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The Partner-First Approach to Developing Partnerships That Add Value

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Partnerships are no longer just a ‘nice to have’ – they’re a must in today’s world. If you’re reading this, you likely already know the value that partners bring to an organization: how they help shorten the sales cycle, increase conversions and drive interest from a wider audience, among other benefits.

But how do you go about developing partnerships that drive real impact and tangible results? Partners are great, but the right partner is irreplaceable.

There are two pieces to this puzzle: finding the right partners who will help you add value to start with and then developing those partnerships to leverage that potential.

What Does Adding Value Through Partnerships Look Like?

As a whole, partnerships provide immense value to the entire ecosystem: to your customers, to your organization and to your partners themselves.

For customers, that means a better product or service.

Exactly what this looks like depends on the partner type and your relationship with them. But, in essence, it involves adding something extra to your product or service that fills a customer need.

That could be anything from additional features to a tech integration to post-sale support or a multitude of other added benefits.

Better Solutions Together

As just one example: independent software vendors (ISVs).

Amiee Keenan is the Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at the ISV Society, which helps support and help ISVs create joint marketing initiatives and generate leads. The company was recently recognized as Allbound’s Channel Marketer of the Year.

Keenan explained what adding value to the customer means in her community.

“Basically what we do – or what ISVs do is create solutions for the numerous ERPs [Enterprise Resource Planning] out there, such as Microsoft, Acumatica, NetSuite, Sage SAP and make those solutions even better,

Amiee Keenan

Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at the ISV Society

“ISVs have a really integral part in the ERP process … ISVs can help enhance those systems that partners are selling and make them more attractive, helping meet the customer’s needs.”

Not only is that beneficial for the end-user, but it means that the company itself is able to offer a more tailored, specialized product.

“They can leverage the ISVs that really also concentrate on that buyer in that industry and that niche to leverage each other’s expertise in that area, as well as the solutions that enhance it,” Keenan said.

And that, in turn, can help attract leads and shorten the sales cycle to improve the company’s margins. It’s a win for partners, too, who can tap into a wider network of leads and gain valuable insight for long-term growth in addition to in-the-moment selling support like co-marketing initiatives.

To recap, adding value through partnerships can look:

  • Value for customers → Better product or service.

  • Value for businesses → Increased sales, expanded reach and improved bottom line.

  • Value for partners → Access to opportunities for growth and support.

And the first step to tapping into those benefits? Finding the right partners.

Finding Channel Sales Partners That Will Add Value

What Kind of Partners Do You Need?

There’s no one right answer to this question. There are many different types of partners and the right one for you will depend on a number of factors including your business model, goals and product or service offerings.

That said, here are some of the most common partner types:

  • Referral partners

  • Reseller partners

  • Value-Added Reseller Partners

  • Alliance partners

  • Managed Service providers

  • Independent Software Vendors (ISVs)

What Should You Look For in Your Partners?

Finding your ideal channel sales partner is part knowing what you need, part recruiting from a diverse pool of partners and part offering a great partner experience that attracts top level talent.

We’ll dig into recruiting and retaining further down. In terms of figuring out exactly what you need from your partners, there are two parts to solidifying how you plan to qualify and vet partners:

  • Ideal Partner Profile

  • Partner Scorecard

An ideal partner profile (IPP) is, as the name suggests, a description of the characteristics that the best first partner has. This can include everything from their customer base to geographic reach to technology utilization, and everything in between.

“It is so critical to learn what an ideal partner profile is and do exercises internally with all the stakeholders,” said Dina Moskowitz, CEO and Founder of PartnerOptimizer.

“It plays a role at every stage in the channel.”

To create your IPP, as we covered in our in-depth guide to partner recruitment, start with the following steps:

  • Research competitors in your industry for a sense of the most common partner types and structures.

  • Take stock of your internal CRM data to identify any informal partnerships that are already running in the background, like a consultant managing your software.

  • Dig into support tickets – you may uncover prospective partners who have reached out with an interest in working together.

  • Look at your current customer base for a better understanding of their needs and wants.

Typically, Moskowitz told us, only five to ten percent of the partnerships who are being recruited are actively driving revenue. Recruiting the right partners from the start improves success for everyone involved.

“Make sure that you have the best possible view of who that ideal partner is so that you can be intentional with all of your partner development and partner growth,” Moskowitz said.

DOWNLOAD: The Ideal Partner Profile Template

From there, think ahead about how you’ll be evaluating your partner’s post-recruitment to ensure that expectations are being met from both sides. This is where a partner scorecard comes in handy: it gives you a visual representation of the success of your partnership.

