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How to set up partner tiers & different levels

Two of the biggest goals for partner managers are driving revenue and optimizing your team’s resources. Implementing partner tiers is an effective strategy for accomplishing both. If you’re intimidated by implementing partner tiers, don’t fret. This guide will make setting up different participant levels straightforward and impactful for your partner program.
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What are Partner Tiers?

Partner tiers are a way of ranking partners by their activities and/or achievements. Most of your partners will be at the lowest level, but your top-tier partners will drive the most revenue. A strong partner tier strategy includes incentives to encourage partners to move from tier to tier. For example, a bronze partner gets 3% commission on the deals they close, silver partners get 5%, and gold partners get 8%. When your partners know they gain access to additional resources and support at a specific tier, they’ll work harder to get there. In addition, since specific activities and results are required to level up, your partners are more likely to complete them than they would be without a reward. When well-defined, partner tiers don’t discourage partners or make them feel bad about not being in the top tier. Instead, they create clear guidelines partners can follow to understand where they fit in. Depending on your partner program, your partner tiers may depend on different activities.

Juniper Partner Advantage

Why Implement Partner Tiers?

Creating multiple partnership levels may be premature for early-stage programs with only a few participants. However, if you find yourself with a growing roster, defining partner tiers can benefit your program in ways that may surprise you.

Benefit: Tactical Prioritization of Partners
Whether you have a partner team of 12 or 120, it’s essential to optimize your time. When partner managers spend time on partners that don’t nurture results, you miss out on opportunities to drive revenue from more effective partners. Partner tiering makes it easier to make clear-cut decisions, leaving more time for strategy development. By nature, your highest-tiered partners will be the top priority, getting the most of your time. Meanwhile, the partners that don’t drive as strong of results will be de-prioritized.

Benefit: Smart Delegation of Resources for Higher ROI

HubSpot Solutions Partner Program

Just as you’ll be able to prioritize partners appropriately, you’ll be able to optimize the resources you spend on your partners. Whether you’re working on co-marketing campaigns or developing a new integration, you’ll need to leverage resources from the rest of the company. With tiers in place, you’ll be able to save the most resource-intensive activities for the highest-tiered partners.

Benefit: Natural Partner Incentivization
Salespeople are naturally competitive and strive to better their performance. By establishing different partnership levels, you create a clear roadmap on how they should invest their energy to reach the next tier. By creating three or more statuses, you can make the next milestone feel achievable rather than discouragingly impossible.

Benefit: Accountability for Everyone

VMware Partner Connect

Documenting tiers ensures that both you and your partners are on the hook for their deliverables. It’s declared in writing and agreed to what each side needs to do and what to expect in return. This is especially helpful for early-stage partners who may expect all your resources at once. In those situations, you have your documented tiers to point back to, explaining that it’s not that you don’t want to provide those resources to them. You can’t until they’ve exceeded the specific tier threshold.

No one wants to be demoted, but when it happens, it’s easier to have a conversation about what needs to be done to improve. You can also leverage tier requirements as a baseline for your check-in meetings. Review what progress has happened on both sides and what still needs to happen.

Benefit: Friendly Competition Amongst Partners
Partners will be inspired to compete for top spots in your channel through tiers. This friendly competition encourages additional effort and will inspire engaged partners to aim higher. For example, if your partner finds out one of their competitors is a mid-level partner of yours, they’ll be more likely to try getting to a top-tier ranking.

Challenges of Implementing Different Partner Tiers

Challenge: Time-consuming to Implement
Implementing partner tiers is time-consuming upfront. You have to spend time learning about your most impactful partners and building a system to level them accordingly. From there, it can be intimidating to roll tiers out to partners. You may end up reducing resources for some partners until they advance to the next level, which can be a tough conversation but will be worthwhile for driving results.

Challenge: Required Maintenance
Partner tiers aren’t a set it and forget it strategy. You need to revisit your partner tiers at least annually to ensure that the criteria and rewards still make sense for your partner ecosystem. For example, if too many partners achieve the highest level, it may be a sign that the requirements are too lenient. Luckily,  you’ll make up the time spent on maintenance with the time you’ll save on partner management.

Steps to Develop your Partner Tier Program

Evaluate your Existing Partners

First, explore who your top partners are and why they’re successful. Determine which activities top partners conduct and document the cadence of those activities. Have your top partners all completed specific training? Worked with you on a co-marketing campaign? Most commonly, different partnership tiers reflect earned revenue within a recent time frame (such as the past year), but you may not want to make this your sole requirement. Make a note of those trends associated with successful partners. You’ll want to leverage these later as requirements for getting to advanced tiers of your program.

Decide How Many Partner Tiers to Create

Consider starting with three tiers, knowing that you can always add additional advanced levels. It could be beneficial to have an easily achievable tier to motivate partners and give them a win near the beginning of the partnership. If your top partners are doing exponentially more than your newest partners, you may want to consider having more levels. Go through your existing network of partners and consider how many might land in each tier. You want to save your most resource-intensive benefits for top tiers with the fewest partners. Otherwise, you’ll overcommit your team. Use this information as you begin developing requirements.

