If you build it, they will come! As soon as you integrate with a major software vendor, all their customers will be yours!
Yeah, right. That never happens. If you want to successfully earn market share with a partner’s customers, you need to put in the work. But what do you do?
We asked the SaaS partnership community how they manage partnership launches. This summarizes what they said.
A big thanks to Ronen Vengosh who provided his own partnership launch checklist for Egnyte.
Did we miss a step? Comment below and we will improve this article.
Organize your partnership pipeline by stages
The activities that are relevant depend on what stage your partnership deal is in. Also not every partnership makes it to the finish line, but your job as a partnership manager is to herd them along.
When you organize your partnership pipeline by the stages, everything becomes a lot simpler. You can focus and prioritize your efforts on partners that are executing. You can organize your activities checklist by stage. And eventually as you grow your team, you can delegate different stages to different team members.
Partnership launch stages
In my experience, I have found that integrated partnerships best follow these stages, where each stage involves a different set of people to buy-in, such as the product team, engineering, marketing, sales and support. If you have a different set of stages, please comment below.
- Target. Potential partners you have yet to reach out to.
- Handshaking. Initial conversations. No plans yet.
- Spec. Specification of what the integration will look like.
- Dev committed. Engineer teams are allocated. This could be either party, or even a third-party agency.
- QA. Quality assurance of the integration.
- Pre-launch. Preparing for the marketing launch.
- Launch! The big day. Launching the integration to the market.
- Post-launch. Activities in the immediate aftermath of the launch.
At this stage, both partners are assessing if there is an opportunity. While persuading a partner to do a deal is an entire topic of conversation, in order to enter the next phase, you need to complete a few key actions:
- Common vision. Your partner and you should both share a common vision of how your companies can work together for the better service of customers, and thereby improve your marketability.
- Identify target customers. Your customer bases overlap imperfectly; which customer types are you impacting?
- Identify use cases. What customer use cases are you going to solve? (roughly)
- Assess market opportunity. What kind of marketing will the partner do if you did an integration? (roughly)
- Assess hot to trotness. How excited and willing is your partner to do a deal?
- Get technical documentation. API docs and other technical information you need to build a spec
If the partnership is worth exploring, the next step is to design the integration by looking at what is technically possible and by asking potential customers what they want. This may be delegated to a product team or your partner.
- Customer research. Email, phone, survey potential customers to capture the use cases.
- Product specification. Some kind of implementation plan of how the integration will work
- Review and accept spec. Review the spec with the stakeholders of the partnership to confirm you can move forward.
Once the spec is accepted, then engineering needs to be committed and scheduled. Be careful as engineering teams are often reallocated from partnerships.
- Schedule work. When is the project expected to begin?
- Spec review. Review the spec with the product manager or engineering team lead before they break ground. Also this serves to confirm they will break ground.
Make sure the integration works by testing it internally and externally.
- Personal smoke test. You should personally try the integration to make sure it works as you expected and you understand it.
- Internal QA. Have someone else inside your company try the integration and look for problems.
- Beta testers. Recruit actual customers, often those you talked to during customer research, to try it out and confirm it.
- Beta reviews and case studies. Get feedback, testimonial, reviews, and case studies from your beta customers you can use in your sales and marketing collateral.
- Partner QA. Let your partner do QA if they want to.
Get organized before launch day. Many teams will be impacted by an integration. It’s your responsibility to prepare them.
Some assets you will need over and over again, so get them ready.
- Logo. Both vector and bitmap forms.
- Integration elevator pitch. What problem does the integration solve and how?
- Company elevator pitch. What problem does your product solve and how?
- Description. What pains do you solve? What benefits do you offer? What’s your position against your competitors?
- Screen shots. Pick screenshots that sell.
- Explainer video. Make an marketing video that sells your product and the integration.
- Walk-through screencast. Make a video that explains how to set up and use the integration.
- Tracking links. What UTMs or referral links or landing pages are you going to use to track customers?
Pre-launch for support
Support is going to take the brunt of technical problems with the integration. Make sure they know how it works, what problem it is solving, and how to reach you to escalate problems.
- Support contact information. Exchange contact information between support teams. If you can, not only what can be publicly shared with customers, but also a direct contact between the support teams to escalate issues quickly.
- Service level agreements. Is there a support service-level agreement? Which support team is responsible for what?
