December 15, 2022

How to Build a Product-Led Partner Marketing Strategy

Charlene Strain, Partner Marketing Manager of Ecosystem (Resellers, Integrations, and Marketplace Listings) at Pendo.io, explains how they built a successful product-led partner marketing strategy.

pendo-partner-program

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 the article, we had the extreme pleasure of interviewing Charlene Strain, Partner Marketing Manager at Pendo.io. Pendo is a product analysis tool that helps software companies develop products that are well-received by customers.

Pendo is the only platform that combines robust product data, user input, and product engagement. Product teams can make better decisions about how to support consumers on their journey when they can quickly act on this qualitative and quantitative information.

charlene-strain-pendo
Charlene Strain, Pendo.io's Partner Marketing Manager of Ecosystem

As the Partner Marketing Manager, Charlene oversees go-to-market strategy, operations, planning, and marketing campaigns.

Since starting her job at Pendo, Charlene has used partner marketing to influence $3M+ in ARR. She has also developed sales enablement materials, positioning, messaging, and GTM strategies that have assisted in enabling new partners, keeping current partners informed, and achieving partner goals.

Read the following interview to discover and take advantage of the advice coming from Charlene herself.

Why Partner AND Product Marketing?

Partner marketing refers to a collaboration between partnered companies with the common goal of increasing brand awareness and marketing their goods and services to the overlapping target market.

Product marketing, on the other hand, is about introducing a product to the market. This involves choosing the positioning and message of the product, bringing it to market, and ensuring that both sellers and customers are aware of it. The goal of product marketing is to increase demand for the product and promote its use.

Charlene’s position sits at the intersection of these initiatives. Being involved in these two roles allows Charlene to be head chef and maître d', so to speak. On the one hand, she’s in charge of promoting the use of Pendo’s products, letting customers know how valuable they are, and carrying out go-to-market plans.

On the other hand, she plays an important role in assisting with Pendo’s collaboration activities. She does this by establishing and upholding connections with ecosystem partners. After all, these alliances are crucial to promoting goods and expanding the company.

“I sit on a team with a bunch of product marketers and it's great. It's really interesting. They're learning a lot from me when it comes to partnerships, partner marketing, and where they overlap. I'm also learning a lot from them. In terms of product marketing, it's interesting because my team has a very product marketing lens when it comes to messaging, positioning, class, and collaboration, both internally and externally. And it's helpful for partnerships and partner marketing. It's helpful to have a technical and strategic way to think about marketing, goal setting, and metrics.”

What is a Product-Led Partner Strategy?

A product-led partner strategy refers to a business approach that places a company's software at the center of the buying process—and in many cases, at the center of the entire customer experience.

Charlene explains that if a company doesn't use its own product internally, doesn't understand the features, doesn't grasp how it works, and doesn't know how updates are made, it doesn't know how best to improve its product.  

A product-centric partner strategy, on the other hand,  focuses entirely on customer needs. This allows Pendo to actively develop new features based on what partners want and their feedback. They put themselves in their customer's shoes, and the results speak for themselves.

"Having a product-centric partner approach is just being able to put your feet in the shoes of the customer, which is also your partner. You're trying to understand what their goals are, what their metrics are, and how to work with them. And so being able to understand your products, being able to understand theirs, and how those things overlap, how those audiences overlap, how those goals overlap, as well, and being really strategic about which partners that you choose and why."

With that said, designing an effective product-led partner program isn't easy. It takes time, strategic planning, and most importantly, a community of evangelists.

Finding a Product-Led Community

Partnerships can be very rewarding. But they can also be challenging. And if we've learned anything over the years, it's that people thrive in community and interaction.

Pendo knows that partners and customers prefer to be treated as individuals, not numbers. More importantly, people want to know that there's a real person on the other end of the phone when they call, just as there's a person on the other end of the chat message or email. 

They want to feel like they're part of a community.

Charlene and her team have managed to increase partners' loyalty and engagement by making them feel like they're part of a niche community. She explains: 

"One of our key values is a maniacal focus on the customer. That is literally one of our values as an organization. We have seven. And so that community is important because it is holistic. They give us their feedback, and we do the same. There's a level of transparency that people really appreciate about the way that we approach things, the way that we talk to our customers. What’s great is that we already have built-in conversations with our customers, which are our reseller, integration, or marketplace listing partners, because most of the time they’re customers of ours, or vice versa."

Indeed, this sense of community allows its members to embrace authenticity, which in turn cultivates trust in partnerships.

Creating No-Nonsense Assets

And as Charlene explains, authenticity needs to extend to the core materials shared in the program.

At Pendo, they believe that ​high-quality assets encourage partner loyalty and engagement because they appreciate the effort that went into creating them. 

What does this mean for partners? It means they receive marketing materials that not only remove any mystery about the requirements of the program, but also ones in which they can see their goals reflected. Additionally, Pendo receives confirmation that partner marketing is taking place and that the marketing provided by partners is in line with the brand.

Most importantly, these materials cut the fat and get straight to the meat of things, so to speak. 

Charlene makes sure that Pendo’s materials are actually interesting and simple to use. For instance, today's audience wants to watch videos to learn new facts, not read pages and pages of fluff. 

We create no-nonsense assets and also organize existing materials to make it easy not only for our salespeople here at Pendo but also for our actual reseller, integration, or marketplace listing partners. We create templates for press releases, data sheets, and the like so they can be plug-and-play. If they're looking for three to five sentences, we can deliver that to them in the format they need.”