Look at each of these five areas:

  • Training and Onboarding Progress

  • Deals Registered / Support Provided


  • Pipeline / Annual Goal Pacing

  • Successful Plays

Measuring progress with quantifiable metrics and having ongoing conversations about your mutual goals is key to developing long-term partnerships that drives results.

DOWNLOAD: Channel Partner Scorecard Template

Developing Partnerships in Which All Parties Win

Why Be Partner-First & Partner-Led

One of the most important ways to develop partnerships that add value is by providing that value to your partners from the on-set. Give before you get it is true is most relationships and partnerships are no exception.

Taking a partner-first approach to your channel sales is a sure-fire way to make partnerships front and center.

But first, what is a partner-first? And what impact can it have?

We recently dug into these questions, and more, in our first live podcast about transforming revenue generation with a partner-led approach.

“Partner-first, to me, is when a company decides that their go-to-market strategy from a sales perspective is to run everything through a channel partner relationship,” explained John McCabe, Vice President of World Wide Channel Sales at SafeGuard Cyber.

“You build relationships that way, you build pipelines, you extend your sales force and it allows you to have more feet on the street.”

The impact is powerful, both in terms of revenue growth and customer acquisition cost reduction.

Margot Mazur, a long-time strategic channel leader and Senior Manager of Platform Marketing at HubSpot, calls having a strong ecosystem “mission critical” in today’s world.

“That ecosystem will help you drive leads, drive submissions, drive retention and drive revenue down the line.”

Those benefits don’t happen by accident, though. When Mazur hears about a partner program that is struggling to generate leads, she asks:

“Are you sending leads to your partners? Are you promoting your partners? Are you helping your partners? If not, why would you expect them to do that for you,” she said.

“Having really, really strong partner relationships … It helps both of you.”

Nurturing the Partnership at Every Step

As you move towards providing value for your partners, think about the different touchpoints that arise at each stage of the partner journey:

  • Welcome

  • Onboarding

  • Training

  • Prospecting

  • Deal registration

  • Winning deals and celebrating successes

  • Advancing through the partner tiers

At each stage, look for ways to help your partner advance to the next step in a supported, partner-focused environment.

This means sharing leads, for instance, or working together on joint marketing initiatives. It means developing partner content, sales collateral, playbooks and other information to help make the sale. Above all, it means meeting partners where they are at and listening to what they say they need.

DOWNLOAD: The Ultimate Partner Journey Map Template

Of course, foundational to that is having open and honest communication at every stage.

Part of that communication revolves around your goals and expectations with your partner program – both internally and externally. Make sure you have clearly laid out KPIs and metrics that you plan to track, so you can keep everyone on the same page.

“If you are a newer company trying to get market share and bring in business, you’re going to be tracking KPIs based on how many partners you bring in and how much opportunity you create,” said McCabe.

“When you’re a more mature organization, the channel becomes a part of the forecasting that you do with your CRO. All the [sales] reps have to have a cadence and partner daily routine because that’s where they’re getting most of their leads.”

And, of course, you’ll want to have a solid deal registration process and clearly laid out rules of engagement to avoid channel conflict.

Fostering a Culture of Collaboration

A strong culture of collaboration goes a long way in creating a great partner experience and ecosystem that will drive results for all parties involved.

Stanislaw Wasowicz of Smart Recruiters knows this first hand, as he told us recently on our podcast.

The SaaS company works with hundreds of partners, from pre-integrated ISV partners to service partners.

“We have different programs fitting all of them but the red line in between is that call for collaboration … we try to work together at a common goal,” Wasowicz said.

Although Smart Recruiters works with a huge number of partners, Wasowicz doesn’t manage them all – that would be an impossible task. Instead, partners are embedded across the organization. This includes:

  • Co-innovation on the product and R&D side to create joint value propositions.

  • Co-marketing and joint promotion efforts.

  • Collaboration between sales teams on open deals, recommendations and exchanging intel.

  • Embedding the most valuable partners in demos.

“I’m trying to find this balance between breadth and depth, where we’ve built programs that allow us to operate a really decentralized partner collaboration model,” Wasowicz said.

“We essentially try to embed partner motions into every aspect of our organization.”

At each junction, the benefits are exponentially greater because of the collaborative culture that takes full advantage of each player’s strengths. After all, that’s at the heart of partnerships.

“The future is ecosystems. The sooner you can get with that program, the better,” he said.

Build a Parter-Led Program That Drives Results 

As you build and develop partnerships with an eye towards providing value to your customers, your partners and your organization, there are a few things to keep in mind.

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