Building a brand new partner program from scratch is hard. Getting it from 0 to well over $10M in revenue pipeline in 12 months is even harder. During a recent meetup with Marco De Paulis we learned the questions you ask and the order you ask them to determine the speed and results you get, such as:
Do you first scope out partners or secure internal buy-in?
When do you start the internal alignment process?
How many partners should you launch with?
There’s a saying I once heard, “ask better questions, get better answers” and during this meetup, Marco De Paulis answered the questions which led to his astonishing rapid success taking his partner program from ZERO to $10M+ in under 12 months.
If you don’t know Marco, he has worked in partnerships for the last eight years with agencies and SaaS companies. During that time, he has stood up multiple partner programs from the ground up. Today, Marco is the Director of E-commerce Partnerships at Ryder.
The Partnership Value Flywheel
One of the first things we learned about was The Partnership Value Flywheel and how Marco typically approaches partnerships. He starts first with alignment as a top-down and a bottom-up approach. This means he works with both leadership and the troops on the ground to ensure that he finds and empowers champions within every team.
After forging alignment with leadership and his team, then it’s much easier to enable partners and create value because you aren’t working on an island, you’re working collaboratively.
As you’re able to work together, you will be able to drive far more value to your partners. Marco has found that partners naturally want to give back because they know how you add value to them. With each initiative, you’re depositing into your relationship so they can return the value to drive success metrics for your organization.
Using this framework, Marco has been able to forge mutually beneficial partnerships.
Q1: Prepare for the Year
Unfortunately, most people entering partnerships don’t know what alliances are or how to structure and benefit from them. To help change that, Marco shared these guidelines.
Step one in Marco’s playbook in building your partner program is forging alignment across every department in your organization, as well as the leadership team. To forge that alignment, you have to start by approaching those teams and understanding what they’re focused on. Marco recommended asking questions like:
- What does your day-to-day look like?
- What are your goals?
- What are your KPIs?
- How can we connect the dots between your goals and partnership initiatives?
Once you’ve found mutually beneficial goals and outcomes, your teams naturally want to work together, unlocking greater opportunities.
Offers & Asks of Each Department
Marco highlighted how the value to each department, along with your requests of their team will differ. While the specifics will differ based on your organization, the below breakdown explores the basic benefits. Remember to ask your internal teams what their goals and struggles are, then frame your value and asks around those — you’ll likely be able to support many of their goals, while easing their common challenges.
Value to Marketing
- Expanded audience reach
- Extended life of assets developed
- Increased content engagement
Asks of Marketing
- Collaboration on co-marketing content
- Support building initial program marketing assets
Value to Customer Success
- Enhanced customer experience
- Additional customer support resources
- Reduced customer churn
Asks of Customer Success
- Support understanding customer needs & challenges
Value to Product
- Increased capabilities
- Reduced workload when partners can help develop integrations
Asks of Product
- Support developing integrations, sharing APIs as applicable
Value to Sales
- Reduced time to deal close
- Increased leads generated
- Greater customer lifetime value (LTV)
Asks of Sales
- Support understanding prospect needs & challenges
A big market of potential partnerships is both a benefit and challenge. There are so many potential organizations to partner with. And without priorities and filters, it’s easy to drown in opportunities.
Marco has found a way to drive long-term success: maintain a narrow focus while going really deep with your partners, instead of trying to support hundreds of surface-lever partner relationships. His key to doing this successfully is to avoid onboarding tons of new partners whom you have no relationship with. Instead, start with your Customer Success and Sales teams to dig into your product and look for existing partnerships.
For example, if your product has existing integrations, but no relationship, that’s a prime opportunity to approach. As an added benefit, it’s far easier to get traction with a new partner when you already have established a mutual understanding of your joint value to customers, rather than starting at zero and trying to build something new.
When looking at these potential partners, Marco suggested asking:
- What do you care about?
- How is your current process working for you?
- What would you like to see?
By starting with organizations already poised to work with you, it’s far easier to develop your ideal partner profile, program incentives, and requirements because you already know what’s working. The key here is coordinating with Customer Success and Sales to keep an ear out for opportunities, then work together to identify good-fit partners.
- Forge internal alignment and gain buy-in from various departments.
- Understand the goals of your internal teams and how you can support them.
- Work with Customer Success and Sales to get a clear picture of who your ideal partner may be.
- Identify existing integrations or overlaps and begin building partnerships.
Q2: Build Enablement
We’ve all heard it’s critical to lead with value, that way, you get the most attention from your partners and can drive value back to your organization. And as we learned, in order to drive value to partners, you have to start by helping your internal team understand the value of partners, how to work together, and the best way to speak to partners.
Instead of starting at zero, it helps to have your team already know what to do with partners. Then, once the program is up and running, you’re ready to start working with partners and driving value immediately.
Next, is external enablement with partners. Marco has found that he doesn’t need a formal partner program in place before he can begin enabling partners. His perspective is, “Why wait to give partners resources to support and incentivize them when I can make them as successful as possible from day one?”
Another key benefit of starting with enablement is that you can work directly with your partners to build a program that meets their needs. You can approach your program development with an open state of mind, asking:
- What’s working?