Develop Requirements for Your Tiers

Now you can start determining benchmarks partners should achieve to graduate. These should directly tie back to which activities successful partners conduct. For example, you may require one co-marketing campaign annually with a mid-tier partner and one per quarter for a top-tier partner. Your tier requirements don’t need to be perfect out of the box. Instead, plan on adjusting your tiers with the help of partner input — this should just serve as a baseline to build on.

Fortinet Global Partner Program

“Ultimately the numbers do speak,” says Aleksi Mattlar on the Partner Channel Podcast. “You have to see where exactly you are getting revenue. And then is there a possibility to get more revenue? Is this a one and done deal? Is this just a small bit or is there a potential way that this can be a continuation or continual stream of revenue? That’s one option.”

Determine an Appropriate Reward System

VMware Partner Connect

When it comes to tier benefits, consider what’s most appealing to your partners. Provide rewards that support their team and expand their impact in your ecosystem. Remember, these benefits should inspire your partners to work hard enough to reach the next tier. You may consider offering:

Adjust Over Time

You’ll learn more about the most effective partner activities over time, just as your partner program will evolve. When you choose to make a change, be overly communicative with your partners. You don’t want to cause confusion or have partners feel like you’re moving the goalposts. If you plan on making changes to your partner tiers, share the information with your partners ahead of time and field their questions or concerns. Above all else, make sure they have clear next steps and feel like any frustrations are respectfully heard. If you receive the same feedback across your ecosystem about the requirement difficulty, resource accessibility, etc., don’t be afraid to make further adjustments.

Rolling Out Partner Tiers

New partnership level criteria should catch no one off-guard. Communicate with your existing partners early and often about the reshaping of the tier program, potentially using this as an opportunity to collect further participant insights. Before rolling out your partner tiers broadly, get in touch with your top partners and ask for their input.Then, work with all active partners to identify which tier they land in, and communicate openly about how that will impact your engagement. For example, for some partners, you may allocate fewer resources, while others may be excited to hear that they’ll have access to additional resources.

Managing Partner Tiers & Advancing Partners

At first, partner tiers may require more management than your existing process. However, you’ll find that leveraging partner tiers streamlines your partner management efforts.

Share Reports with Partners

Send out reports at a consistent cadence. Reports should share key metrics, status updates on tiers, and opportunities for improvement. Leverage a PRM to automate this outreach so you can optimize your time spent on strategic partner management work. You should warn your partners in these reports if they risk slipping into a lower tier. Similarly, if they’re close to progressing to the next level, share strategies and tactics they can implement.  As partners advance, consider implementing regular check-in calls. The higher tier your partner reaches, the more time you should spend meeting with them to check in on results and identify additional opportunities.

Advancing Partners

Juniper Partner Advantage

Consider connecting your partners to share strategies. Your top-tier partners likely have lots of insights they can share with the rest of your channel. Seeing what your best partners are doing and the support they get will motivate your lower-level program participants.  One such way to promote top performers is to create opportunities to host webinars or collaborate on partner marketing campaigns. This simultaneously benefits your top-tier partners while inspiring lower-tier partners to advance. Plan to highlight opportunities to advance in all of your communications with partners. It can help to automate this outreach so your partners always know what waypost is just out of reach.

Top Partner Programs to Model Your Tiers On

Your partner program should be uniquely based on your organization, goals, and partners. However, when you’re getting started, it can help to explore how top partner programs have leveraged partner tiers to grow so you can draw inspiration from their successes.

Dig deeper into top programs, such as:

Leveraging a PRM for Partner Tier Management

Partner tiers are invaluable for prioritizing your time and incentivizing partners to increase their impact. Building partner tiers is not a set it and forget it strategy, but the time spent implementing and maintaining is well worth it to optimize your team’s efforts and drive more results from partners. Your PRM tool can help streamline partner tier management with powerful automations and documentation libraries. With a PRM you can automate communications with partners, alerting them of any potential tier changes and opportunities for improvement. Through the included documentation library, you can make tier documentation easily accessible to all partners and marketing resources accessible to partners based on their tier.

Discover how Allbound’s PRM can streamline your partner program management and elevate the impact of your partners with a free demo.

Additional Reading to Assist With Structuring Your Partner Program

Channel Partner Lifecycle Management – Processes for Each Stage – Partnership tiers aren’t the only way your program participants will progress. This article will help you confirm that you have the necessary assets to serve partners at various stages of maturity to ultimately help them reach the next milestone.  

Guide to Increasing Channel Partner Activation – Your program’s multi-tier strategy will mean little if partners fail to activate in the first place. Use these tips to help move participants beyond the initial hurdles of onboarding and registering deals, ultimately improving the partners’ average lifetime value.

Elements of a Successful Partner Engagement Plan – Implementing partner tiers is one of the multiple tools for improving program engagement. However, it certainly shouldn’t be your only maneuver to keep partners interested. Dive deeper into other ways to inspire engagement, regardless of whether participants are still onboarding or weathered program veterans.    

How to Effectively Measure Partnership Success – 20 Metrics to Keep in Mind – Program tiers provide a systemized way of distributing resources and rewards, but it also provides an overarching view of a partner’s performance. This article will help you dive deeper into this subject, helping you prioritize the right KPIs for your specific goals.

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