Key Strategies for Partner Onboarding
This article is part of a compelling series that will give you practical tips on how to grow a successful partner program. By leveraging the advice of the greatest minds in partnerships, you will learn how to effectively create, structure, and build a partner program that scales revenue. If you are a startup or SMB in the B2B tech industry, this series is for you.
For this article, we had the pleasure of interviewing Juhi Saha, CEO of Partner1 and formerly Vice President of Partnerships and Alliances at Clearbit, a data intelligence platform. Partner1 helps companies successfully navigate and co-sell with Microsoft to accelerate revenue growth and mindshare. Through fractional partnership leader offerings, Partner1 also helps companies develop their partnerships strategy and programs, unlocking new revenue streams and accelerating growth
In her previous role, Juhi accelerated and scaled Clearbit's global revenue growth by developing high-functioning partner ecosystems and alliances. She was responsible for the strategy, execution, and operationalization of strategic alliances, GTM programs, and revenue-based partnerships including reseller and referral partnerships, Data and API Integrations with major software brands in CRM, marketing automation, revenue operations, and more.
She also oversaw the agency, channel sales, and co-sell partnerships. Prior to joining Clearbit, Juhi held a variety of leadership roles at Microsoft across strategic startup partnerships, financial services, and Azure partner development.
She has experience building and empowering high-performing teams globally and cultivating strong client relationships to deliver outstanding results.
Read the following interview to discover and take advantage of the advice coming from Juhi herself.
The 4 Pillars of Any Good Partnership Strategy
Onboarding needs to be a top priority in your channel development campaign because it's critical to your partners' success in selling your services. The adage "you get out what you put in" best describes why your onboarding approach must be thoroughly crafted before you even engage your partners.
It's difficult, if not impossible, to set partners up for success without clear rules for collaboration and operational procedures.
Juhi recommends focusing on the following pillars when it comes to onboarding:
Who Are We Serving?
The most important thing is to understand your target audience. Knowing your target audience will give you the information you need to find a solution to their problem. When you better understand their pain points and desires, you can really address them.
As Juhi says, you need to understand your IPP (Ideal Partner Profile). Not only that, but you also need to understand their industry and the audience they serve so you can figure out how your offering meets their needs.
“Who are our ICPs, in this case, partners and who do they serve? Because it's really important to understand their pain points and buyers. Once we have a really clear picture of their persona and their sales journey and their retention journey, I like to get into ‘where are we going to play?’”
Where’s the Play?
If you see an opportunity in the ecosystem, what role do you think you should play? Are you going to have to play different roles? And then there are deeper questions you need to ask yourself such as:
- Which ecosystems and marketplaces will you participate in?
- Are you going to have a presence in your partners’ ecosystems and markets?
- Who are the leaders in that particular market segment?
- Where, geographically, is the market?
It's really important to be clear about how and where you're going to win. And honestly, there's often a green field out there that you don't see. So how do you figure out the unknown? A lot of these questions come up in conversations with customers.
How Will We Win?
According to Juhi, winning isn’t based on pure luck. You win because you choose to focus on a specific goal and execute a strategy designed to achieve it.
You also need to find a space within the ecosystem where you will play and thrive. But that's not all: you also need a compelling strategic value proposition. Your company's value proposition is probably the most important aspect of your entire campaign. A value proposition explains why potential partners should do business with you, not your competitors, and makes the benefits of your products or services clear from the start.
“Our strategy evolved quite significantly because of our partnerships motion, and that was a big surprise. We found a whole new space to play. Besides being a marketing platform, we found a whole new area to play, which ended up being a huge revenue driver. And that ties into, how are you going to win, what is going to be your value proposition, how do you clearly define that and what is your competitive advantage?”
Juhi means that your strategy determines your chances of success. To be successful, you must provide value to your partners that is superior and sustainable to that of your competitors.
If you know where to position yourself within the ecosystem, you can maximize your chances of success. There is no one ideal tactic. That's why it's important to improve your company's ability to think strategically.
