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The Secret to Partner Retention: Treating your Partners like Customers

We all work hard to gain and retain customers; with marketing by building out the brand, messaging, campaigns, and metrics. We build “Customer success” teams who drive the implementation and adoption of the solution to the customer, followed by regular customer satisfaction reviews. There are defined sales cycles with demo guides and assets attached to each point on the sales cycle, along with pre-sales teams, solution architects, and sales support. Alongside this is a technical team ready to customise requirements and help with adoption and training.

Now think about it; are your partners treated as well as your internal team?

Sometimes partners are lucky if they receive some of the marketing materials you have carefully prepared for customers. Yet they need and deserve so much more if they stick around and genuinely build a partnership business with you. You ask your customers these questions, so this is a checklist to be built into your partnering.

  • What does success look like – for you AND your partner?
    • Goals must be aligned to ensure you both understand each other’s drivers and vision. A vendor might be looking to land in new geography, using a new partner’s customer base as a springboard to success, whereas a partner might expect a unique solution to take them into a new niche instead. Both parties must agree on what is achievable, what is possible, and what success looks like. 
    • How to do this: schedule a strategy workshop with key stakeholders from the vendor and partner companies. This time should be used to talk through, and align, overarching objectives.
  • Support – what do your partners need and want as each will be different?
    • You spend time analysing customer requirements, responding to RFI’s (requests for information), and RFP’s (requests for proposals), and making sure you provide the right modules or services they need. Do you offer the same 1:1 communication with your partners? Some need help to develop a joint proposition, others need sales, marketing, or technical training and support – each partner will have different needs so you need to segment your partners by type, by geography, and needs so you can support them.
    • One key differentiator can be the joint value proposition. Many partners need help to articulate the joint value as it is all about differentiation in a noisy social world. Vendors can help partners develop that “Joint Value.”  We all need to step back sometimes to see the wood for the trees and identify what makes us special. This is an important step when building the right messaging about the combined solution.  
    • Tip: value proposition workshops are not just fluffy marketing antics, but an essential tool to ensure your partner is on message and can talk the talk, correctly representing you and the collective value to the target audience. The extra face-to-face time also gives you the opportunity to understand their business better and ensures you are providing them with the right support across the organisation.
  • What investment is required from both of you, to make that successful?
    • If both parties in a partnership are not equally invested this can harm the commitment. It doesn’t mean the actual sum needs to match, but the relative commitment needs to tally.  There are many ways to skin this particular cat with co-funded heads and MDF and co-op funding to support the sales and marketing efforts. But nothing focuses the mind better than having someone championing the cause from inside the business. Co-funded heads, live and breathe the vendor solution but from within the culture of the partner. This is a more familiar practice within distribution but works similarly well when extended to partners.  
    • How to – the business planning process such as this Biz Plan Template will unearth the need and desire for different activities through each department (sales, marketing, operations, technical), and should steer you towards a way to co-invest jointly in the tactics. 
  • What assets are required for every point of contact?
    • In the same way, you have sales guides, demo scripts, case studies and white papers to take the customer on a journey, you need to provide two levels of content for the partner (maybe more if you have a 2-tier model with both distributors and partners). 
    • How to – you need to walk a mile in your partners’ shoes and make sure they have all the communications and assets they need when hearing from you (To-Partner) and when communicating about you, to their customers (Thru-Partner). 
  • What experience do you need to give partners?
    • The customer experience became a crucial component of marketing as customers became accustomed to consumer-style apps and yet business applications were still dated and unattractive. The UX (user experience) was a focus of all development so that all customer touchpoints improved. 
    • How to – the Partner Experience (PX) is equally important. Partners need a single source or portal to access all the information they might need, such as collaterals, deals and opportunities, or training and enablement. It is essential that you, as the vendor, are easy to work with so your portal needs to be attractive, well signposted, with good search and everything all in one place. 
  • How do you monitor and reward success?
    • You monitor your customers, allocate a customer success team and check with them regularly as customer retention is key in a SaaS business. Continuity of revenue stream and earning month on month, (ARR – annual recurring revenue) is one of the key indicators of a healthy SaaS business. If it’s important to you, you should reward your partners, based on these customer success metrics. There is an interesting and innovative trend (with leaders like Microsoft with their new Microsoft Cloud Partner Program MCPP), to reward partners on customer retention and usage, (so a land and expand model) as well as net new customer, rather than pure revenue. 
    • How to – the above metrics are important but knowing the best way to reward partners is an ever-moving target and so running a PSAT (partner satisfaction survey) is as important as regularly canvassing your customers as it gauges the temperature of how partners feel about your rewards against trends. Always be listening and learning and flexing. 

To retain partners and to increase loyalty, you need to understand each other’s vision and have aligned, shared goals with joint agreement on what success looks like for the partnership. To achieve this there needs to be a plan, that defines the commitment, resources, support, and rhythm of communication required to deliver on that plan, with a schedule of rewards that are achievable and meaningful.

Engaging partners used to be hard without a F2F or 1:1 meeting however, now partners expect to self-serve and collaborate online. But importantly the relationship needs to be extended by spending the time on understanding and supporting them, just like you do with your customers.