Companies of all sizes are turning to partnerships to help them expand their reach, amplify their message, and drive revenue. Here at DemandGen, we recently launched the DemandGen Alliance — a consortium of best-in-class marketing technology solution providers — to do just that.
I’d like to share some learnings from this initiative (and my previous roles at Oracle Marketing Cloud and ReadyTalk) to help you build an effective partner program that will positively impact your business.
Step 1: Start with the End in Mind
Thinking about starting an alliances program at your organization? Successful partnerships are a team sport. You’ll want to ensure everyone is on the same page — from your executives to leaders in sales, marketing, and product.
Make sure you start the process by answering “why?” Do you want to:
- Generate leads for sales?
- Acquire new logos?
- Retain and grow existing customers?
- Fill gaps in your product portfolio?
- Fulfill unmet market needs?
- Offer complementary services to your customers?
- Create a new distribution channel?
- Something else?
It’s important to understand the business outcomes you are trying to achieve so you can build a program that supports these goals.
Step 2: Find the Right Partners
Now that you know where you are headed, the next step is to identify the partners who will help you get there. In my experience, finding the right partners is a mix of art and science. It’s not just who checks all of the boxes on paper. It’s equally important to find partners who are engaged, collaborative, and as committed as you are to your customers’ success.
Here are some of the criteria I consider when evaluating potential partners:
- What client problems do they solve?
- Is their technology proven and unique?
- What is their market position and how do they stack up against the competition?
- How big are they today and what is their growth trajectory?
- Does their ideal customer profile overlap with ours?
- Do we share any mutual customers where we can pilot our ideas?
- Do their customers and prospects need our services?
- Do they “get” how to partner?
- What is their overall partner strategy and relationship with our competitors?
- How engaged/excited is their team?
- What are their go-to-market capabilities (sales, marketing, customer success)?
- Do their core values align with ours?
By answering these questions up front, you’ll uncover the partners who are best aligned with your organization and best positioned to help you achieve business results.
Step 3: Commit to Driving Mutual Value
One of the biggest faux pas I see companies make is not being able to answer the question, “What’s in it for my partner?” If you aren’t crafting a partnership that is mutually beneficial from the start, you’re missing the point. Successful alliances focus on driving value for both parties, but far too many people come to the table with their own list of asks and no insight into what they can do to help their partner.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Think about your partner’s business objectives. Are they focused on acquiring new customers? Growing existing customers? Expanding into new markets? How can you help them make progress towards these goals?
- Do you share any current customers? Work together to identify overlap and articulate the value your partnership will bring to these mutual clients.
- What else can you bring to the table to help your partner? Consider things like exposure to your customer base, joint marketing programs, sales team alignment, etc.
This balance of give and get sets the stage for an equitable and healthy long-term relationship where both partners (and, most importantly, your mutual customers) win.
Step 4: Operationalize Your Partnerships
Successful alliances take more than logos on a slide. Structuring an alliances program, recruiting the right partners, and formalizing agreements aren’t simple tasks, and they simply get you to the starting line. The real value comes when you activate these relationships out of the gate and nurture them over time.
Here’s what we ask members of the DemandGen Alliance to commit to us (and what we commit to them):
- Assigning a partner manager to champion the relationship
- Collaborating on a joint business plan
- Agreeing on target success metrics
- Exchanging lists of customers/pipeline/target accounts
- Participating in recurring check-in calls
- Driving referrals to one another
- Rewarding one another for successful referrals
- Providing a forum for each of us to educate one another’s customer-facing teams
- Allocating budget to fund co-marketing programs
Successful partnerships take ongoing care and feeding. Investing time and energy with key partners will help move the needle on the business outcomes you set out to achieve.
Step 5: Measure Impact
Remember the high-level goals you established back in Step 1? Revisit the “why” (e.g., new business acquisition, customer retention) and consider the key metric(s) that will help you gauge the health of the partnership.
Here are a few of our alliances KPIs at DemandGen:
- Number of prospects a partner refers to us
- Number of clients we refer to a partner
- Revenue from partner-sourced opportunities
- Services revenue related to partner technologies
- Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) driven by joint programs
Like any goal, make it specific and ensure you have mechanisms in place to measure it. Don’t go overboard by trying to track everything; save your sanity by focusing on 1-3 key metrics. Get buy-in from your partner: remember, this is about a relationship that drives value for both parties. Finally, be transparent: put your goals in writing and share progress updates frequently to keep them top of mind.
Hopefully, this guidance will help you create partnerships that make a difference for your business. Good luck!
Just starting a partner program? What other questions do you have? Already running a successful program? I’d love to hear your own advice.
After more than a dozen years in product management and product marketing, Anita Covelli shifted gears about seven years ago and moved into the world of alliances and partnerships. She initially cut her teeth while building a partner program from the ground up at webinar and conferencing provider ReadyTalk. Then, she moved on to help scale and grow the AppCloud technology partner program at Oracle Marketing Cloud. In mid-2017, Anita joined DemandGen to activate and drive value from the great relationships the team has built over the years in the marketing technology community.