returning to the analogy of your partner program framework being like a body, partner operations are like your kidneys and liver, cleaning toxins from your system and helping to metabolize nutrients. As we explain in What is Partner Operations, this role encompasses everything from ensuring data accuracy to refining processes and technology stacks. 
  • Partner Program Leadership – Perhaps bestowed with the title of Director or VP, this person is the brain of your partner program framework. Rarely involved in managing individual relationships, they make strategic decisions that steer the program as a whole. 

All three contribute to the framework of your partner program and should be given the necessary resources to excel. Not only may this mean increasing hiring, but also investing in strategically chosen software that limits menial tasks and maximizes their efficiency.

Consult and Coordinate With Supporting Teams 

Your channel partner program is part of a greater company ecosystem, so connect with related teams to ensure goals align and that resources and insights are efficiently shared. Objectives when meeting with various departments are as follows:

  • Direct SalesYour full-time sales team can share insights into which enablement materials yield results, what trainings they provide to newcomers, and projected timelines. However, don’t assume you can use such materials “as is”; as explained in Channel vs. Direct Sales, the strategic needs of the two sales divisions will rarely be identical.
    Also, discuss how the two departments can supplement each other to achieve overall brand goals. For example, if Direct Sales wants to enter a new territory, attracting partners with established credibility amongst new audiences can build awareness Direct Sales can later leverage.
  • Marketing – Make sure that Marketing leadership knows the company-wide benefits of supporting partner acquisition and partner sales with targeted marketing materials. Additionally, make sure your company’s creative minds know any audience- or partner-specific messaging needs. 
    Keep your marketing contact an active member of your partner management framework. Share regular results of various marketing efforts with them and invite them to brainstorm new ideas. 
  • Finance / AccountingHiccups in getting partners paid are a quick way to lose their loyalty. Therefore, address accounting hurdles in advance with the assistance of your company’s financial team.  
Though not mandatory, consider scheduling a regular meeting with each of the above, particularly with Direct Sales and Marketing. This way, your needs can stay semi-top of mind, they can witness and appreciate performance growth, and joint-ideation occurs more frequently.

Map Processes for Different Scenarios 

At no time should partner managers be forced to create solutions “on the spot” or feel lost about how to handle a situation. Therefore, an essential cornerstone of your partner management framework should be processes for various scenarios, including:

  • Recruitment – Convincing partners to join your program or your competitor’s will take some work, such as setting up a thoughtful “Partner With Us” page and crafting preliminary materials. However, you don’t want to cast too wide of a net and accept every interested prospect that comes along. Therefore, specify program criteria and, ideally, formalize the framework for prospective partner scoring.
  • Onboarding – A thoughtful training program is fuel in your rocket, flour in the cake. Partners will swiftly jump ship without you clearly communicating a solid onboarding process. Those that stick around will inevitably fail to generate profit. What’s more, you’ll struggle to create a consistent representation of your brand and products from one partner to the next. Create a foundational compilation of training materials that you organize into a precise sequence that allows learnings to build upon one another. Give an estimation for the expected time commitment for completion. As your partner program grows and participants diversify, give modified versions of the training process to each group that caters to their needs. (Tip: think partner type, location, or tiers)
  • Sales Enablement  – The partner journey doesn’t stop once activated, and neither should the support you provide. Equip partners with playbooks which guide them through interactions with various types of prospects. Other sales enablement materials that should be a part of your partner program framework include presentations, battle cards, case studies, pricing sheets, and white papers.
  • Meeting and communication – Defining the frequency and primary means of communication within your partner sales enablement framework will help participants understand your expectations before enlisting. Additionally, you need to provide managers with guidelines for their meeting structure. This improves the productiveness of the communications and helps to collect essential feedback that you can compare from one partner to the next.
  • Partner progression – If you have a superstar partner who continually breaks records, you certainly wouldn’t want to treat them as you would every other program participant. Create structured partner tiers in which top-performers receive extra bonuses. This will help retain partners’ loyalty, but it also gives partners well-defined goalposts for which to aim.
  • Channel conflicts – When two partners try to take ownership of the same deal, a decisive, premeditated course of action can smooth over the issue much better than an impromptu idea or a glum shrug.

