7 Ways to Sabotage Your Partner Ecosystem: A Guide for Partner Managers

7 Ways to Sabotage Your Partner Ecosystem: A Guide for Partner Managers

Rob Rebholz 6 min

Like jenga stacks and sandcastles, partnership ecosystems are hard to build, but pretty easy to ruin. And some of the most common mistakes people make have little to do with the technical stuff.

Most often, it’s the human side of partner management, the relationship building, and the way their partners feel (more on that word later - it’s important). So, to help well-intentioned partner managers avoid making small mistakes with potentially big consequences, I’ve made this list of the top 7.

Having a “build it and they’ll come” mindset (spoiler: they won’t)

Great partnerships are the result of hundreds of great individual relationships. Approach each of these relationships with your partner’s preferences in view.

For example: you may have a great partner portal, but before you invite them to try it out, you need to know whether it’s what they want. Maybe they prefer to engage via email or Slack - in which case, do it. 

If you’re ever in doubt, come at it from their point of view and their needs first, not yours. That way, you’ll make sure that engaging with you is a pleasure and not a hassle. The good news is that we can learn so much about this from great B2C brands.

To become more partnercentric, consider how these brands build customer relationships founded on loyalty, excitement, and trust. It’s a topic I’ve spoken about before, and I think it’s really vital for partner managers to think about what we can take from CRM.

All facts, no feels: human connection is essential

As far as performance metrics go, loyalty is an underrated one for partner managers. The more loyal your partners are, the more value you can expect from the relationship.

But it’s easy to forget that loyalty is about a lot more than revenue. Your partners and their employees want to feel valued. That’s what motivates people, and drives them to keep engaging with you.

Objection: Isn’t commission enough?

Commission, on its own, may be enough to secure a baseline of transactional loyalty, but if you’re in it for the long term, you’ll need to do more. Make your partners’ people feel like you value them and their contributions.

Acknowledge your partner’s hard work, and tell them how much you appreciate it. That’s how you build loyalty, and motivate your partners to keep saving you a seat at the table, pushing revenue, or helping you to close deals.

Forgetting that partners are people first, {{insert role}} later: a recipe for failure

In SaaS partnerships, it’s so important to remember that the companies and agencies you partner with are made up of individual people. Everything we know about the partner life cycle applies on this individual level, too.

To really succeed, you need to know where each of them are in that cycle, so you can keep engaging them in the most relevant ways. I know it sounds like work - but it’s worth it, and there are tools to take care of a lot of the heavy lifting (yeah, like Superglue).

Related: forgetting the “little” people

This people-centric approach isn’t just about the partner managers and key decision-makers in your partner’s organization. You need to win over everyone, right down to a junior AE or new CSM manager, and make them feel that you appreciate and support them. After all, it’s often they who will get you into meetings and deals.

Making it all about the bottom line

Focus less on revenue and more on relationships in the short term. A partnership isn’t something you can buy your way into. Instead, you need to win people over. Only once you’ve built a firm foundation can you expect value - and yes, revenue - to be generated.

Of course, commissions play a role. But even the most attractive incentive scheme is only as strong as the relationship that stands behind it. Partner tiers and badges are also useful ways to boost engagement, but they’re not enough on their own.

Non-monetary, relational incentives like recognition are often underestimated. Spend more time thanking partners for the work they do.

Remember, neither they nor you are in it solely for the money. We’re not robots after all. The next time your partner has an opportunity to bring you into a deal, you can be sure they’ll remember the sincere, human response they got the last time around - and that can make all the difference.

Failing to tap the wisdom of the crowd

The people in your partner ecosystem all have their own insights and expertise - and you may be surprised by what you can learn from them, even about your own niche. You should aim to involve them more in your processes. Have deep conversations, ask for their advice, and let them provide input, not just on their integration, but on a broader scale.

Doing this will show you that you value their insights, and that’s hugely beneficial for relationships. But it also enables you to access their knowledge and gather insights from a wide range of independent thinkers.

“We’ve always done it this way” - famous last words

To scale your partnerships program, you need to think in terms of structured processes and flows. But at the same time, you can’t afford to neglect personalization, and you should never lose sight of your partners’ individual needs. Those needs evolve over time, so you need to adapt along with them.

While you scale and structure your processes, remain flexible and open to change. The only way to know that you’re still on track is by testing, testing, and more testing.

Putting the automation cart before the partner preference horse

As you may know, I’m a huge advocate of AI and automation. But before you adopt any of these tools, you need to know what your partners want. Once you’ve identified patterns and worked out some best practices, you can start to think about scale and automation.

Communicate with your partners about the automation, and why you’re implementing it. Most importantly, show them how it will benefit them. This will reassure them they can still expect personalized attention from you.

At the end of the day, no great loyalty program can be built without automation. That’s not just true in B2C, it’s also true in partnerships. But be careful never to make experiences feel generic. You want people to feel like they’re engaging with a person, not a process or machine.

Key takeaway: Stay partner-centric to avoid (self) sabotage.

You can think of these points as a bright neon “DON’T” - and do the opposite in your own partner ecosystem. The common theme that runs through them all is that building a thriving partner ecosystem is about more than ticking technical boxes or even hitting revenue targets.

Fundamentally, it’s about providing experiences that make people feel excited, motivated, and eager to work with you. If you can do that, the sky’s the limit. And trust me, the money will follow.

Prefer to listen? Subscribe to our PartnerHacker Audio Articles Podcast. Text-to-speech provided by our partner Voicemaker.in.

Rob Rebholz 6 min

7 Ways to Sabotage Your Partner Ecosystem: A Guide for Partner Managers

Like jenga stacks and sandcastles, partnership ecosystems are hard to build, but pretty easy to ruin. Learn how to avoid common mistakes in partnerships.

You Might Also Like


This is a test comment.


This is a longer test comment to see how this looks if the person decides to ramble a bit. So they're rambling and rambling and then they even lorem ipsum.