Partner recruitment. It’s often the #1 obstacle to success that program managers face when building partnership programs. You can pour immense effort into building a beautiful program, with a compelling rewards structure and thoughtful enablement—but without quality new partners coming through the door, it’s near impossible to grow.
That’s why many program managers are turning to partnership networks, which are websites that list multiple partnership opportunities that prospective partners can join. Listing your program on a partnership network can be a lucrative move—both for your company and for your partners. Companies who use PartnerStack’s Marketplace drive an average of 26% more revenue than companies who do not. What’s more, partners who use the Marketplace earn a staggering 8.6x more than those who do not.
Best of all, partnership networks can unlock a powerful mutually beneficial situation that’s self-feeding—more successful partners become more invested partners. More successful partners generate more revenue for companies, which companies can then invest into more resources to support partners’ success. The cycle continues.
Is a partner network the right move for your program? That depends. We sat down with Andrew Kim, Head of Network Growth at PartnerStack, to discuss why partner networks can be so powerful, how to decide if listing your program fits your company’s strategy, and how to be a top-performing program in your partner network of choice.
Benefits of using a partner network
It’s hard to recruit good partners. “Finding folks who can effectively promote your business, refer customers, and/or bring deals to the table can be a tall order,” says Andrew, “especially when you're competing with other vendors who are after similar partners.” That’s why it’s wise to use all available channels to maximize your reach. Most partner managers are already heavily invested in outbound recruitment tactics, like paid ads and direct outreach. But many have yet to invest in an inbound channel where you can let your partners find you. “It’s the perfect complement to your outbound channels,” says Andrew.
Partner networks unlock a whole new audience you otherwise wouldn’t have access to. That’s why they can be so powerful for growing your program. The PartnerStack Marketplace alone connects 65,000+ active partners to over 200 B2B partnership programs. (And there are other marketplaces worth joining for B2C businesses, like CJ Affiliate and Amazon Associates.) SocialBee, a social media management platform, joined PartnerStack’s marketplace in 2018. Today, they drive an entire 40% of all partnerships revenue through the PartnerStack Marketplace—revenue they otherwise wouldn’t have earned.
The secrets of the most successful companies in the marketplace
Once you’ve decided that joining a partner network is right for you, there are three elements you need to fully harness the potential of the platform.
1. An attractive rewards structure
Your rewards structure plays a significant role in enticing new partners to join your program. There’s a delicate balance between providing generous rewards to incentivize partners, without giving away so much you’re not leaving a healthy revenue margin. You also need a structure that aligns incentives with action. If you earn more revenue when you sell more software seats, your partners should be paid by the seat.
“When I look at our top-performing programs, they have found a way to succinctly reward revenue-generating behaviors,” says Andrew.
2. Deep empathy and understanding of partners
“Finding the right partners is what really makes or breaks a program,” says Andrew. “That means being extremely thoughtful and deliberate about the type of partners you’re recruiting.” And while it might be tempting to just say, ‘We just want someone who can sell it,’ this thinking doesn’t go deep enough to truly capture the essence of what makes partners a good fit for your program.
In order to be able to find the right partner, Andrew highly recommends taking the time to do some persona work. “Just like a direct sales motion where you’re painstakingly defining your ideal customer profile (ICP), you need to put thought into the characteristics that make an ideal partner for your company. This can include firmographic and demographic considerations. For example, do you only want to work with mid-market companies, or are SMBs your sweet spot? Do you want to recruit all marketers, or just directors of growth?
This level of attention to detail will seep through the copy you write and help you “speak the language” of your ideal recruits. If they feel understood and motivated, they’ll be much more likely to join your program and with the right support, evolve into ideal partners over time.
3. Robust support and enablement
“When you're running a partner program, you have to be aware that your partners may be coming into selling your product without a ton of direct knowledge,” says Andrew. “Even if they’re already users, it doesn't mean that they know the intricacies of the products and its features well enough to sell it,” says Andrew. The most successful programs, he says, provide robust enablement materials, whether it's product sheets, demo videos. This helps onboard partners faster.
Giving partners a direct line of communication with program managers is another crucial element of giving partners the support they need to thrive. Demonstrating this level of support to prospective partners will give them the confidence it’s worth their time to become a partner.
Will my partners leave my program if exposed to other programs through the marketplace?
“This is a very common misconception,” says Andrew. “And it’s understandable since partners are free to come and go at any time. But in reality, exposure to other programs is not a threat to yours at all.”
Firstly, he explains, partners are already exposed to a host of other partnership opportunities in their daily lives. Not listing your program on the marketplace does not mean they won’t encounter other opportunities.
Secondly, partners should only be promoting products they genuinely believe in. So if they leave your program, there’s likely a deeper underlying issue you need to address, says Andrew. It’s not the simple exposure to other programs that makes them leave.
Thirdly, partners can be part of more than one program. In fact, having access to multiple programs often makes them better partners because they’re more practiced at advocating for a brand and have deeper roots in their communities. The opportunity to join multiple programs is actually very attractive to partners too. According to PartnerStack’s survey of over 1000 partners, 60% of respondents say having access to multiple programs to join is one of the three most important considerations for joining.
Are partnership networks right for you?
While partnership networks are an extremely powerful tool, they must be deployed thoughtfully to be a success. Ask yourself these two questions to ensure your team can support this project. If you can answer “yes” to both questions, then you should go for it. Otherwise, it may be wisest to hold off until you do have the resources.
Do you have a mechanism for quality control?
“Listing your program in a marketplace helps you cast a wider net, but it may also take more work to sort through the fish you pull in,” explains Andrew. “You’re probably going to get a lot of the type of fish you want, but also some types you weren’t expecting.” Many vendors use an application to filter through prospective partners and only accept those likely to succeed.
You need to have a clear sense of the partner persona you’re targeting, so you can use a handful of strategic questions as a shortcut to finding high-quality partners. Questions can include firmographics (company type, company size, industry), as well as open-ended questions like “Why do you want to be a [Company] partner?” or “Why is [product] valuable to your readers?”
Do you have enough resources to support it?
While listing your program in a marketplace is a far more passive, low-effort way to recruit new partners than, say, an outbound program, it still requires some resources to do well. You need to build out your landing page (although PartnerStack templates make this a relatively light lift), close the gap on product knowledge, and manage the flow of new applicants on an ongoing basis.
It’s best if you can set aside some time each week, or each month, to review applications to (a) ensure they’re high quality and (b) adjust your application process to filter out unsuitable applicants.
Take advantage of the network effect to multiply revenue
Partner networks are a proven way to expand your program and grow your program’s bottom line. But they also have another beautiful benefit: Getting new partners to join provides your existing partners with a richer and more valuable experience. This is known as “the network effect.” Just like social media platforms become more fun for you the more your friends join, partner programs also experience a boost as they expand. As programs generate more ROI, it often frees up more resources to improve the program with more events and better enablement.
Still need a nudge? I’ll leave you with the words of SocialBee CEO, Ovi Negrean: “PartnerStack marketplace has been invaluable in finding new partners. Everything just works. We see the partners bringing in more and more revenue each month.”