The Fundamentals of Partner Program Design

Designing a partner program is a critical step in building a successful channel ecosystem. A well designed partner program can help to attract and retain partners, increase revenue, and drive growth for your company.  In this blog post, we will discuss the key elements of a successful partner program and provide tips for designing one that meets the needs of both your company and your partners.

Center on your customer.

The ultimate aim of a channel program is to reach, acquire and retain customers at scale. When designing a partner program appreciate and consider how customers select partners, what criteria do they look for and at what stage would they want or need support or engagement with the vendor directly.

Strive for simplicity.

However you decide to structure your partner program you should strive for simplicity wherever possible. Complex programs and processes will not attract new partners and will cost your existing partners time and effort, and money! Look at this from the partner's perspective, they have multitude of vendor choices.  Make it simple for the partner to do business with you or they might not consider working with you.

Consider partner types.

First and foremost, it's important to understand the different types of partners that can be part of your program. These can include distributors, resellers, systems integrators, service providers, and referral partners, among others. Each type of partner has unique needs and requires a different approach. For example, resellers may require more support and resources to help them sell your products, while referral partners may be more focused on earning a commission for submitting qualified leads.
Having a clear understanding of the types of partners you want to attract is a good starting point to designing your partner program. One important aspect is setting clear goals and objectives for the program. This will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals. Setting goals also helps to measure success of the program and make necessary adjustments.

First impressions count.

You need to pay particular attention to the onboarding process of a new partner, it has to be comprehensive. This process should be designed to ensure that new partners are set up for success from the start. It should include training, resources, and support to help them understand your products and services, as well as how to best sell them to their customers. A good onboarding process also helps to build trust and establish a good relationship with your partners from the beginning.
Once the partners are onboarded, it is imperative to continue providing support and resources to help them succeed. This includes regular training, access to marketing and co-marketing materials, and other resources or tools to help them generate leads and close deals. Enabling partners with these on an ongoing basis can help to build trust and gain your partners' mindshare which as a result will motivate them to sell more of your products vs your competitors'.

Effective and open communication.

One of the most vital ingredients of a successful partner program is communication. It's important to keep partners informed about new products, promotions, and other important updates. However, you need to know your audience and understand what each partner type and their respective employees are interested in and when. We live in an era of constant notifications, don't add to the noise, be relevant and intentional. Modern PRM solutions allow you to deliver tailored and role-based messaging, this approach allows you to do it at scale.
Make an effort to actively listen to your partners' feedback. This should be one of the key trades of your Channel Account Managers, they need to be pro-active. Getting ahead of issues and concerns strengthens the relationship, maintains trust and ensures that partners feel supported and valued. Don't stop there, design processes to bring this information up the chain internally, so decisions can be made and actions are taken as necessary.

Reward your partners.

Incentivising partners is another key component of designing a partner program. Offering financial or non-financial incentives can help to drive specific behaviours, such as generating leads, closing deals, renewals performance, customer retention etc.. Financial rewards can include things like commissions, discounts, rebates and SPIFFS. Non-financial may be things like free training & certification, access to MDF or funding/co-funding dedicated headcount. Many partners today are looking for ways for vendors to fuel their growth. The key is to ensure that the incentives are compelling to the partner and are aligned with your program's goals.
Measuring each partner's performance and their achievements against the goals in real time is key in today's channel ecosystems. Invest in tools that allow you to track this effortlessly, reward instantly and always display the results to the partner.

Partner success.

When designing partner programs you need to identify key metrics and these will vary depending on the type of partnership. As an example you might track the count of deal registrations, closed won deals and revenue generated quarterly for transacting partners, where for the non-transacting partners like influencers, consultants, referral and alliance partners you might want to measure amount of referred leads and/or influencing buyer's journey. The latter is still quite tricky today and requires advanced technology, but tools like through-channel marketing automation (TCMA) can definitely help. 
Whatever metrics you choose, be transparent. Make sure that partners understand them and can track their individual performance in real time.

Partner program performance.

Lastly, as with the individual partners you need to regularly assess the performance of your partner program as a whole. Some of the typical KPI's in this regard include:
  • Number of partners and GEO's covered
  • Partner engagement and satisfaction
  • Revenue generated
  • Number of new logo's
  • Renewals performance
  • Customer retention rates 
This can help identify areas for improvement and make adjustments to the program as needed.

Wrapping up.

Designing a successful partner program is a critical step in building a successful channel ecosystem. It's important to understand the different types of partners and their unique needs, set clear goals and objectives, provide a comprehensive onboarding process, offer ongoing support and resources, reward partners, maintain open communication, and measure success. By following these tips and principles, you can create a partner program that is tailored to your company's needs and that helps to attract and retain partners, increase revenue, and drive growth for partners and your business.

Here's a little twitter thread on common mistakes to avoid...

Maciej Danielski
Maciej Danielski
Founder & Host | WW Inside Sales Director @ Channel Mechanics