Talking Growth at MaRS

Building a partner marketing program doesn't have to be difficult. PartnerStack's very own Sean Harris and Luke Swanek talk to MaRS Discovery District about the benefits of partner programs.
Bryn Jones
Bryn Jones
November 28, 2017
Company
Talking Growth at MaRS

Customer advocates, resellers and partners can help you grow, but developing and retaining these growth channels can be complicated and time-consuming. PartnerStack's very own co-founder, Luke Swanek, and sales engineer; Sean Harris, spoke to MaRS Discover District to help shed light on these complex but powerful channels.

Here’s a quick recap:

  • Most partners fail to provide their partners with the tools they need to succeed
  • Understanding what motivates your partners helps you cater to their needs
  • How to distinguish partner types with unique values, needs, and their relevance to your company at different stages
  • How to build scalable relationships, not transactional referrals
  • How to launch and develop growth channels in a predictable and ROI positive way

Relationships are what defines a business, its customers, and its future. 

A partner channel is a way to attribute, reward, and scale your relationships — in a meaningful and ROI positive manner. MaRS sat down with Luke and Sean to discuss how a company can approach building their own partner channels and the obstacles along the way.

Partner channels are scalable solutions to grow your business and build community in an automated way. Working with partners provides opportunities to work with people outside of your organization and increase your reach without increasing headcount. Your only job when working with partner channels is to make them successful.

PartnerStack allows any company to start and manage their very own partner channel. From set-up to scaling, PartnerStack enables businesses to identify key partners, develop relationships, attribute sales, and reward their partners — all automatically and from one dashboard. PartnerStack even takes it a step further. After a company joins PartnerStack and sets up their own program, they can also enter our marketplace. PartnerStack's marketplace multiplies the effects of any given partner program by introducing companies to new advocates and resellers they can work with. Moreover, PartnerStack also enables businesses to work with larger organizations such as associations, complementary businesses, and more.

Understanding motivation is the key to success

As you develop a partner program, it’s important to understand what type of partners you’re working with and what motivates them. By getting to know which partners best complement your business, you’ll be able to provide the right assets to make them successful. For example, customer ambassador programs work best with companies with strong communities of brand evangelists. These communities are made up of users who love your product and regularly speak about them with their friends. Although these advocates may not all be professional consultants or resellers, they have a strong connection with customers like themselves. Give them the assets they need to talk about your product in the way you'd like. Give them images and clear messaging they can share with their friends on social media. And give them the opportunity to speak with your product team and feel included in your product.

Working with resellers presents a different challenge. Give them the right tools to measure, share, and set up their campaigns. Ask them to tap into specific areas of their network, i.e., bloggers, publishers, etc. and give them stats to stay up-to-date on their performance.

Selecting the right types of partners

Partners come in all shapes and forms, much like the businesses they work with. You understand your business, but do your respective partners? Partners differ regarding reach, influence, motivations, and compensation — so it's extremely important to understand which type complements your program and goals.

Some examples of partners include:

  • Customers: advocates and ambassadors
  • Affiliates: bloggers, influencers, publishers
  • Resellers: agencies, consultants, corporations
  • SaaS partners: integrated solutions

Luke and Sean’s best advice was to start close to home with your existing network.

Starting with your customers

Customers are your biggest net promoters. Take a survey, go through your customer insights, and invite your top net promoters to join your program. Figure out who is already promoting you and where your current customers have the most reach. Odds are, your best customers know other great people like themselves.

Once you decided on what type of partner to go after, establish a goal. Whether you’re looking for growth, decreasing CAC, or ensuring an ROI positive channel; consider what your program is going to measure on. How will your program help to combat long sales cycles, the price of product, swag, and discounts? Does your reward structure reflect how hard it is to sell your product or how experienced your partners are?

Launching your program

After you’ve decided on what partners and compensation structure to enlist, it’s time to think through your launch strategy. Where most companies try to ‘build in-house’ tests, you can blow past them with the right software. The misconceptions about partner programs are they’re easy — incorrect. Partner programs are robust and require development time, complexity, and scalability. Often in-house solutions can offer a quick test, but aren’t built to scale nor are they scoped out to be a full-time project. Not to mention, successful or not, they quickly become expensive and developer heavy.