Having predetermined procedures will ensure uniformity amongst your managers and program, and you can describe the processes to potential partners, so they know what to expect. For example, if program participants are well aware of how you will address conflicts in which two partners lay claim to the same lead, there will be fewer accusations of bias if such situations arise. 

Remember, detailing your partner engagement framework processes doesn’t mean they’re locked in forever. Using the preexisting conduct as a jumping-off point, you’re free to amend strategies based on new data and shifting industry standards (in fact, we encourage it).

Finances: Commission Structures, Marketing Budget Allocation, Etc. 

Money makes the world go around, and it does the same for your partner program. It will be the prime motivation for partners and the wind beneath your marketing’s wings. Therefore, make sure your partner sales enablement framework accounts for the following:

  • The commission structurefirst and foremost, decide how you want to pay partners. Most companies choose to reward a share of the generated revenue, but determine if some partners earn more significant percentages based on their value or partner tier.
  • Marketing budget allocationWill you put more money towards recruiting partners or funding partners’ marketing efforts? Will you allocate more of the budget towards a specific product’s promotion or towards attracting particular audiences? Though you can evolve your strategy over time, make such marketing budgeting decisions part of your initial partner enablement framework. Dive deeper with How to Optimize the MDF Claim Process for Channel Partners & Your Team.

Finalize a Mechanism for Measurement

Remember the above-mentioned goals of your partner program? Your partner management framework must include a measurement plan. What partner program KPIs will you track, and what will be your primary metric versus secondary? 

Moreover, establish how you will collect this data and the anticipated use. For example, will you conduct quarterly sales funnel audits? Present channel sales insights using charts monthly? Set up alerts if prioritized metrics fall below a certain threshold? Establishing such needs early on within your partner management framework lets you consistently gather and analyze the same performance indicators over time for maximum visibility. 

Deploying Partner Management Technology to Reinforce the Program Framework

The ideal partner management framework is not shortsighted but rather a series of solutions that you can replicate and scale as increasing numbers of partners come aboard. You’ll soon find that supporting technology like a PRM tool is necessary, as it enables the automation of key management and tracking functions. Your choice of PRM should have the following to best support an evolving, diversifying partner program framework:

  • Tailored content and in-portal experiences based on predetermined partner groups – One proven way to improve program retention rates is to cater the partner experience to individual users, a feat that would be near-impossible to do en masse without the help of technology. 
  • Integrations with other tools, like your company’s CRM – By now, it should be abundantly clear that your partner program framework requires cooperation from outside teams and resources, a philosophy that should carry over to your partner management technology. Integrating your PRM with your CRM enables the two tools to share prospective customer data,  further assisting with automatically blocking deal duplications.
  • Behavior-triggered notifications within the portal – Your people are arguably the greatest asset within your partner management framework, so take necessary steps to minimize their menial work so they can maximize their output. One such way to do so is to automate messages based on partners’ prior portal interactions. 

Let’s say a partner finishes the first leg of the training; they could either email their contact “hi, all done, what’s next?” OR receive an automated, in-portal message saying “great job passing the quiz, click here to start the next training.” The latter spares your CAMs the stress of an overloaded email inbox, letting them manage more partners at once.  

However, a PRM is not the only software you’ll inevitably rely upon as your program grows. Further reinforce the processes that make up your partner program framework with solutions for virtual meetings, professional instant messaging, social media management, and other software detailed in 20 Necessary Tools to Enable Channel Partners to Sell.

Final Notes About Partner Engagement & Management Frameworks 

Ideally, your partner management framework is not stagnant. As you gather new data and your program matures, new opportunities will present, and your plans should adjust accordingly. Use the above points to create your initial partner engagement framework and revisit them regularly to ensure they still serve program needs. 

For additional reading that can benefit your partner management framework and sales ecosystem:

  • Channel Sales Training Courses & Learning OpportunitiesIt’s important for any professional to continue to pursue learning and stay abreast of industry best practices. This article lists our favorite training courses you can use to better partner management practices and build efficiencies into your program’s framework.