min read

Partner Recruitment: Where API Ends & Partner Content Begins

Justin Zimmerman, Founder of Partner Playbooks, shares best practices for partner recruitment.
Where API Ends & Partner Content Begins: Partner Recruitment
Published on
January 19, 2023


For this week's greatest minds, we had the tremendous pleasure of speaking with Justin Zimmerman, the creator of Partner Playbooks. Justin launched Partner Playbooks as a project to share his lead generation, sales, and partnership-building strategies.

Justin Zimmerman, Founder of Partner Playbooks.

Justin's playbooks and consulting services have assisted numerous organizations in defining their key messages, best practices, and optimization strategies to optimize return on investment for their goals.

Join Justin Zimmerman & Martin Scholz on February 7th at the Kiflo Roundtable—real events where you can ask real questions to partnership professionals.

Read the interview below to find out more about Justin's approach to partner recruiting and how his partner playbooks can assist you in creating a winning recruitment strategy.

What You’re Doing Wrong in Partner Recruitment 

Channel partnerships come in a wide variety of flavors, forms, and sizes. Because of that, it might be difficult to find and recruit the ideal channel partners for your business. 

One of the factors that add to these difficulties, in Justin's opinion, is that many partnerships are run by one-person teams. While this opens up room for creativity, it can also bring problems: That person will have a hard time dealing with all the roles, and eventually, they'll be burned out.

As a single-person team, you have a lot of ability and creativity to make a lot of choices. But then the paradox of choice and a potential lack of alignment with a partner strategy—with whoever might be in charge of the program and where it lives—can create misalignments that then cause a number of problems to occur.”

In addition to a one-person team, another mistake companies make when recruiting partners is choosing to build multiple partner programs at once. 

According to Justin, bigger isn't necessarily always better, especially at the beginning of building a partner program, and especially if you only have one person running the show.  If you have a diverse partner portfolio, you may be able to serve a wider range of customers and cover a larger geographic area, but what if that leads to frequent miscommunications, lack of resources, and overstretching yourself?

To use Justin’s own words: 

“You're trying to do too many programs—affiliate programs, reseller programs, technology programs, agency programs—and  too few resources against too many things equals no results, which puts the person and the program in jeopardy.”

Lastly, what many partner programs get wrong is not determining early on the kind of partners they want to get on board. 

Justin says it can be tempting to concentrate on bringing on as many partners as you can, but this doesn't really produce much in the way of outcomes. A majority of the money generated within programs is done so by a small number of really committed partners. Determining your appropriate partners before launching your program is important for this reason. Partner teams have to determine who those excited and hungry partners are before they can do anything else.

"Another challenge I see with partner recruitment is the starting point. Who are we going to recruit? And then the question becomes, well, what program are we running? And so if you're in one-person teams, then the challenge becomes, well, where do I start? And so recruitment and where to start are kind of one of the same frameworks."

Partner Recruitment Strategy Preparation 

So, how do you ensure that you’re getting partner recruitment right? By preparing a partner recruitment strategy. And while it sounds intimidating, it’s actually no different from a marketing or demand generation strategy. 

How? Regardless of how big or little a channel is, it has always been the solution to gaining an advantage over the competition, which in turn drives revenue and company growth. You'll need a plan, though, in order to do it correctly.

Below Justin offers best practices to keep in mind as you prepare your partner recruitment strategy. 

Internal Alignment is the Key

Internal alignment basically means that every team member, from marketing to sales, should have the same vision and goals for the company.

According to Justin, everyone should work together to achieve specific goals while maintaining openness and accountability between departments.

For company processes to run smoothly and effectively, internal alignment is essential. It also fosters collaboration, which leads to happier and more productive teams. Without alignment, each department operates autonomously, with its own data sets and goals, leading to unnecessary silos.

The problem with a siloed organization is that each department performs separate tasks at different points in the partner's lifecycle, using its own limited data set. Since they don't share information with other departments, this impacts the partner experience.

"You got to get back into realignment. You can't go out into the world and make promises or reach out and make deals until you're internally aligned and internally partnered. That's the number one struggle I’ve seen. I experienced it in my roles, and in my positions, and it brought me to places that I don't want to go back to. I've gotten calls from others who have been in the same position and I realize it is an epidemic. It is the number one challenge that individual solo partner operators on solo partner teams face is that lack of alignment and resources."

Put “Excitement” Into Your Metrics

We measure a variety of metrics as indicators of a successful partnership. These include partner revenue, customer retention, and customer satisfaction. All of these metrics can be north star metrics for any partner program.

According to Justin, we shouldn't forget about the partners who are engaged and as excited about the partnership as you are. These are partners who show enthusiasm and come to the table with their own ideas. They put in just as much work as you do to make the partnership a success.

“There are leading indicators of what a successful partnership is going to yield and so revenue and all the KPIs are a lagging indicator of a bunch of other things. In fact, those are the last things.

 Let's walk backward here. 

If you're looking for revenue, what are the precursors to revenue? Offers, sales, and marketing projects. And then what are the precursors of that? Well, alignment around goals, timelines, and project management. And then what are the precursors to that alignment around ICP and opportunity and total addressable markets together? And then really the biggest, I would say leading indicator is the partner is willing and interested and excited, recurringly on a week-by-week or biweekly basis to show up, meet up and come together to solve what the opportunity could look like.”

Use Tech…But Use it Wisely

Technology can help your partnerships succeed. But then again, so can lots of other things. So, why use it? For starters, in partner recruitment, technology such as PRM helps with automating time-consuming tasks and reduces the number of man-hours needed to implement your strategy.

The key is to find technology that frees up your time to build relationships with partners, not technology that replaces or diminishes those relationships. 

