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Accelerate Growth with a Partner Program

You can have the best product or an award-winning service but, if nobody knows about it, you’re not going to get very far. To get past this, businesses of all sizes and in every industry regularly partner with other companies to boost brand awareness, grow their sales footprint, and find more customers. 

Whatever your business model, as long as you have something to sell then starting a partner program can help you do it. Using a partner’s channels and audience can help you reach potential customers you never would have even known about. 

However, once you have your first couple of partners, getting to the next level can be tricky. How can you scale your partner program effectively? How do you go from one or two partners to hundreds of active resellers? Here are the 10 questions you should consider to make your partner program a success. 

Have you created an Ideal Customer Profile?

An Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) is important for every business if you want to optimize your sales and avoid the untargeted ‘spray-and-pray’ approach, wasting resources and attracting poor-fit prospects. However, when you’re trying to scale up your partner program, your ICP needs to be bullet-proof. There’s no room for vague ideas here. 

Despite what you may think, your product is not for everyone, and if you expect your partners to sell well they need to know exactly who they’re selling to. That means you need to have a crystal clear and specific picture of your ICP in your mind before you’re able to share it with your partners. For example, at Airborne we’ve spelled out exactly who our ICP is on the homepage: ‘purpose-built for agencies.’ While you may have been able to get away with a broader scope for your own sales, for your partners you’ll need to niche down with a laser-sharp focus.

Not only will that help your partners sell more effectively, but it’ll also help you find the right resellers in the first place. Stop looking for resellers in the same niche as you and start looking for resellers with a similar customer base. For example, when I was selling a SaaS product for sales teams, I didn’t go looking for other SaaS companies to partner with. Instead, I partnered with people who had that same customer base; sales coaches, sales trainers, and consultants. 

You should also look for partners with a complementary product, one that works well with your offer. Even better, are they already reselling a similar product? In my case, I had great success partnering with organizations that were already resellers of CRM software. 

Having a solid understanding of who you want to sell to makes it easier to find the right partner, which in turn makes your outreach much more straightforward.


Free Ideal Customer Profile Template


How are you selecting partners for your program?

It can be tempting to just take any reseller partner you can and be grateful. Isn’t this a numbers game after all? However, when you’re scaling up your program, it’s important to consider how you’re choosing your program partners. What criteria are important to you?

Can anyone become a partner? Is it a self-serve system, where they can just sign up and start selling? Or do they have to apply and be approved before they can get started? You’ll find there are pros and cons for each approach, and your decision will depend on your overall strategy. Are you looking for rapid expansion, whatever the cost? Or do you want a highly targeted operation that will result in better leads, but will mean more involvement from you? 

However you select your partners, you also have to think about what happens immediately after they sign up. Even if all partners are vetted and approved before starting, they’re still going to need information before they can get started. This means you’ll need a defined process for onboarding new partners. You’ll also have to think about what kind of guidelines and training you’re going to offer…

Have you given your partners the guidance they need?

Even the best partners are going to struggle if you haven’t given them proper guidance. This starts with having a documented sales process for them to follow. This doesn’t have to be anything complicated; simply document your own current sales process. How do you currently onboard new clients? No need to overthink things here—if it works for you, it will work for them. 

Along with the process, make sure they’re armed with all the collateral they’ll need to carry out that process. This might mean help documentation, product guides, or additional content. 

Take the time to think about what the process will look like in practice, particularly what part you’ll play. Are you going to be active in your partner’s sales? While it’s great being able to sit back and take advantage of partners doing the selling on your behalf, you may benefit more from helping out—particularly early on and for larger deals. 

In the beginning, your partners will not know the product as well as you do, no matter how good your training program is. They will need help, period. That’s important to remember, as plenty of partners will not ask for that help, out of some misguided sense of independence. You’ll have to be proactive in offering help and making sure they have everything they possibly need.

You’ll want to consider the complete process and all potential scenarios. For example, what are you going to do about discounts? Will you set ground rules, or will partners have to get discounts approved on a case by case basis? Rather than waiting for these kinds of issues to catch you by surprise, you can save yourself a lot of headaches by building a comprehensive model and framework for your partner program. Write out the process from start to finish, taking all the parameters into account and making sure you haven’t left anything out. 

In my experience, the more you’re involved at this stage of the process, the better the results. I like to talk with every new partner, onboard them, and personally train them. By walking them through the entire sales process, I can pick up on any potential issues in advance and prevent any future problems. 

Are you sufficiently supporting your partners?

Educating your partners means more than just handing them a massive manual of policies and procedures then leaving them to it. You need to make sure they have all the support and guidance they need to succeed in selling your product. 