Whether it's partner marketing assets, messaging, or sales enablement material, Charlene ensures that every asset is aligned to a common goal.

Finding Your North Star 

Having a common goal or a North Star is very important at Pendo. When a team has common goals or North Star metrics that everyone is working toward, they've something that unites and motivates them as a group. 

When that goal is clear and everyone knows how they can actively contribute to achieving it, the team can prioritize and organize their work to achieve the goal. Additionally, having a North Star also has the following benefits:

  • It gives a clear direction and plan of action.

  • The North Star provides an opportunity to foster collaboration and trust.

  • It supports the professional development of team members and the acquisition of new skills.

Charlene also explains that having that North Star helps the team see when something is out of alignment with the goal, thus making pivoting easier. 

Every team needs a North Star metric. Especially because partner marketing is very cross-collaborative. It's a team sport from the beginning and so it's important for the team to be aligned and like, hey, here's what our collective team goal is.

When every team member understands the goal, they're able to take ownership of the work that they do, as well as accountability for it.

Seeking Accountability 

Accountability is a foundational principle in thriving partnerships and can influence progress toward common goals.  

That's why Charlene believes in keeping partners accountable. To that end, Pendo sets partner quotas and agrees on goals and the level of investment required for success.

This is important because to ensure your partners' success, you need to engage with them at all levels and build lasting relationships. Collaboration is important to achieve common goals. This can take a variety of forms, but open communication, sharing best practices, and developing niche marketing materials can help them overcome obstacles.

Pendo believes that, when difficulties arise, it's important to work with your channel partner to fix them; you need to provide the necessary processes and technology to create a good atmosphere that encourages them to seek your help.

And if you don't yet have these processes developed, work together with your partners to figure them out. Sometimes all it takes is holding the external partner accountable by asking them to meet you in your efforts. If they aren’t reaching out yet, it is likely not because they are not good at what they do, but because they need additional guidance. 

As Charlene states: 

For example, I'm working on an initiative, and I created a go-to-market template. To be transparent, I told the partner all the things that Pendo plans to do. The dates, and the stakeholders involved. I asked them, ‘What are you guys going to be doing? Here's what we're going to be offering, what about you?’ I put that on paper and made sure that it was very clear to that team, too. That's the key to both internal and external alignment.

Moving Quickly (but Strategically)

That said, Charlene acknowledges that accountability is not a one-way street. She also accounts for the strategic moves and decisions she and her team make. 

According to Charlene, one of the most important skills in a fast-paced world is the ability to act quickly and strategically. Making smart decisions is an important skill for partnerships and business in general. When you make a strategic decision quickly you save time and allow you to use resources more effectively.

The biggest thing I had to learn was just being able to move quickly, but strategically. Partners have their own responsibilities and they don’t want to wait around for us to finally figure out what we’re doing. You have to know how to just be like, ‘Looks great, boom, let's do it.’ My team really are the kind of people who understand the balance between moving quickly on something, but also strategically thinking about things and getting buy-in from internal stakeholders.

Key Takeaways: Charlene’s Advice to Building a Product-led Partner Marketing Strategy Like Pendo.io

“Build the plane as you fly.”

I like thinking as I'm talking and I like building the plane as I fly. It's very much that kind of mindset even when I’m testing things out. Don't be afraid to do that. Think about things first, but don't be afraid to just dive in and start to take action. Make mistakes, and then pivot. We've had events where we did all this work and the partner drove one person. We take time to ask ourselves, ‘Okay, what went wrong here?’ It's good to learn from those failures as well. So, build a plane as you fly and then see how it lands.”

“Don’t let partnerships become siloed.”

Get your team involved in the building of the plane as well, especially if you're a smaller team. Make sure that you have that internal buy-in and cross-collaboration from those other teams and internal stakeholders. That way you'll feel a little bit less alone in the work that you're doing. As you know, partnerships can be pretty siloed. So, it's nice to have that input, as well.”

“Don't be afraid to talk to folks outside of your own company.” 

The partnerships world is small—in a good way. There are a lot of different types of people to meet. Don't be afraid to talk to folks outside of your own company. Actually, I think it's very important for improving your operations. I know partnerships folks who do nothing but talk to people outside of their own company and that's incredible. And they are very successful in what they do.” 

Make it Happen for You: How to Grow Your Partner Program like Pendo.io

If you want to grow a partner program like Pendo.io, 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

Scale your product-led partner strategy with a PRM.

Learn how!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is product marketing?

Product marketing is the practice of matching product positioning to customer needs so that customers purchase and use those products.

What is product-led partner marketing?

Product-led partner marketing is a company approach that integrates partner marketing activities with product-led principles. Product-led marketing teams put the product at the heart of their go-to-market strategies and customer experiences whilst collaborating with ecosystem partners to reach common goals.

Is it important to focus on the product in partner marketing?

Yes! When a company positions its product with the partner's target audience and alongside the partner's product, it is easier for potential customers to understand how the partnership can solve a particular problem for them that one product alone could not.

What is Pendo.io?

Pendo.io, Inc. is a software company that helps product development teams improve their software development processes by tracking product usage patterns and user feedback.

Does Pendo.io have a partner program?

Yes, Pendo has both integration and reseller partners. The Pendo partner program offers a wide range of incentives, including platform support for developing integrations and applications in Pendo, hands-on training, and combined go-to-market initiatives to drive your revenue growth.

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