An effective partner program can be a multiplier for a software company’s growth, extending sales, marketing, and brand awareness. Like any part of a software business, with proper care and feeding it can be powerful, but done wrong it can atrophy, drain resources, and potentially damage a company’s brand. Unfortunately, we hear from our partners that too often software companies fail to manage partner relationships properly and end up losing potentially profitable business partnerships. The good news, a few key changes to a partner program can turn it around.
Not every prospect makes a good partner. It’s important not to be over eager and court relationships that might not be a fit. Building solid partner relationships takes resources, and if a company signs up every potential partner that expresses interest it won’t be able to invest enough in the best relationships. At the beginning of the relationship it’s so important to nurture every partner, not just the golden geese, thus it’s critical to reduce distractions. This was a lesson we learned in the early days of bpm’online, and now our partner program is over 400 partners strong and growing every day. Without a clear understanding of where to invest, this could be a distraction to the business.
Partners represent your company’s brand just like a sales representative or marketing campaign so it’s vital to treat them like an extension of your own company. To co-opt the old saying, “to earn a friend you must be a friend” – we say, “to earn a great partner you must be a great partner.” Invest in onboarding aggressively, don’t just make success the partner’s responsibility. Xero provides SaaS for tax and accounting teams, and has invested heavily in training and education – leading to nearly 50% of their sales coming from channel partners. Be flexible to support their needs. Share the product roadmap and like missionaries, it’s important that every partner understands and can sell the vision. Every partner should know exactly who they need to call to get help or get things done. That’s not to suggest companies should cater to every whim, but partners become evangelists quickly for software companies that go the extra mile. As an extension of your company, the more you establish your brand as a leader in your respective space, the more confident the partner will be. Invest in thought leadership, analyst relations, and other 3rd party validation. A key to bpm’online’s successful partner efforts has been our validation from leading analyst firms like Forrester, Gartner, Nucleus and others.
The best SaaS partner programs incentivize partners to invest in long-term customer relationships by sharing recurring revenue. Just as software companies have shifted from the large contract sales models and into recurring revenue models that require ongoing customer success and retention efforts, partner programs need to make the same shift. Symantec received the wrong kind of attention in late 2015 when it relaunched it’s partner program without a recurring revenue opportunity. A partner development team should be able to articulate a clear, repeatable path to success and make it explicit about how a partner can make money not just on adding services, but by getting an ongoing revenue stream from license sales as well.
There are certainly other considerations when developing a strong, sustainable partner program. Things like partner training, enablement content, co-marketing, and other blocking and tackling are crucial tactics to keep it running, but finding the right partners, treating them like part of your company, and providing recurring revenue become the lifeblood of the program that can sustain it long term.