We’ve already talked about the possibility of co-selling with your partners, and that’s certainly a great way to see for yourself how your partners sell and where they might need further support. Another potential opportunity would be running a webinar together, to see how they cope with presenting and interacting with your audience. 

For when you can’t be there personally, you might also want to consider having a dedicated (and trusted) sales account manager to keep track of your resellers’ performance and spot any potential issues. Beyond observing your partners though, it’s important to always keep the lines of communication open. Arrange for regularly scheduled support chats, or make sure you have a direct line between you and someone on their team.

Think of your partners as an extension of your team. Just as you’d make sure your team had everything they need to do their jobs, make sure your partners have everything they need to do theirs. 

How are your resellers benefiting?

It’s normal to focus on the value you’re getting from your partner program. If you expect to get ongoing results though, you’ll need to ensure your partners are getting plenty of value too. 

The most obvious value is the revenue from selling your product, but this may be more complex than you think and needs to be clearly defined way before you start actually working together. Will your partners make money based on license revenue? Service revenue? Make sure all arrangements are clearly outlined and documented, so there’s no room for confusion on either side. 

However, perhaps even more important than the money they’ll make is the value the opportunity has for their brand. It has to be a mutually beneficial arrangement. Will they benefit from being able to offer your product? Is it a good fit for their brand? Will their clients and customers see the value of the offer? 

When you think about the value your resellers get from partnering up, they’re more likely to invest in making the partnership a success.

What marketing and content have you provided?

There’s more to reselling than just making the sale. Your partners will also want to think about the content and other marketing materials they’ll be using to promote your product. You may be tempted to leave that to your partners, but when you get involved in providing marketing materials, you can help your partners sell more while still retaining control over the messaging. 

However, that doesn’t answer how much you should provide and what form it should take. Ultimately, this is for your internal marketing team to decide. As with the overall sales process, what works for your own marketing is likely to work for your partners. Your team will know best what will perform best. 

I suggest working on content together with your partners. This might be as simple as collaborating on a blog post, or it could be as big as sharing the stage at a conference. In between, there are a whole host of other options depending on your resources and your strengths, such as webinars, podcasts, and ebooks. Working together on content will give you a chance to learn more about your partner and ensure they’re equally invested. 

How are you dealing with territory management?

Thanks to the internet’s worldwide reach, it’s possible to have partners all over the world. While having an international resellers program sounds fantastic, it will take significantly more planning and management. Even if all your resellers are located in the same country, you’ll have to think about how you’re organizing your territories. 

Obviously, you’ll want to keep track of where all your partners located, but you’ll want to decide in advance exactly where you’ll be looking for resellers in the first place. Will your product only be sold in the US? Europe? 

If you do decide to take advantage of international selling, you’ll need to manage the territories and make sure resellers aren’t treading on each other’s toes. Whenever you have more than one seller in the same country—or even the same state—you’ll have to decide in advance how you’ll divide the sales among the sellers, including territory management in your sales guidelines. 

Beyond managing resellers in different territories, you’ll also have to consider what additional support international users may need. For example, will you need to make any changes to the product, localizing it to different countries? Will you need to support different languages? Thinking about how you’ll deal with these challenges in advance will give you a big advantage. 

Do you have a clear vision and mission for your company?

All business owners have a clear idea of what they’re selling. Most have a decent idea of who they’re selling to (remember that ICP?). However, not many have a good idea of why.

Why are you in business? Why this business? Why this product? 

Now, you may think that having a higher purpose or mission for your business is something for charities and social enterprises, that it’s something optional and quite frankly way down low on your list of priorities. 

I disagree. 

Knowing your ‘why’ gives your customers a reason to pick you, and can keep you going when everything seems to be against you. While it’s a great help running your own business, it’s absolutely essential if you expect other people to go out and sell your product. 

Even if you don’t have it written down on paper, on some level you know why you’re in business. When it’s your business, no-one can possibly care about it as much as you do. However, if you can explain why your business is about more than just making you money, if you can give your partners a compelling reason to go out and sell your product, they’ll be much more successful. 

On the other hand, how can you expect your partners to believe in you and your product if you don’t have a clear mission and vision for your company? Get crystal clear on your ‘why’ then make sure you’re conveying that purpose to your resellers. 

Final thoughts

While it’s great to have an army of resellers out there selling your product, there’s a lot of hard work that goes into a successful partner program. You need to know your customer, think about how you’re selecting and supporting your partners, managing territories, and much more. 

However, with all that work, it’s important to remember one thing more than any other:

The customer always comes first. It doesn’t matter how well you plan, what strategies you use, or how great your partners are; unless you keep your customer as your top priority you’ll always struggle. On the other hand, by keeping them as your focus, you’ll find your job becomes a lot easier.

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