Choosing a solution like PartnerStack, lets companies by-pass the messiness of building something from scratch and instead takes them into hypergrowth. PartnerStack's platform is dynamic. It’s feature set and program scales with your company and partner count, instead of your developer resources. After all — partner programs aren’t development channels; they’re marketing channels.

Marketing owns your program

Marketing is challenging sales in the modern business organization. Launching a partner channel that requires little to no developers enables marketers to do more with less. Marketers can create assets, invite users, promote the program, and focus on partner success. Whether they start with customers or not, PartnerStack's platform lets them focus on the things that matter most — instead of bug fixes and development backlogs.

“Partner marketing programs are built on success. PartnerStack's program starts with making five people successful, replicating your process and growing your community sustainably.” — Luke Swanek

Not a 'refer-a-friend' program

The most prominent misconception about partner programs is their similarity to referral programs. Yes, partner programs drive referred signups and sales, but this is also where they differ. Instead of asking for in-app referrals or friend invites, partner channels focus on ongoing referral relationships. The average partner drives heaps of leads, whereas the average in-app referral program is situational and drives a handful.

Referral programs focus on in-app rewards and transactional relationships. Here, users interact with the application for an extremely limited time and are incentivized to send referrals as they come rather than as a serious channel. Partner programs are formalized. Instead of asking for a few friends to invite, partner programs push their team to increase their reach and drive ongoing leads.

More importantly, partner programs extend beyond an in-app referral widget; they live directly between the company and its respective partner.

How to scale a partner program

Scaling a program can be challenging, so Luke and Sean have broken it down into a few easy steps to focus on:

  • Make five partners successful → start small, figure out how to make your first five partners successful. Iterate on your learnings and begin scaling your program.
  • Showcase partner success → take your learnings and key achievements and show them to your new members. Inspiring your partners with real information can be the best driver for immediate growth.
  • Run promotional campaigns and challenges → not all companies are the same, so use your companies partner challenges to boost your program where you see fit. If you’ve just released a new feature, set up a challenge to get partners to share articles highlighting it. If you need more reviews on G2 Crowd, get your partners to review you and reward them for participating.
  • Focus energy on winners, automate relationships with everyone else → this is probably the most important point. A partner program is about building a community with those that support you the most. It’s important to give access to everyone, but give attention to the people that are driving the most value. Much like your sales cycle and customer success resources, your time is important. Allocate your marketing team’s time to the partners that are driving your program, automate ways to identify them and keep them engaged over time.

Lastly, manage expectations

The worst part about ‘buying’ a solution or ‘building’ one is failing to meet expectations. Everyone expects instant success, but we all know it’s not always possible. Maintaining expectations is a key component of any partner program, here are a few tips for keeping your program afloat.

  • Keep things simple to go live → it’s easy to overcomplicate things and think big picture, instead work on a simple idea and see if things work. Testing things out in small batches makes it easier to get your program going. Use that data to leverage more buy-in and build out more complex flows and campaigns.
  • List integrations that you need → if you don’t have any way of integrating; you’re going to have a harder time getting set up. Find programs that you’re already using to help speed up connecting your data. If none work, try thinking about how you can get ready to connect with our API (and we’ll do the same).
  • Invite people to your program → it’s easy to start a program, but a program isn’t worth anything until it has people in it. Think about who you want to invite. If you don’t already have customers, a partner program may not be the best choice. Who are your best customers? Can they promote your product? If not, who can be your target demographic and who influences them?
  • Set your partners up for success → what do your partners need to be successful? Do they need more information? Time? Recognition? Rewards? How can you ensure that each partner is ready to promote your brand and convert leads?

You get what you give

Your program is only as successful as you’re willing to make it. If you don’t provide any time for your program, you will not be able to see the same type of return as someone who believes and creates the opportunity for theirs.

It takes time to grow a partner program, PartnerStack helps companies shorten the time it takes to get going. Whether you’re a small company trying something new or a big company scaling your existing ecosystem, partner programs can help.

Partner programs are everywhere. You can name them what you want. Make your community your own and scale your company in a big way. But one thing is for sure — a partner program depends on partner success.

Build your program for your partners, give them the tools they need to succeed and watch your community foster.

If you have any questions or are curious about growing your own community, shoot us a message - we're always ready to help.

Bryn Jones

Bryn Jones

CEO, Cofounder at PartnerStack

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