What Do We Need to Win?
Juhi says that the key to a successful channel partnership is having a well-defined business strategy that helps you and your partner establish your goals and ensures that you win. This strategy provides a roadmap to success and also helps with gaining the support of the rest of your organization and leadership team.
Just as important as setting goals is measuring them using KPIs. Not only can you use KPIs to track progress and show revenue to your executive suite, but you can also quantify the success of the partner program and make projections for the future. Of course, these KPIs will vary depending on your partner program.
As Juhi puts it:
“What are my short-term and long-term goals and KPIs? Because I am an engineer by training, I like to measure things. And data is always helpful in developing a course of action. What resources will I need? What's the investment? I like to build out a spreadsheet where I say, these are the resources I'm going to need over this period of time, and here's the ROI on that.”
Launching Your Partner Onboarding Strategy
There are many excellent onboarding programs out there, and Juhi sees Microsoft as a wonderful example of a successful onboarding approach. One of the reasons her partner onboarding process is so successful is that she modeled it after Microsoft's and adopted the following characteristics: :
Remove the Friction
For partners, the onboarding process can be a pain. With strict deadlines to meet, technology solutions to communicate, and stakeholder expectations to meet, the implementation process can feel overwhelming even before it begins.
That's why it's important to make the process as seamless as possible and bring in new partners. Using the right technology, such as a PRM, is one of the best ways to develop a consistent, efficient customer onboarding process. From contracts to welcome guides, you can make a lot of things easy. When onboarding is seamless, it becomes easier to keep partners activated.
“What I loved about Microsoft was they made onboarding super easy. They had a portal that you could log into, they had a checklist of things for partners to do, they had tools to teach them how to onboard.”
Keep it Self-serve
Each partner will be on their own path, arriving at different points in their journey at different times. Some will get in early and complete onboarding rather quickly. Others will join the festivities later.
All, however, will need support at the various stages of their journey. But, you should have deadlines and incentives to try to keep partners on track. Aim for a collaborative, automated approach for their convenience.
“Who's got the time anymore to get on the phone and get support on a call? I think it’s really important to let people do it on their own time and have a fantastic database of FAQs and resources that are technical as well as nontechnical so all the stakeholders can get their questions addressed at the moment they arise.”
Your partner platform should also provide your partners with easily available information and resources so they can learn about your business and offerings.
When your partners have more detailed information about your product, they can engage more effectively with customers and consequently sell more. This leads to higher product retention and loyalty among partners.
Keep it Transparent
Transparency is critical during the partner onboarding process because it sets the stage for scaleable activities that will increase efficiency for years to come. To build healthy and effective relationships with your partners, maintain a high level of transparency throughout the onboarding process. Your partners must always know their next step so they can plan for it.
Maintaining Your Successful Partner Onboarding Program
As you know, the onboarding process is the partner's first direct contact with your company. It can set the tone for the rest of the relationship. Even the performance of upcoming partnership opportunities can be affected by ineffective planning or implementation of partner onboarding. So, Juhi gives you some advice on how to maintain the success of your onboarding program.
Bake Quick-wins Into Your Partner Onboarding
Your partners want wins and they want them quickly.
That's because it usually takes time for partners to appreciate the value of your product. Give them an early win to build their confidence. This can be as simple as "leveling up" during the onboarding process or getting a badge for performing a certain action.
The quick-win strategy should be implemented while your partners are still onboarding. You don't want to wait until they get frustrated or regret their decision. Show your partners that you're the right partner to help them achieve their goals as quickly as possible.
To use Juhi’s own words:
“If your partners are all about co-marketing, it's really easy to have ready-made templates. I remember one of the companies I worked for had ready-made templates that said, ‘When you make an announcement of this category, use this template for a press release. Here's a quote and we'll amplify it.' That's how easily and quickly you can make gains in your relationship. You can do account mapping as part of the onboarding process and say, ‘If we have mutual clients, let's do a mutual case study, here's a template and you can create the content. We'll review it and then we'll release it.’ So these quick and easy wins are possible depending on what the partnership is trying to solve for.”