- What isn’t, and what do you need?
- What conversations are you having, and how can we support those?
- What can we do to facilitate a better experience?
An overarching theme of Marco’s approach is to avoid guessing what partners want and, instead, let them tell you what they need. In his own words, “If you can be curious every single day, in every conversation you have, you’re going to see success, for sure.”
When you let your partners tell you what their enablement playbook is, they help you write it and you can jump straight to driving value for your partners. This ensures you have a value engine starting working before you actually launch your program.
Top Enablement Activities to Consider
When it comes to enablement, every individual — even within one team — will learn things differently. It has to be the right time for things to click. Marco’s philosophy is to try everything, do it consistently, and see what works well. You never know what will work at the right time for the right person, so Marco tries it all and asks for feedback.
In his role, he conducts:
- Email enablement
- Slack enablement
- Virtual sessions, like spotlights or lunch & learns
You have to be where your partners are, and the only way you’ll know what works is by asking them for feedback.
- Enable your team to work well with partners before building your program.
- Ask what your partners need instead of assuming.
- Provide enablement in various formats, then adjust based on partner feedback.
Q3: Launch Program
Marco approaches launching the partner program as a marketing play. Your program launch is about taking six months of work — finding the right partners, conducting conversations, getting feedback — then creating the pieces you need to execute.
Your “official partner program overview” should include:
- What you can offer to partners
- Why what you’re offering is valuable to partners
- How customers will benefit from your program
- What you will provide to partners (make sure this includes the benefits and incentives that your legacy partners told you they value)
Getting these pieces in place will ensure you can launch with all the right marketing assets — landing pages, forms — that are public-facing and speak the right language to entice your ideal partners. This will help you reduce iterations and start driving value faster.
Focus on Activation vs. Growth
Marco emphasized the value of launching with fewer, more targeted partners, instead of partnering with hundreds of organizations. In his most recent experience, he launched with around a dozen partners and was really conscious about each partner he chose to work with.
He framed his perspective as, “Each partner you bring on takes time away from another partner you could be working with. You need to really be smart and learn how to say ‘no’ respectfully. This will help you ensure you’re not overpromising and under-delivering.”
Marco has found this approach helps his team more easily prioritize partners for opportunities like co-marketing, webinars, and enablement sessions. If you’re running a massive program and finding 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of customers, it’s time to prune your partners to optimize your time spent and improve overall results.
- Build your program marketing assets — landing pages, forms, email outreach, etc.
- Focus on quality over quantity.
- Be ruthless in pruning partners that don’t drive value.
Q4: Hire to Double Down on Partner Marketing
With your partner program in place, you can begin approaching co-marketing initiatives. Marco has found co-marketing to be one of the lowest-hanging fruits to add value to your partners — all it takes is a bit of time with your marketing teams to develop joint assets.
You absolutely need buy-in and alignment from your internal marketing team so they understand how their efforts on thought leadership and joint content pieces contribute to increased traffic and marketing engagement. If you’ve established that alignment internally early, it will be much easier for your marketing team to start pulling in partners once you’re ready to.
Prioritizing Partners with Which to Co-market
Even with a lean ecosystem, it can be challenging to pick a few partners to prioritize. But according to Marco, this is a critical step. Marco recommends even if you don’t have external partner tiers established, create them internally. This might be based on activity, success, or a matrix of a few factors.
Then, you can approach marketing with your top list of partners to engage. This allows you to focus on the partners you’re really trying to activate so you can maximize value.
Create Co-marketing Assets in Bulk
One of Marco’s top recommendations for effective co-marketing initiatives was to develop content in bulk. Instead of spending eight hours on a single blog post, he’s found it’s far more effective to spend twelve hours and create six content pieces. Once you’re already working together on a theme, it’s a lot easier to create more pieces of content.
It’s a simple strategy, but an effective way to pour gasoline on the effort you’re already investing in joint content pieces.
Invest in a Partner Marketing Resource
Marco highlighted how when you get started with co-marketing, it’s likely that your internal marketing team can take on these efforts. As you start to expand your efforts, it’s critical to invest in a partner marketing resource. Unfortunately, experienced Partner Marketers aren’t yet incredibly prevalent. However, Product Marketers have many of the same skills and can be great to start with.
- Prioritize your top 10 partners to co-market with, the following 10, and the bottom 10 not to bother with.
- Develop co-marketing assets in bulk.
- Invest in a Partner Marketer as your needs scale.
Reach $10M in Pipeline This Year with Partner Playbooks
Whether you’re starting with nothing or you have an established partner program you want to scale, following Marco’s framework can help take you to the next level this year. Grab our 0 to $10M checklist for an easy reference guide to the steps you need to take each quarter to succeed.
Interested in more on this topic? Watch the full meet-up with Marco De Paulis to hear all of his insights on building a partner program from scratch.
Also, we do a monthly meetup (virtual) for partner managers and marketers. We share how we generate leads, sales, and new partnerships. It’s crazy, but 200-500 partner people reg/attend these things! So happy to have you at the next one. Here’s the link to our Calendly to see if the time and topics work for you.