This article is a 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 our latest article, we had the pleasure of speaking with PartnerXperience (PXP) co-founder Martin Scholz. PXP helps SaaS companies expand and evolve through the power of alliances and build economically and innovatively stimulating ecosystems. PXP provides coaching, training, and consulting services to executives and partnership teams who want to harness the power of partnerships to build their organizations.
As part of PXP, Martin and Co-Founder Bernhard Friedrichs have developed proven processes to find the best partners for their clients, establish unique partner strategies with teams, and implement them in growth-oriented partnership organizations.
Read the interview below to learn more about how PXP tackles partner recruitment and how they define the partner journey to provide the best possible experience for their partners. Glean valuable insight from Martin himself!
- 1. Prepping for Recruitment: The Go-to-Partner Plan
- 2. Defining the Partner Journey
- 3. The Trial and Error Process
- 4. Do it Full-heartedly Rather than Perfectly
- 5. Getting Down to Partner Recruitment
- 5.1. The Four C’s of Partner Qualification
- 5.2. The Mutual Action Plan
- 6. Key Takeaways: Martin’s Advice to Successful Partner Recruitment
- 6.1. “Have a very compelling value proposition.”
- 6.2. “Find a framework like the four C’s for qualifying partners.”
- 6.3. “Use the process of creating documentation to align goals.”
- 6.4. “Try not to punch above your weight.”
- 7. Make it Happen for You: How to Implement a Strong Partner Recruitment Strategy like PartnerXperience
Table of contents
When it comes to partner recruiting, you need to understand there is no blueprint. Like in private life, each partnership is individual and unique to the two parties involved. Simply copying something which worked for someone else won’t be enough. One needs to create added value for both to establish a truly successful partnership.
According to Martin, you need to consider two things when thinking about a partner plan: your value proposition and the partner's experience.
A value proposition is a clear statement you make to your partners about your offering to attract new partners, build stronger relationships, and inspire loyalty. If you can refine your special partner value offer, you will undoubtedly recruit better partners and enhance your channel partnership marketing techniques.
In Martin’s words:
“If you think about the go-to partner plan, the main question is why heck should they care? Why should they want to become your partner? If I want to partner with your company, what can I offer to you of value, what can I offer that makes it a no-brainer for you to join?"
Along with the value proposition is partner experience. This is how your partners see your brand as a result of their interactions with you and the tools, resources, and other support you give them. For the partners in your channel network, partner experience is a concept for building and maintaining good relationships.
"Along with the value proposition is where our company name comes in. What is their partner experience? What we mean by that is, we have been told in the last ten years or even longer about customer experience. We're told to make sure that you deliver your product yourself, and deliver a great customer experience, and then people will come to you and everything will be fine. People have not applied that concept to partners."
PXP also focuses on defining the partner journey. This is the totality of the experiences partners have when interacting with you, mirroring the customer journey.
According to Martin, many partnerships don't have a clearly defined partner journey. Even if they have a great onboarding experience, it's usually unclear who's building what, who's responsible for customer success, who's handling training, who's handling implementation, and who's handling renewal.
This is problematic because this doesn’t provide the best experience for partners.
It basically boils down to whether the processes are transparent and clearly defined to give partners the best possible experience.
“Are the expectations set right with a partner? Do they have a clear understanding of who does what? Too often, that's not the case. It's nice to have an interesting commercial model. It's nice to have marketing funds to share or to support. That's all cool. But if the mechanics are not clear, then the partner will have a bad experience with your partner program.”
PXP understands that partner programs can be challenging. After all, they have about 15 years of both successes and mistakes under their belts. Fortunately, these mistakes became valuable lessons to enable growth.
The same should be expected for partner programs that are starting out. Use your mistakes and challenges as blocks toward building the perfect strategy.
One of the challenges for many partner programs is that partner managers are lone wolves with leaders who have little to no experience, particularly in the beginning.
To survive the first years of building a partner program, Martin suggests the following:
Get someone with experience: Find someone with experience to run the program. And on that note, here’s another point to watch out for: managing a partner program is different than building one, and all too often the person is hired to manage and build it at the same time. Think about what is feasible for you and your company, and what the main goals are.
Get informed: To succeed at this, try to find resources that can give you guidance. Reach out to your community of like-minded people. Partner communities are literally growing like crazy right now. People are much more connected than they used to be, so try to take advantage of that. But also be mindful. There's no such thing as a quick win when it comes to building a successful strategy.
Get feedback: Be transparent with your first partners and listen to them carefully. Tell them you're still building and ask for constructive feedback.
Get into the data: PXP analyzes the performance data of its clients' top partners. They use this data to evaluate their performance against that of their average or underperforming partners. Then they try to develop a program based on what the productive partner is doing. Martin says they also offer incentives to bring more partners into this successful area.
"Whenever I build a program, I try to understand what the top 10% do, what the others don't do, and how can I incentivize a behavior so that the other 90% do more of the stuff the top ten do and try to replicate that behavior more and more to move more partners into the top tier."
We get caught up in the idea that if our partner programs don't meet all the criteria, there must be a good reason to hold back. This leads us to the wrong place because the path to greatness is about actually getting started and being willing to give it your all, not about striving for perfection.
So, when is the right time to start?
The answer, according to Martin, is when you have a value proposition that you've tested with one or two trusted partners. It doesn't have to be just partners, it can be the most receptive people you have. So start developing a strategy by looking at your customer base.