The idea of quick wins is a widely shared sentiment in partnerships because they are no longer optional, they’re an absolute necessity. As Adam Pasch from Improvado said in his Greatest Minds in Partnerships article:
“Some partnerships can take over a year to come to fruition, if at all. In order to keep the partner engaged during this period, as well as show success to your higher-ups, you have to find ways that prove value today. Quick wins help keep the momentum going and allow you and the partner to work towards bigger wins.”
Set Goals for Your Partner Onboarding Process
Set goals and expectations for your partner's onboarding process. Your partners should be clear by now about the specific benefits of working together. It's your responsibility to design channel processes and a document that states what you want partners to accomplish in the first 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and beyond.
While your partnership goals should be clearly defined, you need to be somewhat flexible in how you'll achieve them, because there may be setbacks to achieving your goal, and creating alternative plans in advance can help you deal with them.
“I think it's important to have goals that will not change over the long term, but the way you execute those goals should be flexible and need to be flexible, especially if you're a small partnerships team. So if your goal is to increase revenue by X percent over the next three years, you can do it in a bunch of ways. And it's important to figure out what's working and do it fast and maybe do it with multiple pathways simultaneously so you don't lose time. But I think the goal that you decide on should be fairly stable so your team is not running around changing course every week. And I think it's also important for the goal to ladder into the company's goals.”
Build to a Scaleable Partner Onboarding Process
The more you know about your program partners and participants, the better you can customize and personalize program aspects to them. Ultimately, the more time you have for partners, the more your revenue will increase.
As Juhi puts it:
“I think when you start, in the early stages, a lot of it is just a repetition of processes that you can follow. For example, this is how you create an account, follow these steps and if you have a technical problem you can’t resolve through FAQs, submit a support ticket. But I agree with you that the further up the value chain you go and the more mature your ecosystem becomes, the more human contact you need, no matter where you play. And that's what Microsoft has done incredibly well, and I think a lot of companies are emulating that: If you do more business with them, they provide you with more resources.”
Create Great Partner Onboarding Content
As we all know, content is king, but only if it’s great content. Too many vendors hand off large folders of content to onboarding partners without a clear methodology for them to follow, templates and learning content are unclearly named, and more importantly, not everything is immediately applicable.
Build multi-step training that builds on each other so partners know what to do next. Limit access to information as your knowledge grows, and automate the introduction of new topics. When your content is top-tier and relevant, it’ll help increase partner engagement.
“My highest priority would be to let me create content that trains sellers in a quick and easy way that's easily digestible on how to sell my product, when to bring me in, how to implement my solution, and how they retire their quota because they're going to care about that. If it's to get mind share, then yes, I would create fantastic white papers and content that would resonate with my partner's customers.”
Key Takeaways: Juhi’s Advice for Creating a More Successful Partner Onboarding Strategy
"Get really crisp on the problem you're solving."
“Figure out your strategy. Get really crisp on what you're solving for, who your downstream customers are, and how you're going to partner with the people you invest in.”
"Organize your operations."
“Figure out your segmentation and your templates. A lot of this should be scalable and self-serve as much as possible.”
"Get stakeholder buy-in internally and externally."
“It is crucial to get stakeholders’ buy-in internally and externally so that they invest in your success and amplify your wins. And then get those early wins. Get those early wins, keep showing what's possible and that's just going to allow you to keep laddering up into more and more success.”
"Time is your most important non-renewable resource."
“Time is your most important non-renewable resource, so that strategy piece is so important. Don't skip it. For example, if you decide to invest in a hyper-scaler, you need to know how much time that is going to take. It can be a black hole that will sink your partnerships if you don’t have the time, resources, and executive support for it. But if you do, it can take you to the moon.”
Make it Happen for You: How to Grow Your Partner Program like Microsoft
If you want to grow a partner program like Microsoft, it is essential that you have the proper tools to structure, automate, and scale your program.
A Partner Relationship 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