How to Build a Partner Program From the Ground Up

How to Build a Partner Program From the Ground Up

Gabriele Curvietto 7 min

Since I joined isendu, the challenges from top management have been to: increase brand awareness and boost sales.

I needed a way to learn and accomplish this quickly, so I started documenting how to accomplish these tasks.

Here is what I learned:

1. Start by setting simple short-term goals

To start, I focused on two goals: studying in-depth the ins and outs of the company (the product, the market, the competitive scenario) and introducing myself and my ideas related to partnerships to the various departments.

I only had the support of one partner specialist, therefore I could not count on a dedicated team.

In reality, this obstacle soon turned into an opportunity. I realized I had to partner up internally. I had to bring everyone in the company on board.

2. Focus on partnerships as a strategy

The only way to turn partnerships into a business strategy is to include, from the first hour, all departments of your company in the program you are developing.

It’s been one month since I started devoting my time entirely to making random discovery calls. The target were local web agencies, e-commerce platforms, merchants, couriers, and logistics.

3. Start living in the market

Talk to people who work in your field. Relationships are the basis of our work.

4. Focus on your KPIs

For the first year, I wanted to reach at least 5% of the total MRR, thanks to revenue generated by partners.

To spread brand awareness and launch the partner program, I involved ALL marketing and communication assets.

Not all activities were on target with leads, so I split the Partner Program into three groups:

  • Affiliate
  • Marketing
  • Technology

Based on my experience, I can honestly say that prospecting is one of the most challenging and time-consuming activities.

5. Find great partners

1. Use of Sales Navigator. I love the ability to create and save lists, it is an essential tool to segment your target.

2. Cold Outreach (calls and emails). Look for contacts on various search engines, by downloading online lists and business directories, as well as through word-of-mouth and customer referral.

3. LinkedIn personal branding. Build your reputation by sharing valuable content and connecting with your target’s decision-makers.

4. Inbound Marketing. With the support of the marketing team, we have populated all our channels, newsletter, community, Meta, LinkedIn, and YouTube, with content that appeals to the target audience. Include the partner program(s) page on your website. Make sure your contact information, both personal and corporate email (partners@...) and CTA to book a call, are clearly visible.

6. Create a strong partner value proposition

Here are some activities I’ve found useful to generate leads:

  • Start by co-creating value for the respective audiences and prospects. I’m referring to content activities like webinars, interviews, podcasts, blog posts, and white papers with the goal of sharing qualified lead generation with our partners and above all with Accounts. The numbers are not necessarily high, but with the support of the sales team, you are guaranteed to bring home some clients (at least 5% conversion rate). Bonus: Increase Brand-Awareness by associating your brand with an already established one.
  • Do live events. I suggest attending at least 2/3 trade fairs and organizing 2 events yourself to engage with and include the partners. In case of budget constraints, keep in mind that participating in events (with or without a stand) and organizing your own requires a dedicated budget. The benefits are the same as co-marketing activities, BUT at an exponentially higher extent. Events are a huge opportunity to better understand the environment you are conducting business in. During events, you get the opportunity to talk face-to-face with industry professionals, participate in seminars, and learn new reference trends that are presented. And don’t forget to invest time in networking, because everyone is more open-minded with a drink in hand!
  • When it comes to local agencies and freelancers, the approach is different since the main focus is to enable them. A partnership means cultivating a relationship based on long-term commitment and mutual support. Time to invest to achieve the goal, which is to acquire more customers and more revenue. But there are two fundamental pillars to always keep in mind to avoid wasting time: ongoing training for your product/service and a co-marketing plan. Training helps make your partners feel comfortable talking about your value proposition. Co-marketing creates an audience pull effect, rather than a channel push-back effect. Combining these two elements is the magic trick. For this segment, I also suggest offering incentives for each new customer the partner generates. Another idea may be setting the range of payouts around the target, especially payouts at the threshold and maximum levels.

Providing partners with the tools and resources they need to be successful, such as marketing materials and sales support, is a key part of the job.

7. Use a PRM

Especially for partners who co-sell or refer your solution, give them the chance to open an account on a PRM (I use that allows them to:

  • download your brand kit;
  • download your marketing and product resources;
  • share an invitation link with its customers;
  • have a dashboard to track who/how many of its customers overlap and how much commissions are earning;
  • collect commissions, whenever it wants, with a click.

8. Nuture, nurture, nurture

The right harmony, common goals, and/or a signed agreement are not enough, only time will tell which partnerships will be more mutually beneficial.

From your side, you must communicate regularly with partners and actively seek their input and feedback on the program and the product.

Set up a monthly update call, create chat channels to share interesting content and news (for example product updates or industry events), and send a monthly newsletter dedicated to partners.

9. Track partner conversion rates

KPIs should be set based on your goals. I suggest choosing one, in particular, to always keep in mind, especially during the first year when the pressure on you and your program is at its peak.

In Italy, partnerships are still seen as an accessory function, so the most common method is "let’s do a test, then we’ll see."

Even if you are a rockstar of partnerships, it will be hard to achieve exceptional numbers in the first months; however, if the weather doesn’t play in your favor, work on this KPI: user conversion rate, provided by partners, from trial to paying customer vs those coming from the sales funnel.

Trust me, it will be a breath of fresh air and will give more solidity to your position.

10. Continuously evaluate metrics and plan for the future

Continuously evaluate the program(s) based on performance metrics and plan for future actions and goals.

As far as I’m concerned, after I’ve reached the first-year target (which was not very challenging, to be honest), I decided to focus on four big challenges ahead:

  • Boosting revenue generated from Partner’s clients (x3 vs 2022).
  • Making partnerships scalable.
  • Optimizing time by focusing on fewer, more profitable partners.
  • Becoming a relevant figure as an expert on partnerships on a EU level (to make Italian companies aware of the importance of partnerships as a strategic lever for growth).

11. Bonus tip: seek feedback and continue to iterate

You’ll never grow and improve your partner program if you don’t seek continuous feedback. You might even need to learn to speak your partner’s love language.

Keep an open mind. Partnerships are tough but worth it.

PS - Feel free to DM me on LinkedIn, I love getting feedback.

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Gabriele Curvietto 7 min

How to Build a Partner Program From the Ground Up

Since Gabriele joined isendu, the challenges from top management have been to: increase brand awareness and boost sales. Here's what he learned.

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