- Help center article. Include the elevator pitch for the integration and the overall description. Explain how to enable and use the integration. Address Frequently Asked Questions that came up during beta testing. Include the screenshots and the walk-through screencast.
- Webinar (internal). Do a webinar or video call to demo the integration for the support team.
Pre-launch for sales
A common mistake is that your partner’s sales team will sell your product to their customers. This will be your big break! And then of course they don’t.
Sales people do not sell partner products; their job is to sell their core product. They will only use partner products if it helps them overcome an objection to selling their core product. Make sure you can help them with that by asking them what objections they are facing and seeing how you can overcome them.
- Elevator pitch for the integration. In two sentences, what customer problem are you solving with the integration and how? What is your unique value proposition? What sales problem are you solving with the integration?
- Elevator pitch for your product. In two sentences, what customer problem are you solving with your company?
- One-pager. Sales loves one-pagers they can “shoot over” to customers that answers most questions so they don’t have to. If you have case studies from your beta customers, include them. Social proof is key.
- Explainer video. If they won’t read your one-pager, they will watch the explainer video.
- Webinar (internal). Do a webinar or video call to demo the integration for the sales team and explain how it will help them sell more.
- Sales tracking. Will customers interested in the integration be tagged in the CRM?
Pre-launch for marketing
To make the launch work efficiently, you need to prepare all your marketing communications before launch. Make sure your partner agrees and coordinates with their marketing communications team to deliver these early in the partnership. Usually you reciprocate.
- Schedule. When are you going to “launch” the integration? Meaning, when is the marketing push?
- Blog post. Are they writing a blog post selling and explaining the integration to their customers? Do they need the elevator pitch and description, explainer video, screenshots, tracking links, case studies?
- Landing page. Are you designing special landing pages?
- Directory / app store listing. Do they have an integrations directory? Do you need copy, screenshots, explainer videos, support contact information, tracking links, reviews from beta customers, case studies?
- Social media mentions. What will they push on social media? The explainer video, screenshots, link to the landing page, or link to the blog post?
- Webinar. Are you hosting a webinar for customers to talk through the integration?
- Social media advertising. Are you buying social media ads for the integration? What’s the target? The landing page, blog, or webinar?
- Newsletter. What is the newsletter copy? Do they need the elevator pitch and description, explainer video, screenshots, tracking links, case studies, link to the webinar?
- In-app messaging. Will they announce the integration in their app, through in-app notifications or, if decided in the spec, directly in the user interface?
- Drip email. Are you designing a specialized drip campaign for new customers of that integration?
- Press release. Are you putting out a press release? Whose PR agency is coordinating? How much time do they need? What is the real story here? Do you need the elevator pitch and description, explainer video, screenshots, quotes from executives, case studies?
On launch day, it’s time to flip the switch on the integration and push out all the marketing communications. Your job is to get the team engaged to deal with any problems and take advantage of any opportunities.
- Remind support. Remind support you’re launching so they are prepared.
- Confirm with product. Confirm with product they can release the integration to the public.
- Confirm with marketing. Confirm with marketing they are ready to launch the communications.
- Confirm with partner. Confirm with partner they are ready to launch the communications.
- Go! Flip the switch.
- Watch the results. Keep an eye on customer channels, social media, and the support queue to react to any problems or opportunities.
After the launch
You’re not done yet. To maximize the opportunity, you need to keep developing the momentum.
- Report the results. Your partner wants to know if it worked too.
- Solicit customer feedback, reviews, case studies. Contact customers using the integration while they are still excited.
- Do a post-mortem. Talk to your partner about what worked and didn’t. Identify any further opportunities.
- Schedule future calls. Stay in touch with your partners to both learn of opportunities they have and offer marketing opportunities to them to keep them engaged.
Partnerships take time. Continue with ongoing market development activities:
- Blog posts
- Attend, sponsor, speak at partner conferences
- Co-sponsor cocktail parties at trade shows
- Write a whitepaper or ebook together
- Buy advertisements about the integration (PPC, retargeting)
- Channel marketing to their or your channel partners, including case studies, customer reviews, and any partner programs you offer.
And of course, keep building better use cases through ongoing product activities:
- Continually improve quality
- Find new use cases to integrate
- Keep up with new APIs or product opportunities; offer to be a beta customer of new APIs.
- Work towards being offered directly in the partner’s user interface.