Martin says that some of your potential partners are already customers, which always happens in the ecosystem. Because you may not have had a program, those potential partners just signed up as clients, but in reality, there is something very valuable to be given to one another and, of course, your end users.
Talk to your “partner disguised as clients” and tell them you want to launch a partner program. Then ask them for any feedback that they can give, for their expectations of such a program.
There isn't just one strategy to find channel partners. There are many ways for businesses to succeed in partner recruitment, but none of them is a surefire formula for doing so.
You must invest the necessary time in finding the best partners for your partners and in preparing them for success. To that end, Martin shares a few tips to help you get down to recruiting partners the right way.
One of the things that is extremely useful in partner recruitment is the four C's of lead qualification: Customer, Credibility, Capability, and Commitment.
Customer: First, your partner lead must have a relevant customer base and this differs per sector.
Credibility: The second point is whether the potential partner has the credibility to talk about your product. That is if they introduce your product to that customer base, will they listen?
Capability: This describes the partner's knowledge and skills and how well they work with your target market. Building a growth engine requires a partner with the right set-up. Can they promote and sell your product? Can they provide support or service around your product? Do they have what it takes to meet the demand that will (hopefully) be generated by your partnership?
Commitment: This is the most important “C”— it’s about the “skin in the game”. It determines the reliability and consistency of a partner's performance. Your partner's loyalty and engagement are critical to your sales revenue because many partners work with multiple vendors. Their commitment will impact your success and growth trajectory.
Martin says that he has seen potential partners who scored high in the first three of the criteria but weren't committed enough, resulting in poor performance. However, there have also been partners who were very committed and, while they met the other criteria to only some extent, performed extraordinarily well. The key is to ensure that the potential partner scores high enough in the four C analysis to be considered a good fit.
“If one of the four C's is not meeting your own criteria, then your prospective partner should have a very clear, strong statement on how they will fix that gap.”
Along with evaluating the four C’s, you have to consider your Mutual Action Plan or MAP. This is a document that facilitates cooperation between parties in search of a win-win outcome. The MAP is also referred to as a go-live plan, joint execution plan, completion plan, mutual success plan, or mutually agreed upon action plan. But no matter what you call it, it always answers two important questions: who has to do what, and when do they need to act to implement the terms of the agreement?
This MAP is something you would do during the opportunity generation stage. You may also think of it as a practical road map that makes the journey easier and guarantees that everyone stays on the same page. It also allows you to answer questions such as:
Do they have enough resources (time, staff, money, etc.)?
Are they ready to invest those resources?
Are you talking to the right person in authority?
Do you have buy-in for the value proposition you’ve proposed to them?
Using both the four C’s and the MAP, you’ll know if you have found the right company to partner with.
“Really be sure that you have a very compelling value proposition and offer it to them before you even start nurturing the partnership. Really make sure that you have a good understanding of your potential partners' business model and how you can contribute to their growth. What does the short and long version of success look like for them? That's the starting point.”
“If you look at particular partner prospects, you really, absolutely want to make sure that you utilize the four C’s when you look at the leads. After you’ve qualified them and set up a meeting, then focus on the commitment part and use the MAP, the mutual action plan. Make sure they are ready and willing to meet you in your commitment.”
“It’s the process of filling out the MAP that’s important, not necessarily the document itself. You need to sit down together and work on the document to really get this mutual commitment in motion.
We always joke that the partner contract is not worth the paper printed on, but it's legally binding while this MAP, the mutual action plan, is not legally binding but morally binding. People are committed to the process, and it is a foundation for you to check in after on a regular basis and say, ‘Hey, we agreed to do that, this, and that. I delivered my part. Where’s your part?’ This is absolutely crucial in this particular part of the recruitment.”
“The last tip for me in partner recruitment is don't try to partner with the big ones. Chances are they are fed up. They have too many people who want to partner with them. There's hardly any chance for you to get their attention. Unless you really have this amazing, outstanding, exceptional, disruptive technology, you likely don’t have a chance.
I totally recommend not punching above your weight. Try to find somebody who's about the same size, slightly above you because they will be more open to working with you. And remember this if some smaller company reaches out to you. Don't be that arrogant person. Listen to them and see if you can help them to grow because ultimately it's about collaborative work in the ecosystem.”
Make it Happen for You: How to Implement a Strong Partner Recruitment Strategy like PartnerXperience
In addition to Martin’s advice, 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
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
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is PartnerXperience?
PartnerXperience is a consulting firm that helps SaaS companies build and grow effective partner networks and ecosystems.
Does PartnerXperience offer a partner manager certification program?
PartnerXperience offers certification in partnership management and leadership. Thanks to these exciting learning opportunities, you'll be able to achieve your goals.
What should I do before I start a partner recruitment strategy?
Before you start partner recruitment, ensure that you have a solid value proposition for your potential partners. You also have to ensure that you have a strategy to provide them with the best partner experience.
What is the key documentation for new partners?
The essential documents for new partners include a partnership agreement, a mutual action plan, and an onboarding guide.
Should I try to find big channel partners?
Not necessarily. Because large companies receive so many partnership requests from smaller companies, working with larger companies rarely turns out well. It would be pointless unless you have truly innovative technology. Try to partner with companies that are of similar size and influence to see better results.