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Partner Program Tiers: The Set Up Process A-Z

No two partners are alike. Every partner is motivated by something different. Because of this, catering to the needs of each partner while scaling your program can be difficult. The solution – Partner Program Tiers.
Learn the Set Up Process for Partner Program Tiers
Published on
March 9, 2021

Understanding the Need for Partner Program Tiers

Partner program tiers can be described as levels within a partner program. Each level has different requirements, benefits, and rewards. These levels take into consideration the varying skill sets, activities, and factors motivating your partners to help meet their needs. For example, the rewards associated with customer referrals on one level would be quite different from the rewards associated with another level where partners sell the product actively.

Partner tiers make it easier to give each partner a program that suits them and keeps them motivated. It also allows you to scale the program easily and grow your partner network. Today, 52% of all partner programs use partner tiers.

How to Set Up Partnership Tiers for Your Program

There is no set rule as to how program tiers can be set up. The ideal solution for your partner program depends on your goals. You can have as many levels as you like, but companies normally use 3 levels. Each level will have different prerequisites from your partner and different rewards and benefits being offered. To develop these tiers, ask yourself questions like:

  • What qualifies a partner to stand at this level?
  • How much training is required?
  • What are the resources needed?
  • What are the benefits and rewards offered?

That said, let’s take a look at a common structure. Think of this as a pyramid structure with the first level at the bottom.

First-level Partners

In this tier, you are likely to engage with the largest number of partners within your partnership network. The partners in this category do not necessarily need to possess extensive industry connections or occupy influential positions within their respective domains. Instead, their primary role within this partnership tier is to provide fundamental support by promoting and endorsing your product to potential customers.

These customers could be individuals who have already experienced the value of your offering or even notable figures and influencers within your industry. It's essential to understand that partners in this tier do not play an active role in directly selling your product to customers; rather, their contribution lies in acting as advocates and referral sources. By harnessing the reach and credibility of these partners, you can expand your product's visibility and reputation, ultimately bolstering your presence in the market.

Second-level Partners

Second-level partners represent a crucial category within your partnership ecosystem, as they are strategic partners deeply entrenched in your target audience's circles and bring substantial value to your business. Within this tier, their primary role is to serve as conduits for referrals and introductions, effectively connecting your product with potential customers who align with your target demographic. While these partners excel at making recommendations and sparking interest in your offering, they may not possess the capabilities to finalize sales transactions directly.

This tier often includes agencies, consultants, and other partners who do not directly compete with your tech company. These collaborators are valuable assets due to their specialized expertise and access to niche markets. To secure their active involvement, you may need to invest more in cultivating these relationships, as they offer a deeper level of support. In return for their services, it's common to provide them with more substantial rewards, incentivizing their continued commitment to promoting your product. This strategic partnership level plays a critical role in expanding your market reach and enhancing your brand's reputation by leveraging their industry insights and extensive networks.

Third-level Partners

Third-level partners represent the pinnacle of your partnership hierarchy, occupying a prominent position at the apex of your partner network pyramid. These partners are distinguished by their unwavering commitment to your business, investing a substantial amount of their time and effort into the active promotion and direct sales of your product, all while diligently converting leads into customers. This level of dedication and hands-on involvement in the sales process requires a significant investment in training and support from your end to equip these partners with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed to represent your product effectively.

Furthermore, third-level partners demand more substantial, personalized incentives to maintain their motivation and dedication to your brand. Recognizing their pivotal role in driving your product's success, it's essential to provide them with rewards and benefits that match the value they bring to your business. Partners such as Value-Added Resellers (VARs), systems integrators, and Managed Service Providers (MSPs) often occupy this prestigious level, as they possess the expertise and infrastructure required to not only sell your product but also seamlessly integrate it into the workflows and technology ecosystems of your target customers. Their proactive engagement and proficiency in closing deals make them invaluable allies in your quest for market dominance.

Here is an example of how you can set up the requirements, benefits, and rewards of your partner tiers:

Partner tiers requirements board
Partner program reward board

Easing Potential Challenges

When creating partner program tiers, you must ensure that the tiers do not complicate partner management. Since every partner can have different goals, may need varying amounts of resources and training, and can be offered different rewards, you must make sure they are well-fitted to the tier. 

This is where Partner Relationship Management (PRM) tools can help. A PRM facilitates the onboarding process and helps track each partner’s progress. It also makes it easier for you to give your partners the support they need. It provides valuable insights such as partner attribution rates and partner KPIs to aid in strategic decisions for the future of your partner program.

To start with, you need to specify the requirements, goals, resources, training needs, commission, rewards, etc. for each tier. Onboard all your partners and place them in the appropriate tier. A good PRM will also let some or all of your partners access the system through a partner portal so that they are informed of the needs and objectives of their tier.  For example, leads provided by tier 1 partners may be tracked through personal referral links while those provided by tier 2 partners could be tracked through submissions on the partner portal. 

Examples of Best Partner Program Tiers

More than half the companies that run a partner program use a tiered system. Let’s look at a few examples:

Zendesk’s Partner Tiers

Zendesk as a three-tier program similar to the structure described above. Partners in tier 1 must fulfill very basic requirements and need not have exceptional technical expertise. However, the requirements grow for tier 2 and tier 3. The rewards and benefits also increase proportionately. 

One of the key benefits offered is lead distribution. Through this, the company shares leads with partners who have the highest probability of closing a deal. For example, a partner may already have an established relationship with the lead. A PRM makes it easy to do this and allows partners to access leads through the partner portal. 

Zendesk Partner Program

Pipedrive’s Partner Tiers

Pipedrive has a similar 3-tiered structure. While the top level is reserved for consultants, VARs, and integrators, the first level is open to anyone wanting to recommend Pipedrive.

Pipedrive Partner Program

Aircall's Partner Tiers

Aircall’s partner tiers focus on the role played by their partners instead of their overall sales potential. In their case, partners in the first tier only provide leads and those in the second tier manage the sales cycle and help the business grow. Third-tier partners complete the sales cycle and provide after-sales support. Thus, the tiers are linked to the partner’s capabilities. As a partner’s capabilities and expertise grow, they may move from one tier to the next.

Aircall Partner Program

Hubspot’s Partner Tiers

Hubspot has a 5-tier program based on how much each partner sells. With a PRM, managing such a structure can be automated and when a partner crosses the revenue threshold, they can be automatically moved to the next level.

Hubspot partner program

Finding a PRM suited to your program

Irrespective of how you design your tiers and how many levels you create, a PRM is essential. The Kiflo PRM simplifies the tier management of partners. It is designed specifically with tech startups and SMB structures in mind. From partner onboarding and attribution to tier management, Kiflo simplifies it all.

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