As Justin says:

"In recruitment, whether it's recruiting employees or partners, the process in motion is almost the same across every category. The only thing that changes is the message. The process is to create and find a targeted list of partners who represent your ideal partner profile. Build a campaign of outreach that you're going to test multiple messages against. You can even load it up and drive them to a couple of different calls to action. And so the email sequences can drive you towards who you want to talk to."

Planning for Partnership Meetings

You’ve built and implemented a recruitment strategy, and now a potential partner has agreed to meet with you. Congrats!So, what now?

All too often, people under prepare for these meetings and lose the opportunity. Justin shares a few pointers to set the tone for your first meeting.

Prepare the Pitch

Stay aware that you have roughly 30 minutes to make a solid first impression and persuade the partner that a relationship with you is worthwhile. Justin explains that your partner may receive a variety of signals depending on what you decide to include (or leave out) in your pitch deck. For example, you should categorically express in your pitch deck the salient features of your product and company. 

Also, some people enjoy reading over a document while you speak. Make sure your document shows the effort you put into it and that you have done your homework in order to be well-prepared for the meeting. You might also add some pictures and graphics.

As Justin says:

“The best way to have a great meeting is to actually prepare for it in the pitch. If you're trying to reach out to partners and get their attention, don't just fill out their partner form and wait for them to respond. Set a meeting with them using a Loom that will walk them through the facts and solutions you know will bring value. Don't send a cold email or a cold LinkedIn saying, ‘Hey, I'd like to talk. Maybe we have some opportunities to explore.’ For example, I actually send my use case analysis ahead of setting a meeting. That way it's not just kind of a whimsical, ‘hey, we're both in the same market.’ It’s purposeful and prepared.

Segment Your Partners 

Justin advises that you need to segment your partners in order to focus your attention and resources on where they will be most useful.

Many vendors don't have a methodical way to choose the best partners to concentrate on. Instead, they waste a lot of time and money on the wrong partners, and when they do analyze partners, they frequently only take their most recent revenue achievements into account when ranking and prioritizing them. That’s why you need to segment your partners.

“Take your existing most successful partners and look at their qualities and characteristics. What industries do they serve? What things are they saying? What communities are they a part of? In the same way that you would reverse engineer how you go to market to discover a slice or segment of your current existing customers, think of your partners as customers and do that same segmentation work.”

Planning for the Future

Over the past couple of years, we have seen partner managers get recruitment wrong and bite off more than they can chew. This is because they run the show alone and with very few resources. 

How can we rectify this problem in 2023?

 Below Justin has given us a few predictions and suggestions for improving partnership strategies in 2023.

Hire Partnerships People with a Marketing Mind

Partners are usually not receptive to impersonal messages with pointless information. That's why Justin advises companies to hire people with a marketing mindset. 

Being innovative and understanding your partner is a basic requirement for a marketing mindset. It's about seeing the world through your partner's eyes and identifying their needs before they even know them. It's also about being proactive rather than reactive and constantly looking for new ways to sell your product or service.

“Hire a partner manager who has the ability to also develop content. Because if you don’t, the challenge is going to be, they are going to recruit these partners, but then have no wherewithal to deliver on any of the co-marketing agreements. That immediately makes the partnership really difficult to execute on the strategic level. This is also true at the scaled and affiliate level. Partners don't want generic, untested, poor-performing copy and content to put in front of their audience. Companies should be looking for someone who has a super strong marketing and creative background who also can handle the management side. Because you need both, especially on those small startup teams.”

The Future of Marketing is Partner Marketing

According to Justin, partnership marketing is going to take center stage in 2023, and therefore influence how we recruit partners. Why? Because as products move to a partnership strategy for delivering services to end users, those solutions need to be communicated to various markets. 

“The future of marketing, especially product marketing, is probably going to be partner marketing, and the rise of the partner marketer is going to take center stage at some point. It just makes sense.

Once the API and the integrations are done and the products are connected, what's connecting the marketplaces, the teams, and the customers? It’s a marketing strategy, a partner marketing strategy. It’s what brings the integration to life. That's what brings the awareness of how to use these products together or how to get value out of a product.

And so when looking for partners, you have to be aware of who you are asking to help orchestrate the flow of content and ideas across companies and marketplaces. We have to think about where the API ends and the partner content strategy begins.”

Key Takeaways: Justin’s Advice for Successful Partnership Recruitment

Here are the key takeaways Justin wants to share with you as you start executing your partner recruitment and marketing strategies for 2023.

“Leverage your existing relationships.”

“Leverage your existing relationships and create segments the way Facebook allows you to create different audiences. Use that mindset and try to replicate your biggest successes.

“Stay focused.”

Scott Brinker said in a recent meeting I had with him, if you're trying to go from zero to one, the best way to do it is to ‘focus, focus, focus.’ And so focus means to pick the most likely partner program with the most likely partner or two to test out how to get traction and go from there.”

“Know where the API ends, and the partner content begins.”

“Whether it's enablement content, whether it's demand gen content, whether it's partner recruitment content, in the end, you have to look at your partnership deliverables as a content strategy and identify how you will bring value, not just through your API, but also through your content model.”

Make it Happen for You: How to Grow a Successful Partner Program 

If you want to grow a partner program as Justin describes, it is essential that you have the proper tools to structure, automate, and scale your program.

A Partner Relation Management (PRM) platform allows you to:

  • Organize your program with tiers
  • Coordinate training, onboarding, and certification processes
  • Trace leads
  • Build a knowledge base to provide instant answers
  • Collaborate with partners on a shared pipeline
  • Get full visibility over partner activity
  • Measure partner performance
  • Track commission and payouts

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