Developing your partner operations is the essential next step once you’ve started to see success with your program, but it’s an area that many organizations struggle with.
In fact, the most recent State of Partner Ops and Programs Report by HubSpot advises that “implementing a scalable partner program with repeatable processes is organizations’ biggest partnership challenge.”
We recently spoke with Kelly Sarabyn, Platform Ecosystem Advocate for HubSpot, about that report and changes in partnership operations strategy on our podcast.
“As you scale out, you can no longer have a super high touch with all your partners. It’s just not scalable,” she said.
“So, you have to think through ‘How do we allocate resources to all of our partners efficiently and effectively, but in a way that we don’t need an individual person to be making those decisions and making those calls?’
LISTEN: Writing the Next Chapter of Partner Ops, Programs & Strategy
Processes that can easily be recreated and repeated save significant time and resources, allowing you to scale partner operations much more efficiently. When you’ve implemented a system for onboarding partners that works, for example, or when you’ve found a successful way of tiering partners, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
We’ll dig into the key processes that underpin a partner program and how to structure them so they can easily be repeated.
“One of the greatest indicators of driving more revenue from your partners is putting in place a programmatic partner program.”
Kelly Sarabyn, Platform Ecosystem Advocate for HubSpot
Recruiting and Signing Partners
In the early stages of a partner program, partnership recruitment is often less formalized and may be done on an ad hoc basis as opportunities arise.
As your partner program matures, however, having a repeatable process to thoughtfully and intentionally bring in new partners is critical to growth.
To make recruiting and signing new partners repeatable, optimize each step of the recruitment process:
1. Identify your ideal partner (and customer)
Start by thinking about your ideal partner profile. The criteria you decide on as a team should be aligned with your overall business goals. It can include factors like geographic location, audience type, complementary products or services, business goals, specializations and other differentiators that help move the needle. Make sure to differentiate between must-haves and nice-to-haves as you go through the list.
Once consensus is established about how you are evaluating and qualifying potential partners with clearly outlined criteria, formalize your ideal partner profile in a living document accessible to the team as they recruit new partners.
Likewise, explicitly document the ideal customer that partners will be helping you reach. Are they in a particular industry? Or company size? Are you expanding internationally or going deeper in a specific geographic area? Document your goals and share this information with your partners.
2. Reach out to potential partners
That plan should include step-by-step details about where you’ll focus your efforts to find partners and how you will entice them to join.
Assign an owner to each partner recruit and make the process trackable. For example, use a sales engagement platform that integrates with your CRM, so you can track the outreach activity.
3. Sign partners
Once a partner is ready to enter the partnership agreement process, the next steps should require minimal time if the right foundation has been established.
Create a template through an electronic agreement management system, like DocuSign for example. The Partner Ops team should own this part of the process and the documents to ensure they are fully versed in the terms and specifics of each agreement.
4. Segmenting partners
From there, create service level agreement templates based on each of these factors to streamline sharing specific information with partners as they join your ecosystem.
Holding Up Your End of the Deal: Leads, Deals & Commissions
Make sure to include how the deals are being captured and qualified, in addition to what distribution process your organization follows – whether leads are assigned on a first-come-first served basis or shared based on other factors.
As with all documented processes, the lead distribution process should be shared with partners during onboarding and remain accessible throughout the relationship for reference. It could be housed, for example, with other training documents in the PRM content library.
When it comes to rewarding partners for their efforts and paying out commissions, it’s just as important to be transparent. Setting up a formalized channel partner commission structure early on helps manage, calculate and payout commissions – even as your program grows.
A PRM system can help solve the operations piece of this puzzle by automatically calculating commissions and showing them in a dashboard, as well as connecting to your CRM for easy tracking.
Strategically Supporting Partners Beyond the Sale
A key responsibility of partner operations is to direct strategy that ensures the smooth running of the entire partner program. And in a partner ecosystem, supporting partners is central to that strategy.
The questions your partners have and the support they need will rarely be a one-off. Developing a process that can be repeated with all partners is a much more efficient way to manage the operations of your program, while also improving the experience for your partners.
These are some of the most important elements of a supportive partnership model that can be made repeatable.
As you develop a repository of supporting materials, ensure that all partners are being given equal learning opportunities by setting up a foundational curriculum.
Organize training resources in a content library to make it easier for partners to find answers to their questions and avoid recreating the same piece of content multiple times.
A PRM system can help automate the training process, guiding partners through each stage of the learning modules, and measure completion rates.
While each initiative will look different based on your goals and partner, there are some underlying operational elements that can be established to make joint promotional activities a breeze.
Set up criteria for who you will work with for this type of engagement. One way to segment this can be partner tier, for example.
From there, establish internal protocols determining how these initiatives will be managed and who will maintain ownership.
Beyond commissions, having specific reporting structures and KPIs in place to track makes rewarding partners for going above and beyond that much easier.
It also makes implementing those rewards much more streamlined as more partners are brought in, keeping everyone on the same page.
Rewards can be completed automatically with a trigger or, for more complicated rewards structures, signed off by an admin and pushed out manually.
People Before Processes, Even in Partner Operations
One of the main challenges with improving partner operations comes down to people: hiring the right people and gaining support from the right stakeholders.
Partner operations is often one of the later roles a partnership team brings on, after filling other positions such as partnership management and marketing. A lack of internal partner operations expertise makes it difficult to know what processes to focus on and how to best tackle issues as they arise. And without a dedicated role focused on operations, it can fall through the cracks.
Hiring someone who specializes specifically in partner operations – like a partner operations manager – is invaluable when it comes to strategizing, optimizing and executing.
Likewise, focusing on getting support from all stakeholders goes a long way in building a scalable partner program. That includes other departments, like sales and marketing, in addition to executive leadership.
“If you can’t get the budget and the headcount to actually get a partner ops person in there and set up what you need in terms of systems and processes, you can struggle to show the ROI needed move it to the next level,” Sarabyn told us on the podcast.
“Start small, show the impact and then gradually scale it out. Get more resources on the operations side as you go.”
Great Partnerships Are Built on Great Partner Processes
Strategic partner operations make the world of partnerships spin around. Check out these additional resources on how to build great processes that underpin great partnerships.
Channel Partner Lifecycle Management – Processes for Each Stage – It’s crucial to have resources available to educate and nurture your partners throughout the partner lifecycle. Explore management strategies and processes for each stage.
Partner Management Automation: How to Execute with Optimal Results – Partner management is one of the most time-consuming parts of running a channel. Dig deeper into why you should automate certain aspects of your partner management cycle and how to get started.
The Secret to Partner Retention: Treating your Partners like Customers – Gaining and retaining partners isn’t always simple. Rely on this checklist of best practices for better partner retention.
Partner Lead Management: Software Solutions & Practices – Learn how to leverage a PRM as part of your partner lead management strategy. Doing so will drive deal efficiency and increase your conversion rates, among other benefits.
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